Mixing morals with education on dangerousmeta

posted Jun 22, 2004

(This started as a comment on this post but it grew too large and I needed some HTML.)

I don't know how exactly this fits in, but...

I've actually lost most, if not all, respect for the "novel as philosophy" idea. What finally killed it for me was a science fiction book called "The World of Null-A", which is adequately, if a bit breathlessly, summarized and explained here.

What you can't tell from that summary is that the story is clearly subserviant to the philosophy being espoused. What annoyed me finally was the rosy depiction of "null-A" philosophy; it solves all problems, by, basically, dues ex machina.

This, ultimately, is my objection. Novels-as-philosophy nearly inevitably break down to:

Alternatively, the line can be that the reason for the problems is that the philosophy isn't followed.

(Ayn Rand, from what I've heard, is another example of this, but full disclosure: I've never read anything of her's personally.)

Novels make it easy to skip the hardest problem that any philosophy or idea faces, that of showing correspondance with the real world, by virtue of removing the real world entirely. I find now that I much prefer a seperation between my philosophy and my entertainment. Entertainment is allowed to build off of philosophy as a bonus, but the first goal should be entertainment. Actual, full-scale advocacy should be reserved for somewhat more formal treatment, where the ideas can be critically examined in the context of the real world.

I started this post with "I don't know how this fits in." What I mean about that is that I'm not sure this applies in the context of the New York Times story, which refered to education. It is possible, even likely, that I would never have gotten to these ideas without first building on novels-as-philosophy. Philosophy and related disciplines are heavy going, and anything to make them easier to start with may be a good idea.

Still, it still bothers me. It is very difficult to analyse novels-as-philosophy, and that's the last thing a "newbie" needs. (Cheap shot: This is evidenced by the number of believers in Ayn Rand in high school and college. (I have read several independant explanations of Objectivism so I do feel qualified to say this.) Objectivism pretty much only works in her books, and as a result it traps inexperienced people.) I guess the upshot is the usual "no easy answers" cop-out. :-)


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