For your weekend podcast-listening pleasure, a friend of the podcast pointed me to the most recent episode of the Rationally Speaking podcast in which the hosts take up science fiction and chew on what kinds of philosophical insight might garnered from such speculative fiction. (Beware those who, like Seth, abhor the thought experiment!) In the words of the podcasters themselves:
By its very nature, science fiction has always been particularly suited to philosophical exploration. In fact, some of the best science fiction novels, short stories, movies, and TV shows function like extended philosophical thought experiments: what might cloning tell us about our views on personal identity? If we could all take a pill to be happy, would we want to do that? In this episode, Massimo and Julia recall some of their favorite philosophically-rich science fiction, and debate the potential pitfalls in using science fiction to reach philosophical conclusions.
another take on the philosophy/fiction question this time from a philosopher and novelist addressing the “ontological urge”:
small world or alien world?
Nate Johnson says
My first college Philosophy prof Christopher Grau, also taught a really excellent course Called “Philosophy Through Film.” and a lot of the films in that course were Science fiction, though not all. I don’t have the syllabus anymore but I remember Angel Heart and Memento for sure, not that those are Sci-fi. He also edited a book about the Matrix and philosophy (it’s not a pop-philosophy book, I don’t think, in fact Chalmers wrote one of the articles in it!) http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/he/subject/Philosophy/UpperDivisionCourses/Epistemology/?view=usa&sf=toc&ci=9780195181074
Anyways, my point is that I don’t know how useful sci-fi or really any narrative device is for actually doing philosophy, because it is a thought experiment and even if everybody (the fictional people) behaves in ways that seem reasonable, somebody made them up so their reactions aren’t real. It would be like using science fiction to test out theoretical technology, wouldn’t it? Anyways, I do think media thought experiments like books and movies are excellent ways of learning/teaching philosophy, at least to undergrads. I think trying to explain Decartes radical doubt or Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is easier if that person has seen the Matrix. Different movies or stories work with different philosophical ideas. It would be interesting to hear from Dylan and the other guys what movies pair well with certain readings (or even specific episodes) even if it was done mostly as a joke. Maybe I’ll propose Not School class on that whenever I join.