Philosophy often makes for heavy reading, but sometimes fiction books can be worth something in a philosophical context.

For example:
Gaarder's Sophie's World gives an introduction to the history of philosophy.
Heinlein's By His Bootstraps is used for discussion of timetravel.

Wikipedia also has a short list of philosophical fiction.

Question: What fiction books are the most intriguing and at the same time of philosophical value?

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    As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. Could you give measurable requirements for your question? (Downvoted until fixed) – user2953 May 30 '13 at 13:57
  • @Keelan Ok, good point, I guess. Have to think on that a bit. Not sure how to quantify intriguing-ness or philosophical value. – fivecode May 30 '13 at 14:40
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    Concept-horror along the lines of Negarestani (and to a lesser extent Mieville) seems relevant here; for some reason I'm also tempted to suggest Stan Lem's works of science fiction (Cyberiad is wonderful, but I might recommend as well as his extremely suggestive nonfiction -- mostly lit-criticism but well worth the time -- a representative short story can be read here...) --PKD, for that matter, probably belongs here too. – Joseph Weissman May 30 '13 at 17:28
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    Keelan is technically right; it's a bad fit for our format as posed. But I think this makes an excellent question in general, and should be Community Wiki. I would -- and I think others would as well -- be really interested in a list of good books of this nature. – stoicfury Sep 12 '13 at 3:41
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    This already is CW, so no need to worry about anything. The only thing it really does it indicate that this is not the type of question we want for the site but one that still people might find useful / valuable, and you get no rep for the question or any answers. Everything else stays the same. – stoicfury Sep 12 '13 at 9:10

I'll probably get bashed by critics here, but the most influential books for me were Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. I would suggest to anyone that they read these books before they start critiquing Rand as crazy. I have considered the philosophy of Objectivism very carefully and weighed many of Rand's ideas and found them meritable.

Another shockingly influential book with heavy philosophical connotations is 1984 by George Orwell. Much shorter than the two I aforementioned, but, I think, less complete.

  • I can't comment on her philosophy - because I know little of it. But shes not much of literary stylist. I'd call it capitalist realism as a sort of mirror image to social realism from her native russia. – Mozibur Ullah May 31 '13 at 20:33
  • It's true that she's not much of a literary stylist. Nonetheless, her books are probably a bit easier to digest than a literal philosophy book -- which is why, I think, they are so widely read. And Atlas does contain a complete, encapsulated philosophy in the branches of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. – M Miller May 31 '13 at 20:45
  • Isn't she essentially a polemicist who uses the novel as her form of persuasion as opposed to the essay? All philosophers, novelists & artists admit debts to others - although not Picasso, because he doesn't borrow, he steals - who is she indebted to? – Mozibur Ullah May 31 '13 at 20:53
  • @MoziburUllah: To me, the issue of debt is not important, but Rand admits a debt to Aristotle. But quite apart from that, she always writes of the Founding Fathers in favourable terms, of the things they got right, that the later presidents screwed up, etc. – prash Jun 1 '13 at 2:47
  • "Debt" seems in inappropriate word -- Rand doesn't "owe" Aristotle. They're both dead. However, she DOES credit Aristotle in her work for the base tenet "A is A." But -- and this is crucially important -- perhaps Rand doesn't stress the recycling and amalgamation of other philosophies for the precise reason that she encourages her readers to rationalize their OWN philosophies -- not to rely on others. It is also evident that she did find some inspiration with Nietzsche, although only in a few areas. And yes, her novel DOES serve as a form of persuasion -- as do her essays. Just a diff medium. – M Miller Jun 1 '13 at 16:32

There is fiction that is overtly philosophical - for example you mentioned Sophie's World where the narrative structure stages a tutor & student relationship.

Borges uses more subtle literary devices to explore philosophical ideas. His prose is intricate, ornate & scholarly - for example The Garden of Forking Paths or The Library of Babel which explores the idea of the infinite & meaning in many subtle ways.

Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being starts with a riff on the eternal return of Nietzsche's.

Robinson Crusoe is a mixture of romanticism and the valorisation of reason. It could also be read as the struggle of self-mastery or ijtihad which connects it to a possible Islamic source Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān (Philosophus Autodictatus). Its also possible to read identify him with the biblical God of Genesis but in the form of the new testament where God is identified with the Logos (reason). In the Post-Colonial context this Gods provenance is reasserted and explicated in the form of History and/or Moral Propaganda (the White European Mans Melancholy Mission and Burden to Civilise Earth). One is forced to ask what is the meaning of civilisation - a question anthropology is situated to ask but perhaps not answer.

Ray Bradbury writes what could be termed Mythic Science Fiction. His themes are religion, modernity & the unconscious. His use of language is reminiscent of the Irish poet Yeats who brought Irish mythology into English Poetry. Bradbury does the same with the mythos of small-town america. Olaf Stapledon rehearses the evolution of the Hegels world-spirit in his Star Maker. Huxley's Brave New World critiques the social & political formation of consumerism & Orwell's 1984 savagely tears into communism. Both visions are seen as total political systems. It's possible to view both as investigations of power - in one manifested by a puritan state & the other by a hedonistic market. The first transcendent (because it is over the mass) and the second immanent (because it is within).

Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass are rife with language & logic games. (It also has a tradition of quite beautiful illustrations - perhaps to humour Alice who was quite dismissive of books without conversations or pictures).

The short story Axototl by the Argentinian writer displaces the Sartrean phenomenological look between man & man to a teenager and an axototl (larval form of a salamander). The poetry of Sylvia Plath although termed popularly confessional is essentially Freudian.

Although there isn't much fiction that is overtly philosophical - in the sense of being written by a philosopher or starring one and/or signifying its philosophical themes explicitly; once one begins to look at fiction with a philosophical perspective then one begins to discern philosophical attitudes within the text. This is one of the themes of Literary Criticism, though of course not the only one.

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    +1 for Borges! :) Kafka feels like it fits in the same general category there, too, if a bit less 'transparently' theoretical. – Joseph Weissman May 30 '13 at 17:31
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    Another +1 for Borges! : ] – iphigenie May 31 '13 at 14:44

On Goodreads (a "social cataloging" website) there are some "community lists", or whatever they might be called.

  1. Best Philosophical Literature (391 books, 1,125 voters): Fiction that aims to elighten [sic] the reader "philosophically" (whatever you take that word to mean).

  2. Best Philosophical Fiction (76 books, 124 voters): A fiction novel that has philosophical ponderings and concepts woven throughout the plotline, characters, and thematic backdrop.

  3. Other "philosophy" lists

I hope those will help you in your selection.

PS: It looks like Camus' The Stranger is in the lead.


Existentialism straddles the worlds of philosophy and fiction, a search for "existential fiction" would give you an idea of what's available in that vein. The popular fictions by Sartre, Camus, Kafka, Dostoyevsky and others present the existential stance nicely. In particular I found Camus and Kafka to be both accessible (easy reading) and profound (they might be considered more absurdists than existentialists).

  • I'm intrigued that Dostoyesky is classed as an existentialist. – Mozibur Ullah May 31 '13 at 20:37

Ishmael an adventure of mind and spirit a novel written by Daniel Quinn is one of my personal favorites and has been the winner of many awards.

Another off the top of my head is The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman.

The Spell of the Sensous: Percertion and Language in a more than human world by David Abram is a linguistic novel indeed. It is a very good book (although I admittedly would read a page three times or more in attempt to fully digest the depth). I don't believe it is a common classic but it is a work of art.

  • The Hitchhiker's guide to the Universe by Douglas Adams looks for the Ultimate Question. (ironic)
  • Zen and the art of Motorcycle maintenance' by Robert Pirsig is a about perspective.
  • The Alchemist or Veronika decides to Die by Paul Coehlo.
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martell. Léstranger by Camus is a bit bleak make sure your you have fun joyous resources to lift you up and out of the experience. Happy reading.

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