Thursday, April 12, 2012

Top ten philosophers' novels

Seán McGrady was raised in Belfast, immersed in the religious and political ideas that defined the Irish Troubles. A former university lecturer in philosophy, he lives in York, England. His latest novel is The Backslider.

"The philosophical novel is the continuation of philosophical reflection by other means," he wrote in the Guardian. "To do justice to the nature of ontological concepts, Plato required a mythological approach in order to illuminate the distinction between essences and existence, which resisted conceptualisation. To do justice to the totality of human experience, existentialism denied objectifying knowledge. Justice was eminently done in some cases, their place in history of philosophical ideas assured and their literary merit lauded. Others failed to hit their desired target but were nonetheless notable for daring to articulate the philosophical idea in this form, and being popularly successful, if not philosophically original."

One of McGrady's top ten philosophers' novels:
Candide by Voltaire

Candide is perversion. Voltaire the perverter. Ill-informed about profound religious ideas, he proceeds with caricature. In the history of ideas, that line of "common sense philosophy" leads straight from Voltaire to the modern preachers and prophets of this perversion. Dawkins is an heir of Voltaire. In the name of enlightenment the Frenchman concocts a literary argument against an enlightened metaphysics. Here literature is cowardly. It is journalistic. The enemy of truth that Plato saw in certain literary forms. Voltaire failed to understand rationalist metaphysics and so gave to the world a distortion. The curse of "common sense".
Read about the other novels on the list.

Candide is a book Rolling Stone political columnist Matt Taibbi reads every couple of years. It is on Shalom Auslander's top ten list of comic tragedies, John Mullan's list of ten of the best visits to Venice in literature and Dan Rhodes's top 10 list of short books.

--Marshal Zeringue