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Is a poem about nature beautiful because of its form, or is it beautiful because

Is a poem about nature beautiful because of its form, or is it beautiful because it reminds us of the beauty inherent in nature? Philosophers tend to equate aesthetic beauty with the form of a work of art and our 'interests' get in the way of appreciating the form. However if this is the case why is there not more beautiful poems about rubbish dumps and oil spills.

A great question! There may be a middle ground to the answer. Beautiful natural objects, and beautiful poetic objects, might both be considered beautiful because of complex or harmonious formal properties that evoke certain responses (this is, roughly, Kant). If this is the case, the a beautiful poem about something ugly would function differently from a beautiful poem about something beautiful. In the former case, the beauty would be purely formal; in the latter, it would be in part representational.

Again, a great question, although I suspect it might also be misleading. Many well-known poems about nature are not actually about nature in a straightforward sense. Poems are rarely like landscape paintings. (Come to think of it, neither are landscape paintings.)

To which philosopher it may concern,

To which philosopher it may concern, I recently been perplexed by the following logical puzzle (or what seems to be, anyway): Working at a used bookstore, I and the rest of the staff are constantly asked about where to find books. One of my co-workers had the following exchange with a customer and couldn't make anything of it: Customer: "I am looking for a particular book." Co-worker: "Well is it fiction or non-fiction?" Customer: "Neither." So far, this is what I've come up with: (1) The customer is looking for a book that is neither fiction nor non-fiction, which would mean that it can't be both fiction and non fiction (which is quite common, e.g., historical fiction). (2) If non-fiction is the opposite of fiction (and not considered as a separate entity), then was the customer contradicting himself and as a result saying absolutely nothing? (3) If fiction is defined as something that isn't true, and non-fiction defined as something that IS true, then the...

Your definition of fiction and non-fiction (your point (3)) seems flawed. For one thing, a lot of what commonly goes under the non-fiction heading is false, at least in part. Think of an book about the bombing of Pearl Harbor which, although marketed as an accurate historical account, is full of errors. So, what's characteristic of a work of non-fiction is that it presents its content to be a true account of something in the real world.

Correspondingly, fiction might then be defined as a work that does not present its content to be a true account of something in the real world. Not presenting its content as true, such a work thus cannot be false (in relation to the real world) either. Someone who claims that Mark Twain's book is incorrect in some of what it says about Huckleberry Finn hasn't understood that this was meant to be a work of fiction. Works of fiction are neither true nor false much like -- to use a favorite example of Sidney Morgenbesser's -- the number 3 is neither married nor unmarried. Morgenbesser's point was that, while it is indeed not that case that the number 3 is married, calling it unmarried would inaccurately suggest that it is the kind of thing to which the married/unmarried distinction applies, that things of its kind could be married. Similarly, calling a work of fiction untrue or false inaccurately suggests that it is the kind of thing to which the true/false distinction applies and that it could be made true through suitable corrections of the text.

(I should say here in parentheses that works of fiction are often discussed in terms of truth and falsity. Thus, one Twain scholar may say to another: "You are quite wrong about Huck's feelings and motives on XYZ occasion..." Here the discussion is not about truth and falsity in relation to the real world, but in relation to the world of this work of fiction.)

Now let's think about your customer, and what s/he may have had in mind. I see three possibilities. First, and developing your point (4), one may think that the headings of "fiction" and "non-fiction" are not jointly exhaustive. Of course, this possibility is excluded if one of the headings is simply defined as covering everything not covered by the other. (My definitions work this way, as do yours.) But a plausible pitch can be made in favor of this possibility. Think of How-to books, for example, such as How to Live Well. This is not non-fiction by my definition (does not present its content to be a true account of something in the real world). But it's not really fiction either, in the sense in which this term is usually understood. So, employing a somewhat narrower definition of "fiction" than I have given, your customer may have thought that there is a third category of books covering (among other things, perhaps) advice about the aims and ambitions one should pursue in life.

Second, one may think that the two headings are not mutually exclusive. One could motivate this by saying that the fiction/non-fiction distinction is not binary (like odd/even, pregnant/non-pregnant), but scalar (like fast/slow). On this picture, books fall somewhere along a spectrum that ranges from a "fiction" pole at one end to a "non-fiction" pole at the other. You may object that the p/non-p terminology rules out this possibility. But ordinary language isn't so rigid. Think of the competitive/non-competitive distinction. I can easily imagine someone saying, in the context of a job search, that a candidate is not really competitive (in the sense of possibly being the most suitable candidate) and not really non-competitive (fit to be dropped from contention) either -- meaning that the candidate is somewhere in between and his application should be kept on hand for more detailed study later if more competitive candidates withdraw. In the fiction/non-fiction case, your example of a historical novel illustrates this possibility. Some of what's written in the book is, and some is not, presented as a true account of something in the real world. And the work is then a hybrid, somewhere between pure fiction and pure non-fiction. One could say about such a hybrid that it is both fiction and non-fiction (to some extent). But one could also (and perhaps in addition, thereby challenging what you write under your point (1)) say that it is really neither. This is analogous to how one might say that a hermaphrodite is neither purely female nor purely male, in a sense both, and in a sense neither.

The third possibility develops your point (4) in a different direction. It is another instance (one level up) of what I illustrated above with Sidney Morgenbesser's example. A predicate may be inapplicable to an object such that we should reject both the claim that the object is p and also the claim that it is not-p. The predicates even and odd are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive within a certain domain (natural numbers). But there are things outside this domain -- you and I, for instance -- and we are neither even nor odd (in the mathematical sense). So how does this apply to the fiction/non-fiction distinction? The number 3 would seem to fall outside the domain in which this distinction applies -- it makes no sense to ask whether this number does, or does not, present its content to be a true account of something in the real world. Of course, your customer was specifically searching for a book. So what books can we plausibly place outside the domain in which the fiction/non-fiction distinction applies? Well, notebooks containing only empty pages, presumably; and there are bound to be other examples.

It seems like a lot of authors of literature have studied philosophy, and

It seems like a lot of authors of literature have studied philosophy, and mention philosophers in their novels, and use philosophical ideas in their novels. It's almost as if they thought the knowledge of a lot of philosophy was a pre-requisite to writing a good, interesting novel. On the other hand, I can hardly think of examples of the other way around -- famous philosophers having studied lots of literature and talking about it to inform their philosophy. Do you agree that this is the case, and if so, why might it be? Is literature, which some might say contextualizes philosophy by placing it in the context of a world or a character's life, an outgrowth of philosophy? Is it taking philosophy to its logical conclusion, or to its next step?

That's a lot of fascinating questions. I'm not sure, though, that your initial empirical observation is valid. Sure, there have been many novelists with an interest in philosophy; but there have also been many philosophers with an interest in literature. You only have to look at Plato and Aristotle for clear examples.

Nevertheless, the relation between philosophical activity and literature generally, and the novel specifically, remains a matter for debate. Some interesting questions in this area are: what is it about literary types of language use that either can serve, or get in the way, of philosophy? Is the idea of a fictional world, narrative or character a useful resource for philosophy or, precisely because it is fictional, an irrelevance? And, in the reverse direction, what literary devices are already, and perhaps inevitably, at work in philosophical writing?

What is not very often asked, though, is the question you raise. Namely, whether philosophy completes itself in literature; that is, whether there is some problem or issue that originates within fairly conventional philosophical thinking but which can only be addressed adequately within literature. You mention the contextualisation of a philosophy in a world or character’s life. Let us suppose, for example, that there are certain universal features of human experience that are narrative in structure (personal identity, perhaps; or virtue). If so, then philosophy would have to take the idea of narrative seriously; and it might also be that the philosophy of virtue could communicate and explain itself most effectively through writing novels or plays. But this is still quite different from claiming that the philosophy of virtue could not be carried out except through novels or plays. That would take a great deal of extra argumentation!

When we read stories in a book or watch popular TV shows do the

When we read stories in a book or watch popular TV shows do the characters, not actors, actually come to life? Do they actually believe they are real, or are they in sense real? If someone was to create a sitcom, say Friends, would the character Russ actually live the life of Russ and walk around in the created "universe" of Friends? How don't I know that my life only exists in and was created by the mind of another? I've often pondered this thought since I was a kid. I once watched a show (the title is unfamiliar) where the "real life" characters jumped into a comic book and interacted with the characters in the comic. It was as if the comic had created a seperate "universe". As you can tell I'm not as educated as you philosophers, but I am still young yet. It's also probably quite apparent that I've never had any philosophical education either. My whole life I've been asking questions and have only recenty started to gain answers. Any answers or speculations you offer would be...

When you consider that characters in stories are so much like us, it can be disconcerting: if they're like us, then we're like them, too. Indeed, what distinguishes us? Just that they're in stories and we're in reality? But couldn't they say the same about us?

That's a very tempting line of thought, but we should resist it.

There is a big difference between something's being represented as being so, and its being so. I can say that I have fixed the car, but that doesn't make it true that I've fixed the car. Someone might counter, yes it does--it makes it true according to you. But being true according to me is not a way of being true any more than being not true is a way of being true. This can be a little hard to see because of a very natural way we have of describing what someone has said. Often, instead of saying "Crimmins says that the car is fixed", we say, "The car is fixed, according to Crimmins". That makes it sound like the car is fixed, though not in reality but only in the according-to-Crimmins reality. But really it's just a picturesque way of saying the same thing, namely, that I have said something that represents the car as having been fixed.

The same is true in our talk about fictions. Instead of saying, "Conan Doyle, in the Holmes stories, represented that there was a detective named 'Holmes' who was very smart," we say "Holmes was a very smart detective, in Conan Doyle's Holmes stories," or even just "Holmes was a very smart detective". That makes it sound like there really was this detective, just not in reality. But, again, that's a mistake that arises from a picturesque style of describing what is represented (in this case, in fiction) as being so.

A feature of fictional characters that is puzzling if you think they are "real but not in reality" is called fictional incompleteness: did Holmes ever have a bunion on his left big toe? It's not just that we don't know---there's no fact of the matter, because all the "facts about Holmes" are settled by the stories, and it's unsettled there. This is no mystery at all if we realize that the only genuine facts are that the stories represent various things as being the case (but quite a mystery if Holmes is as real as we are).

What are the most important similarities and differences between "Literature"

What are the most important similarities and differences between "Literature" and "Philosophy"? Akbar Baharlou

Works of literature and works of philosophy are both the meaningful products of human thought and action. This makes them interpretable, which is an important characteristic of both. Moreover, both philosophy and literature are predominantly linguistic, although non-linguistic representations such as pictures and diagrams can play a part in either. In the contemporary context, both literature and philosophy are 'text-centric', but the centrality of texts is not a necessary part of either practice. Think of Socrates (who didn't produce any written texts) as well as traditions of oral literature.

Both literature and philosophy often address issues of deep human concern (e.g., serious ethical issues), and this is an important feature of both practices. But it is also plausible that this is a not a necessary condition of either. Philosophy doesn't have to address deep human concerns (e.g., you can philosophize about horror movies and--though I like them--I don' t think they're a matter of deep human concern), nor does literature. For example, a work of literature might involve the exploration of literary form and language rather than addressing any ethical issues.

We value works of philosophy and works of literature for many of the same reasons. For example, we praise both sorts of works for their originality, creativity and for their cognitive value. The last is particularly interesting. It does seem that we value both philosophy and literature for what we can learn (in some broad sense) from them.

But philosophy and literature also differ quite significantly. Philosophy is centrally concerned with truth and argument, with justification and the presentation of reasons. These are not central concerns of literature. It is plausible that fiction is the core of literature--there's literature outside the sphere of fiction, but fiction is the central case. And philosophy, although it may involve the use of fiction (in the Platonic dialogues or in the development of complicated thought experiments), is not centrally a matter of making fictions. Finally, even though cognitive value is important in both philosophy and literature, it seems much more important in philosophy.

I disagre with Professor Fosl's suggestion that philosophy is a sub-category of literature. The two categories overlap; that is, some works of philosophy are also works of literature. ( I think Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra is a good case of this.) But there is a great deal of philosophy that is clearly not literature (e.g., most--perhaps all--philosophy articles in contemporary 'analytic' journals of philosophy). So I think it's not quite right to call philosophy a type of literature. There may be vague and overlapping borders between the categories, but there are clear cases on either side.