The Fantasy of Philosophy

boromirePlato made up stories of the Myth of Er and the Allegory of the Cave, Kierkegaard created a range of ironic authors to write his books for him, Sartre wrote fantastical dramas akin to Twilight Zone episodes. As true to reality as philosophers try to be, they certainly flirt with fantasy.  This week at the North Park Philosophy Club meeting (10:30 am at the library) we will be discussing why humans need fantasy in their lives.  Here is a fun dialogue on the topic.

The Rat: But I do think that philosophy and fantasy have something in common.
The Mole: Well, certainly philosophy tends to be fantastic, for many philosophers
make bizarre and even preposterous claims—”foolosophers,”
Erasmus called them. Then again, many fantasies are philosophical,
that is, they can be construed as having something important to say
about “man and the world” which is not a matter of scientific law or
theory. But regardless of which way one were to take your claim,
Ratty, it would be misleading for you to suggest that philosophy and
fantasy share a particular property in the way different red things
may be said to share the same property.
The Rat: (Blinking) How in the world did you arrive at those conclusions from
what I said?
The Mole: (Nonchalantly) By a process of inference.
The Rat: Hmm . . . Look, Mole, I know that you believe you understand
what you think I said, but I’m not quite sure you realize that what
you heard wasn’t all of what I meant to say. Let me explain . . .
Sometimes philosophers are daring enough to employ a certain type
of conceptual technique which is, as a matter of fact, commonly
used by writers of fantasy. This kind of conceptual procedure is
simply the fabrication of an imaginary world that is logically possible
but, as far as we know, not physically possible.
The Mole: In other words . . .
The Rat: In other words, a description of the “essential” features of such a
hypothetical world would include some statements about certain
creatures, entities, events, or states of affairs which, while not
logically self-contradictory, would, nevertheless, be contrary to
some set of scientific laws, if the statements in the description
were taken literally as making assertions.
The Mole: For instance . . .
The Rat: Well, for example, suppose we began to describe the essential features
of the hobbit-world in J. R. R. Tolkien’s trilogy, The Lord of
the Rings. No doubt we would disagree over what we would consider
to be a “complete” list of the necessary features of that imaginary
world. . .
The Mole: No doubt.
The Rat: But we probably could agree on some points. In particular, if we
were to describe that world to someone who had not read the trilogy,
we would have to mention the imaginary age during which that world
existed because, unlike some other fantasies, The Lord of the Rings
is placed in a definite “historical” setting. We would also have to
mention that men lived in that world. Now if we removed ourselves
from the spirit of the fantasy for a moment and construed the sentence,
‘Some men lived during the Third Age of Middle-earth’, as
an assertion of some fact, then we could see, first of all, that we
could make such an assertion without contradicting ourselves and,
secondly, that in making it, we would be saying something contrary
to certain laws of paleontology, anthropology, and archaeology.
According to such sciences, all members of the species Homo sapiens
have lived at some time during the Cenozoic era. But the Third
Age of Middle-earth did not occur during the Cenozoic era or, for
that matter, during any other era.
The Mole: I see . . . But you said that some philosophers have used this conceptual
technique. How are you going to prove that, Ratty?
The Rat: Why should I try to prove it? Why should I attempt to give a deductive
argument for my thesis in order to convince you that what I say
is true?
The Mole: Oh, I don’t know really. It just seemed to be the natural thing to…

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