Why Philosophers Should Write Science Fiction

I have a proposal for Covenant College. I propose that the Philosophy department should add ENG 301 Creative Writing: Fiction to the core requirement for all Philosophy Majors. This might seem like a joke at first, but I assure you that implementing this suggestion would have serious implications. 

I take it as self-evident that the essays, journal articles, and books produced by philosophers have grievous literary defects. I say “self-evident” because I would rather pick a fight with a rabid mongoose, having only a spork for my self defense, than get in a metaphysical, epistemological, or (God forbid it) political argument with a card-carrying philosopher. 

There is no doubt in my mind that I would lose. I am too slow-witted, and don’t know enough words longer than 3 syllables to hold my own.  But I guess that’s my point. Does anyone know what they are saying half the time anyway? Turn on a random audio recording of the writings of Kant or Hegel and it will sound like a trans-galactic message from a maniacal race of extraterrestrials.  

It’s enough to make a well-meaning person suspect that philosophers never had any intention of being understood to begin with. At least not by us mere mortals. 

That is why Philosophers should write science fiction. 

It is the perfect medium for exploring the deepest questions of the universe. Going all the way back to Frankenstein (1931) movie goers have been entertained while simultaneously being asked to grapple with life’s weighty questions. Is an unfettered pursuit of science an unmitigated good? What does it mean to be human? Will mankind bring about its own destruction?  Snowpiercer (2014)  was a scathing indictment of Malthusianism. The Hunger Games series (2012-2016) examined the practical implications of totalitarian politics and a society addicted entertainment. 

Those sci-fi films are a part of our pop culture. But those films were based on books, and those books were written by careful thinkers. 

C.S. Lewis himself saw science fiction as a realm in which to explore theological and philosophical questions. Near the end of his career he wrote a space trilogy doing exactly that. In his essay “On Science Fiction” found in the collection Of Other Worlds, he wrote, “If good novels are comments on life, good stories of [science fiction] (which are very much rarer) are actual additions to life; they give, like certain rare dreams, sensations we never had before, and enlarge our conception of the range of possible experience.” 

If philosophers were required to write science fiction, people might actually understand what they were saying. Ayn Rand, who developed the philosophical system of objectivism, and Jean-Paul Sartre, who is one of the fathers of existentialism, both embedded their theories in novels and plays. This gave them an outsized cultural influence even though their systems of thought are critiqued as inconsistent. 

By writing science fiction, the philosophers of Covenant College would run the risk of a) actually being understood by people other than fellow philosophers, b) be reaffirming the incarnational aspect of abstract truth, and c) actually having a positive impact on pop culture. I fail to see how this would be a bad thing.