Daniel Howard: Philosophical Novels and Relativism | Who Shaves the Barber? #30

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What counts as a philosophical novel? What is it about philosophical novels that makes them philosophical? And what sort of work is involved in writing them? Is the job of the novelist at all like the job of the philosopher?

These are some of the questions I discuss with fiction writer Daniel Howard. He suggests strong parallels between the forces of antagonism that must be set up against the protagonist in a novel and the objections that a great philosopher must subject his thesis to in order to make a case for it. In the process, we discuss Plato’s dialogues, Dostoevsky, Camus, Ayn Rand, Nietzsche, Hegel, Rorty, Shakespeare, Dante, John Fowles, and a number of other philosophers and fiction writers.

We end on relativism. Daniel defends relativism against its usual charges, then makes a case that relativist writers perhaps shouldn’t be writing relativist novels.

Next week: Michael Huemer: Skepticism and Direct Realism

Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.
Click here for the full list of episodes!



Topics discussed

0:18 – Introducing Daniel Howard
1:35 – What are philosophical novels and who writes them? (Fowles, Rand, Nietzsche)
17:00 – Plato, Parmenides, Symposium, Linklater: artistic form v. philosophical form
26:11 – Philosopher as artist: dialectic process, thought experiments, Descartes
33:36 – Novelists’ philosophical positions: Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, Dante
43:07 – Dialectical process: Hegel, story structure, contradiction, William James’ depression
53:04 – Relativism, skepticism, Rorty, self-defeat, brainwashing, intuition
1:13:34 – Relativists shouldn’t write relativistic novels (Gardner, The Stranger, Robbe-Grillet)


The Gift” by Daniel Howard (track 14)

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