Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Writers And Philosophy: A Series

Why would it be important for a writer to know about philosophy? Writers write. Philosophers philosophize. Whatever that means.
Philosophy is a way to understand the world we live in, including ourselves.
Philosophy is also a structured method of inquiry based on rational arguments.

If the word philosopher makes you think of a guy in a toga, or, for a more compelling character, a naked guy running down the street shouting 'Eureka'*, you're right.

If the word philosopher makes you think of emaciated, unkempt people with shaggy hair and glasses, you're also right. Ditto for tweed jackets with leather elbow patches and employing, even if not actually using a pipe (props are good in character descriptions).

Philosophers are also perfectly normal people you could pass by on the street with nary a second glance.

It isn't the appearance that matters. It's the mind.

Philosophy is using mind to understand the world. It is a method for looking at an unknown and using reason in an attempt to make it known.

Find correlations. Propose a hypothesis. Create rational arguments to support your idea. Then argue, in the active sense of the word, with other thinkers.

But it's not just talk. Philosophy also requires continuing observation, seeking new information and adjusting your position to fit facts as they are confirmed.

Sounds a lot like science, doesn't it?

Science is a product of the philosophic mind. Without embracing a quest for knowledge; true knowledge, not myths or illusion; our world wouldn’t have medicine, indoor plumbing, or computers.

Pick something you really like. Now thank a scientist for it. And even more, thank a philosopher. They laid the ground work that became the scientific method.

That habit of using their mind is why philosophy is important to writers.

Writers create.

They create worlds. Characters. Plots. They devise and solve mysteries. They explore facets of human nature. They delve into the relationships between people.

All these are aspects of the philosopher's work. The methods used to solve real problems in the real world will also help a writer master the complexities of their created world. Focused thought, questioning and analyzing motivations, settings, even plot points: the philosophic method will help you see where you've left holes or created inconsistencies.

Approach your story as its Official Philosopher. Can you make sense of the world as it is presented? Can you use facts given to predict other aspects of that world? If not, then the world is irrational and incomplete. If yes, then you've got a real world to explore with your characters.

In this series we'll explore several facets of storytelling, and show how a philosophic outlook on these points might enrich your creations.

* Eureka – from the Greek heurēka, meaning 'I have found (it)'
The legend: Archimedes got into his bath, and realized that the water spilling out was equal to his body's volume. Hence, the image of him running naked through the streets.
He was later asked to determine the purity of a gold crown, and used his displacement theory to solve the puzzle.

No comments:

Post a Comment