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!

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