Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Philosophy And Fiction: Wittgenstein, Lewis And Anderson

(Re: the image, see here and here.)

In some works of fiction, diverse animal species stand and walk upright, have opposable thumbs, speak, wear clothes, live in houses, drive cars, read newspapers and commute to work. These fictional characters are not cats, dogs or bears but human beings with feline, canine or ursine heads.

In some other works of fiction, wild animals have language and a human level of intelligence while otherwise remaining wild, inhabiting natural, not artificial, environments and continuing to eat grass, worms or whatever is their appropriate diet. These composite creatures are not, in the literal sense of the word, anthropomorphic - or humaniform - animals but they are humanized animals, nevertheless. (Rupert Bear had both a Rabbit family living in a house in the village and a talking rabbit in a rabbit-hole out in the countryside! - which made me question the coherence of the whole scenario.)

(I am going somewhere with this, I think.)

Poul Anderson asked what might succeed mammals, John W Campbell answered the question and Anderson adapted Campbell's answer as the flying, intelligent Ythrians. More generally, could there be intelligent beings whose bodies were completely at home in wind, rain, storm and sea without needing clothes or buildings? They would need to have some level of technology and limbs for manipulation as well as locomotion. They might have bypassed or superseded urban civilization? Such beings might synthesize the best features of animality and rationality.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, CS Lewis and Poul Anderson addressed the issue of intelligence in animals. It is appropriate to cite a philosopher as well as two writers of fiction because they address the same questions differently. Philosophers abstract; poets and novelists concretize; playwrights dramatize. What is life? To be or not to be? Philosophy and Literature would make a good combined University degree course. To share a philosophical tradition is to share an approach to basic questions, not to agree on answers. A University friend and I remained analytic philosophers when he studied theology and became a Presbyterian minister. (Alan, if you are reading, please comment.) The Christian Lewis and the agnostic Anderson both used fiction to address the relationship between animality and rationality but let's start with the philosopher, Wittgenstein, after I have had a coffee break.


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    Woud it be permissible for me to ask what kind of Calvinist your friend Alan was? That is, was or is he a TULIP Calvinist?


    1. Sean,
      Presbyterian Church in Ireland. I don't know any more than that. I don't know what TULIP is but will google it.

    2. Kaor, Paul!

      Sorry, I thought you knew. TULIP is the acronym used for listing the most basic ideas of Calvinism: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, etc. The impression I get is that many Calvinists these days no longer adhere to TULIP, or at least not to all of Calvin's beliefs.


    3. Sean:
      Ahhhh, Calvin. One of my favorite explanations of Calvinist thought comes from *The Cartoon History of the Modern World* by Larry Gonick.

      Calvin is shown summing up his notion of predestination: "Our fate was sealed at the moment of creation. Free will is an ILLUSION."

      At this, God looks bewildered and asks, "Wait. Are you saying _I_ can't CHOOSE to give people free will?" And Calvin politely explains to the Almighty, "Hey! Shut up!"

    4. Kaor, DAVID!

      Ha, ha!!! Very amusing! And it helps to explain why, as a Catholic, I disagree with Calvin's appalling heresies. Calvin seems to think God's foreknowledge of all that will happen thru out eternity to mean He COMPELS those events to happen. And I say he was wrong!


    5. Sean,
      I have read TULIP and understand your concerns about Calvinism. Although my friend was ordained in a Calvinist tradition, I think that he was an orthodox Christian, believing that salvation is open to all.