Philosophical Science-Fiction Stories: A Preliminary List
One of the main ways I was turned on to philosophy was via science-fiction, and I continue to be a big science-fiction enthusiast. I am most interested in the classic (c. 1935-1960) short stories, especially those of Theodore Sturgeon.
I have been reading through the new Wiley-Blackwell Science Fiction and Philosophy volume, ed. Susan Schneider. This is a good collection of philosophical writing - both from the professional literature and from more popular writers - on topics that have a direct and obvious relation to popular works of science-fiction, with some great short fiction (including Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder" and Asimov's "Robot Dreams") intermingled. In short, this is a 'philosophy for sci-fi buffs' collection. It has had me thinking, though, that I wish there could be reverse volume: science-fiction for philosophers! This would of course have great entertainment value, but if the works were well selected they could be useful for introducing the subject matter to undergraduates. Some of the best 'philosophical' science-fiction even has (in my opinion) the potential to serve as extended thought experiments which could be useful even to professional philosophers.
To that end, I am compiling a list of some of the best philosophical science-fiction. I am sticking to short fiction because I think it works better for the purposes I have in mind. Here is the preliminary list I came up with (mostly of the top of my head/bookshelf), arranged by category. I have included as much information as I have handy about the publication history and availability of the stories.
Solipsism/External World Skepticism
- Theodore Sturgeon, "The Ultimate Egoist." First published in Unknown, February 1941. Reprinted in Without Sorcery (1948) and Paul Williams, ed., The Ultimate Egoist. Vol. 1 of The Complete Short Stories of Theodore Sturgeon (1994).
Philosophy of Mind
- John Varley, "Overdrawn at the Memory Bank" (1977). Reprinted in Donald A. Wollheim, ed., The 1977 Annual World's Best SF.
Philosophy of Space and Time
- Robert A. Heinlein, "By His Bootstraps" (1941). Reprinted in Robert A. Heinlein, The Menace From Earth (1959). (Note: this story, along with Heinlein's "-All You Zombies-", with which I am not familiar, is cited at the beginning of David Lewis, "The Paradoxes of Time Travel" American Philosophical Quarterly 13 (1976).)
- Theodore Sturgeon, "If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?" (1967). Reptrinted in Isaac Asimov, Martin Greenberg, and Joseph Olander, eds. The Future in Question (1980). That volume in its entirety was combined with a volume entitled Space Mail (same editors) to form Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Treasury (2006).
Philosophy of Religion
- Arthur C. Clarke, "The Star" in Infinity Science Fiction November, 1955. Reprinted in Isaac Asimov, ed., The Hugo Winners, Vol. 1 (1962).
- Isaac Asimov, "The Last Question" (1956). Reprinted in Asimov, et al., The Future in Question (see above).
Philosophy of Sex and Gender
- James Triptree, Jr., "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" in James Tiptree, Jr., Aurora: Beyond Equality (1976). Reprinted in Wollheim, The 1977 Annual World's Best SF. (It is perhaps relevant to the reading of this story that 'Tiptree' is actually a pseudonym of Alice Bradley Sheldon, who is in fact a woman.)
Posted by Kenny at September 22, 2009 6:15 PM