Stories & Philosophy

storyStories are fun to read, a part of everyone’s life and something that is interesting to discuss. Any philosophical analysis begins with a definition and a discussion of the existence of the topic, so I will start there.

Stories are a connected series of event(s) involving at least one character. Anything that fits this definition is a story. Some of these stories will be good and many will be bad. First, all stories must have characters. These characters do not have to be people. They could be animals, angels or even inanimate objects. But in order to be stories, characters must have a perspective of some kind – even if that perspective is merely implied in the story. Second, stories must have event(s). A single event is enough for a brief story. Two or more events must be connected somehow in order to belong to the same story. Events and characters are the essence of stories: all stories have them, even bad ones.

There are many kinds of stories. Stories exist across many mediums. Some stories are told by radio, others are told in print and still others appear in televisions and movies. Stories have existed for a long time. In fact, stories are so old that we do not know when the first story was told or what form it took. This diversity also includes development. The idea of fictional stories is quite new in history, appearing in the 1700’s if I remember correctly. Most stories throughout history were written as true stories of the past or as mythological stories that other people falsely believe are true.

In the modern day, there are a number of reasons to listen to stories. Sometimes, it is for pleasure. This reason includes both simple pleasures as well as complex ones. We can even include the pleasure of destroyed hated characters (revenge stories) as a type of this. Sometimes we read stories in order to learn. This may include moral lessons, science lessons, or even history lessons. Stories can function as a kind of communication. Sometimes an idea is not clear enough to be written philosophically, but is clear enough for an author to write about it. Perhaps the author wishes to teach others something. Perhaps the author simply wishes to share some experience with another person. There are many things that may be communicated though fiction. Someone may wish to escape this reality and enter another one. Finally, one may wish to create something – to reflect some element of reality in a story. As a reader we may wish to see an element of reality explored in a story. All of these reasons are reasons for someone who genuinely wants to read the story. Hopefully, I have covered all of the reasons anyone would have for genuinely wanting to read something (or write it).

There are a number of philosophical problems related to stories. First, there is the problem of value. This is the question of what makes stories good. Is the value subjective or objective? What are the characteristics of good stories? What makes stories bad? Second, there is the problem of reference. When we speak of Superman, what are we talking about? Is that a reference to the stories in which Superman appears? Is it a reference to a possible world? Perhaps it is something else. Furthermore, is that reference one or many? There are many Superman stories, and some of them have contradictory attributes. So how many Supermen are there? Third, there is the question of truth. Are stories true in any sense? If so, then what sense? If not, then why not? Also, is it true that “Superman is Clark Kent”? If so, why? If not, then why do we act as if it is true? Finally, there is the question of morality. Are some stories morally good or morally bad? If so, then why? If not, then are slanderous stories impossible to write? What about free speech? Can’t stories promote opinions?

I will try to be innovative and examine the value of stories by looking at what makes stories bad. (This could be fun.)

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Matthew

I have obtained an MA in philosophy from Western Michigan University. Over the years, I have been interested in philosophy, religion and politics. My philosophical interests have shifted to a focus on applying the philosophical understanding of Aristotle and Aquinas to modern problems in philosophy.

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