Must-Read Classic Philosophical Fiction Novels

This article is a summary of the YouTube video ‘Classic Philosophical Novels You Should Read’ by Jared Henderson

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Written by: Recapz Bot

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The video discusses significant philosophical novels, including “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” “Catch-22,” and “The Name of the Rose,” exploring ideas of life cycles, the problem of evil, and the relationship between signs and meanings, while mentioning other notable works worth exploring.

Key Insights

  • The video discusses philosophical novels and their significance.
  • The first novel mentioned is "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" by Milan Kundera, exploring the concept of life repeating in endless cycles.
  • The protagonist questions the consequences of choices made in a single lifetime, creating the "unbearable lightness of being."
  • "Catch-22" by Joseph Heller is described as more than just an anti-war and bureaucratic absurdity novel, but rather as a deep exploration of trauma and the problem of evil.
  • The main character, Yossarian, questions the existence of an all-good and all-powerful God in the face of the suffering caused by war.
  • "The Name of the Rose" by Umberto Eco is mentioned as a historical murder mystery with deep philosophical themes.
  • The novel delves into the relationship between signs, words, and their meanings, with the character William of Baskerville embodying elements of Sherlock Holmes and the medieval philosopher William of Ockham.
  • William represents the Enlightenment and uses empirical and deductive reasoning to solve the murder mystery and challenge superstition.
  • The video highlights that there are numerous other philosophical novels worth exploring, including works by Dostoevsky, Ayn Rand, Don DeLillo, and David Foster Wallace, as well as science fiction and fantasy novels related to philosophical themes.

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Transcript

When you think about philosophical novels, you might think about writers like Fyodor Dostoevsky or Leo Tolstoy, or maybe even Ayn Rand. But I wanted to take a look today at some novels that I think have a lot of philosophical merit to them, discuss some of those philosophical themes and why you should read them.

And the first book I wanted to talk about was The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. Kundera was a Czech and French writer. He sadly passed away just last year. The Unbearable Lightness of Being is sort of a philosophical exploration of not a Nietzschean idea, but an exact inversion of an idea from Nietzsche.

In a section of The Gay Science that Nietzsche titled The Heaviest Weight, he asked the reader to consider the possibility that a demon has visited you and then put forward the idea that life will repeat over and over again the exact same sequence of events. This is an idea that Nietzsche would call eternal return. It’s also sometimes called eternal recurrence. Nietzsche posited that this would be a heavy weight, it would be a kind of burden, knowing that life was an endless cycle.

And Nietzsche thought that it was a sign of personal strength if one were able to accept that burden and still experience a kind of joy. So if the world repeats over and over again in the same kind of endless cycle, this is a heavy burden. But Kundera instead wants you to think about what if we know that life only really happens once? So life is basically as we understand it today. And instead of this being a heavy burden, this is an actual lightness of being.

But this lightness of being brings its own challenges. In particular, Kundera is obsessed with this idea that if life can only be lived once, then all of the choices that you make are done with a certain kind of ignorance. You will never know the consequences of your choices while you’re making the choice. And thus we get the title, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

This is a really great novel if you are interested in those Nietzschean ideas, but maybe you’re looking for someone who isn’t just going to parrot Nietzsche. I mean, frankly, if you want a novel that’s going to give you Nietzschean ideals, then you should just read Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The idea of the eternal return actually is a big theme in that novel as well, and Nietzsche wrote it. So it’s probably the best Nietzschean novel ever written. Kundera is obviously influenced by Nietzsche, but he’s shifting those concerns as well.

Now we’re going to talk about a few other important novels, but before that, I want to thank today’s sponsor, Day One. Regular viewers of this channel know that I love to journal. I try and make journaling a regular part of my life. In fact, it is one of my daily habits. And sometimes I don’t have time to get out a notebook and a pen and write by hand. And on those days, I use Day One.

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When I was making this video, I decided to look at other lists of philosophical novels that had been compiled. I don’t think I ever saw this next book on the list, which I think is really surprising because I do think it’s a deeply philosophical novel, and that’s Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

I first read this novel when I was in high school. It was one of those assignments in an English class where we were told to pick a book. I was told that Catch-22 is funny, and I wanted to read a funny book, so I read it myself for my book report. I don’t think anything could have quite prepared me for Catch-22.

Oftentimes, this novel is painted as an anti-war novel, which is correct, and an exploration of the absurdity of modern bureaucracy. In this way, Heller has a lot in common with, say, Kafka. And that description of Heller’s book is correct as well. But I think there’s something a lot deeper going on in this novel.

So the main character of this novel is Yossarian. If you don’t know the basic idea, Yossarian is a fighter pilot in World War II, and he is constantly being told that he has to fly more and more missions, to the point where he begins to fear his own government more than he fears the Germans that he’s supposed to be fighting. After all, the government keeps raising the number of missions he needs to fly before he can be sent home, and they’ve created more absurd policies which have made it impossible for him to be sent home early.

And I don’t think I could have realized this at the time, because I don’t think I really would have been in a position to understand it, but this is a novel about trauma. This is a novel

This article is a summary of the YouTube video ‘Classic Philosophical Novels You Should Read’ by Jared Henderson