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What do I mean? Well, teleporters:

"Every room resets. Remember I told you that? Every room reverts to its original condition. Logically, the teleporter should do the same. Teleporter. Fancy word. Just like 3D printers, really, except they break down living matter and information, and transmit it. All you have to do is add energy. The room has reset, returned to its original condition when I arrived. That means there's a copy of me still in the hard drive. Me, exactly as I was, when I first got here, seven thousand years ago"...

..."How long can I keep doing this, Clara? Burning the old me, to make a new one?"

-snippet from the transcript of the best Doctor Who episode in existence

Now, something similar is going on with a particular civilization of my setting, enter the Angels:

Borderline immortal, even if you "kill" them, they'll likely just load one of their RAID 999 saves, get out of the nearest transmat and proceed to obliterate you. Obviously, this will invoke the Spaceship of Theseus. The solution:

"Your brain cells are constantly dying, do you feel yourself dying? The greatest illusion is that there is a self which is unique and cannot be replaced. Bollocks, the universe is not your wish-fulfilling fairy. There is no one to protect us, no God, no Richard Dawkins, no Soul. And you know what, I don't give a fiddle about it."

Let's see, how many groups agree, at least partially,with this idea:

  • Christians X
  • Fidesz X
  • Buddhism ✓
  • Kurzgesagt✓
  • The terrorists X
  • The atheists✓
  • Everyone else X
  • The universe: Request is still Pending...

How should I take this deep, philosophical concept and make the reader immediately accept it?

  • 2
    You can argue for a concept, and readers can agree or disagree with your argument. If you want "instant" acceptance, you will be looking at a fraction of readers who already support your concept. – Alexander Dec 4 '17 at 19:26
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    "Immediately" as in believe it for themselves IRL, because they saw it in print? Forget it. Nobody is going to change their life-long religion because you scribbled something down. The same goes for atheists like myself, a miracle performed before my eyes wouldn't convince me I am wrong, because I am routinely fooled by most magic tricks, without ever believing they are actual magic! As for the characters in your writing, you don't have to do anything special. Readers will believe that the characters believe what they profess, – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Dec 4 '17 at 19:27
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    Do you need to be a Christian to enjoy the Chronicles of Narnia? Of course not. Readers don't need to agree with you (or your characters) to enjoy your ideas and the story surrounding them. – sudowoodo Dec 4 '17 at 19:59
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    I don't think it does. I'll watch Nightfall about the Knights Templar, I watch Vikings without believing in Odin. No matter what the belief system of characters or how central it is to their plight, that does not scratch the fourth wall. Fourth wall problems like that occur when the author is using fiction as a thin pretense to argue their own wish-fulfillment BS in real life. Like Ayn Rand's ludicrous crap, or Christian Rapture fiction. The problems there a cardboard characters, dumb villains, implausible events, deus ex machinas and general irrationality. Bad writing, not bad premise. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Dec 4 '17 at 20:17
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    @RedactedRedacted - an existential crisis is no different to challenging ones notion on gods/greater beings/pineapple on pizza. It's all part of the same thing. I'd also strongly suggest not relying on TVTropes so heavily... – Thomo Dec 4 '17 at 22:55
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The 'philosophical concept' underpinning the story is not the same as the set of physical or temporal assumptions a reader needs to make in suspending disbelief while reading a work of horror/ fantasy/ alternate history/ science fiction. In other words, it is not essential to the reader's experience to agree with your philosophy in the same way as, for example, willfully deciding to believe in vampires (at least for the duration) is necessary to properly feel the visceral thrill of Dracula.

The greatest illusion is that there is a self which is unique and cannot be replaced. Bollocks, the universe is not your wish-fulfilling fairy. There is no one to protect us, no God, no Richard Dawkins, no Soul. And you know what, I don't give a fiddle about it.

As the earlier answers noted, you cannot make the reader immediately accept it, does the writer ever actually have that much influence over the reader? If you want to spell it out, you can either state that philosophy out loud as the 'omniscient narrator' or put it into the mouth of a character, to make it respectively explicit or implicit to the reader that that's the philosophical framework upon which you are basing your story.

But the best authors don't often do it that way. They usually show, not tell. The philosophical base is built up incrementally over several pages through the converging and diverging actions and opinions of multiple characters, the manner of description of events, the tone and tenor of the writing, and commentary that illustrates (rather than spells out) the author's world view.

Famous examples of this approach in 20th century novels:

"Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy [philosophical base: the Old West was amoral];

"Island" by Aldous Huxley [personal growth through Eastern spirituality and pacifism];

"Slaughterhouse Five" by Kurt Vonnegut [senselessness of war].

The reader will understand the philosophical concept as he goes along, and his agreement with your ideas is not necessary for his enjoyment of your written work, as also noted by @sudowoodo in comments.

4

As a philosopher, I'm very sensitive to philosophical content in media, and there are definitely otherwise well-written works I've despised because of their philosophies: Philip Pullman's Golden Compass series, for example, or the films Friends With Money, The People Versus Larry Flynt, Million Dollar Baby, and Forest Gump. But there's also work I treasure that comes from (or dramatizes) philosophical viewpoints very different from my own: Sartre's No Exit and Camus's The Plague, Paul Russell's Boys of Life, Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, David Zindell's Neverness, and anything by Kurt Vonnegut or Samuel Delany.

What makes the difference? I think, at least from my point of view, the works I liked all had characters and plots that really lived on their own, whereas the other ones all felt fake, dishonest or heavy-handed to me. Even when I approve of a philosophy I rarely like it to be forced down my throat. Especially for a philosophy like the one you're describing, it makes most sense as part of the background of the story, something that people can easily suspend disbelief for, just the same way they do for teleporters and aliens. If it becomes part of the foreground of the story, you're probably doing it wrong.

That said, some of the best philosophical work succeeds by dramatizing the debate, not the answer. Heinlein's Moon is a powerful argument for his libertarian views, but it works because he's often dramatizing the ways libertarianism fails and isn't successful, not the ways it triumphs. Similarly, the debate over teleporters in the Dr. Who episode is there for dramatic interest, not because someone on the staff has a vested interest in the Ship of Theseus debate. Similarly, Asimov isn't evangelizing for the "3 Laws of Robotics" in his robot stories --they are there as a plot device. That's maybe why people find them compelling as an idea (and often fail to notice that Asimov never wrote a story where the 3 Laws work as intended).

  • Well, here the drama is supposed to emerge from the philosophy, like amnesia==partial death. – Mephistopheles Dec 5 '17 at 18:08
  • @RedactedRedacted In that case, dramatize the debate. If everyone accepts the premise, there's no drama in it anyway. Surely someone in your universe disagrees... If you really want to be clever, do what Delany does, and make sure both ways of looking at the situation are equally impossible and unworkable. – Chris Sunami Dec 5 '17 at 18:13
  • @RedactedRedacted The more I think about it the more I think you should try to read Delany's Dhalgren --you'll see how a true master handles what is often stunningly offensive and controversial material, as well as daring experiments with form and structure, and somehow holds it all together. – Chris Sunami Dec 6 '17 at 18:56
3

A useful way to think about this is to recognize that all stories are experiences, not propositions. A philosophy is a proposition, so it is not the matter of stories.

But living with the consequences of a proposition is an experience. You can write a story about living with the consequences of believing in, or experiencing people who believe in, a proposition.

People encounter and have to work and/or coexist with people who believe radically different propositions on a daily basis. Turn on the news and you will find accounts of conflicts arising from believe in different propositions.

Since people are used to encountering such situations, they are interested in what that experience is like, so a story about the consequences of living with a particular or unusual proposition can appeal to many people.

Of course, even if the story is an experience, not a proposition, the author's own adherence to and advocacy of that proposition may start to show through, and this may turn off the reader.

This does not mean that it cannot be done. CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia are Christian parallels (I think allegories is the wrong word). Millions of people who read them have no idea and are sometimes quite surprised when informed of this. You can enjoy the experience the story gives without recognizing an proposition being slipped in there along with the story.

So, if you focus on the experience your story creates, you won't turn off readers who disagree with the propositions of a philosophy that plays a role in the story, unless they detect that you are really trying to preach that philosophy. Then you will be left only with those readers who agree with that philosophy.

Of course, if it is a popular philosophy, particularly one the imagines itself to be more radical and avant garde than it really is, this can be a significant audience. Some writers make careers writing for an audience that enjoys having a particular prejudice confirmed and celebrated over and over again.

2

Well if you can take a profound philosophical idea that many people disagree with for a variety of logical and emotional reasons, and make them instantly accept it with a couple of sentences, I think there are a good many politicians, religious leaders, advertising executives, and many others who would like to hear how you did it. If I knew how to do that, I wouldn't be here posting, I'd be out either saving the world or making myself emperor.

Realistically, I think you have 3 choices:

(a) Present your controversial philosophical position forcefully and accept that many readers will reject it. Depending on how much they care, etc, people might be grossly offended, or they might simply find your story implausible because it's based on this premise that they are quite sure is false. They may throw your book away when they get to that point, read on to learn what the opposition is saying, or try to have you arrested for hate speech, heresy, corrupting the youth, or whatever.

(b) Actively try to persuade the reader that your philosophical position is correct. If your goal is to convert people to your beliefs, presumably this is what you want to do. Otherwise ... realistically, people have been arguing about these ideas for thousands of years. Unless you have some potent new argument, it's unlikely you're going to change many minds.

(c) Present your controversial philosophical position mildly, in the spirit of "you may or may not agree with this but please go along for the sake of the story". For example, I read Greek mythology and find it entertaining even though I am not a pagan and I don't believe in Zeus. Probably mostly because Greek paganism is pretty much dead today and so not a threat to my religious beliefs in any real way. I've read many books by atheists that express ideas that conflict with my beliefs but I brush them aside and go on if the story is interesting enough. Controversial ideas can often be presented as a "what if", as in, "what if this idea was true? where would it lead?" You can often get readers to go along with something they disagree with in that vein.

One example that comes to mind: Arthur C Clark's story, "The Nine Billion Names of God". The gist of the story is that a group of monks believe that the purpose of human life is to create a list of all the possible names of God. They've been at this for centuries, but now that computers have been invented, they hire some computer experts to program a computer to do this and finish the job in hours instead of millennia. SPOILER* When the computer finishes, the stars start disappearing. Well I don't believe in the religious ideas in this story at all. But I had no problem going along with it as an amusing story. Of course I don't believe that anything like this was true for a moment. So what, it's just a story. I was on another forum where an atheist insisted on trying to re-interpret the story to fit an atheist view, and I thought it was just silly. Clearly the point of the story was that the universe really did end because the monks had completed their task. And OF COURSE that doesn't prove anything about the real world -- either that there is a God or that the universe would end that way. But for some reason this atheist found the idea of a fiction story that contradicted his beliefs so disturbing that he had to find a way to re-interpret it. I think that's even crazier then calling for it to be censored. At least the censor isn't trying to put his own words in the author's mouth.

On the other hand, consider Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code". This wasn't just a clever story based on a fanciful premise that happened to conflict with many people's religious beliefs. It was a deliberate attack on those beliefs. Some responded by ignoring the book and others by attacking it. But I doubt many Christians read it saying, "yeah, amusing premise, what if".

2

Why is the character doing exposition on this? Why does he think this way? If the reader knows the answers to these questions in advance and accepts the reasons, he will accept the exposition. Which, frankly, is the best you can expect. And, fortunately, all you as an author need.

So you need a situation where the character would believably say this. You need a character that would believably say and think that. And you need a setting where a character like this would believably think this way.

The first two are vital for making it work, the last is where authors pushing personal opinions generally fail. Their personal bias makes their setting biased.

So to make the story better focus on character building and make sure the story flows naturally from the characters. More character driven the better.

If you actually want to convince somebody, you'll need compelling world building. People will need to want to believe in your world and the ideas must be a natural way to think in this setting. You'd need to sell people a vision of future they want to believe in.

This is much easier to do for religions than it is for works of fiction, so I honestly do not think you should bother. Just focus on the characters. Characters can be as opinionated as you want without people rejecting the story as long as the author seems honest and reasonably unbiased.

1

You don't. Unless you are writing some kind of propaganda or cult materiel, then it's completely irrelevant for the reader to have either: a) accepted your "philosophical" leanings or b) have a life-altering shift in perspective.

Neither of what you're writing is really a philosophy, and the thing you need to remember is that whatever it is, it needs to fit the story and let the story stand on its own.

Just because an idea on the nature of the universe is a core tenant of your story, if it's a work of fiction (as opposed to say an extended discourse on the nature of belief - i.e. The God Delusion), then it doesn't matter. It needs to be shown to further enable the story, but there is absolutely no requirement on the reader to agree, accept or follow a certain philosophical mindset or view point for them to enjoy the work (and if you demand that there is, you may be in the wrong business).

People are, generally, capable of understanding something without being a blind follow. We can question. We can also enjoy a good story for what it is - a good story. I don't have to believe in God to enjoy The Chronicles of Narnia, or Le Morte d'Artur, or the Crucible Trilogy by Sara Douglas. I don't need to believe in Warp Gods and Daemons and the Immortal Emperor of Mankind to enjoy the Horus Heresy series, or any Black Library Novels.

It's a story. Tell it. Let the reader draw deeper meaning from it if they can/want to. But let the story tell itself

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