Science-Fiction represents a great way to allow some of the most imaginative and visionary authors and film directors of all time to transport us to places where anything is possible and the only rules are the ones set by the world’s creator. But, it is much more than this. Not only does it make us think of the universe in new ways, it can make us think about life from new and novel perspectives that standard fiction can never achieve. For me, Sci-Fi represents one of the best outlets for philosophy that is on offer today.
The basic goal of philosophy is to ask the big questions about life; what is consciousness and free will? What is morality and how do we be good? What makes good politics and how is a good state run? Sci-Fi can comment on these questions, and can ask questions from unusual and innovative angles which pose genuine problems for the answers that philosophers throughout the ages have proposed.
This is not a new or ground-breaking concept that I’m proposing for sure. Plato himself was aware of it, almost 2,500 years ago. In Plato’s greatest work, The Republic, Socrates describes the Ring of Gyges; a mythical ring which grants the wearer invisibility. By inventing this novel and impossible scenario enables Socrates to ask genuine questions about what justice is and whether an intelligent person would act morally if he knew that he could never be caught in his immoral act. The author credited as Homer uses the Greek Gods in a similar manner. Homer paints the gods of ancient Greece as capricious and vindictive which allows the reader to ponder why we are here and how we can make sense of a chaotic world.
Today, Sci-Fi is still used to tackle the big questions of philosophy. Unllike the film, the book I,Robot by Isaac Asimov is a collection of short stories primarily exploring the nature of morality and consciousness. One short story though develops an elegant argument for how a rational thinker cold develop the idea of a higher power when they lack the necessary information to otherwise explain the nature of the world.
One of the most powerful sets of books, and currently films is the Hunger Games trilogy which poses a range of powerful questions and answers. The author Suzanne Collins creates a satire on inequality, ridiculing the idea that those, literally, at the coal face work hardest and remain poor while others profit from their work. It asks what is good and evil/ right and wrong in an individual and in a state and highlights the immorality/ pointlessness of honour and revenge and how greed can ultimately corrupt leaders even when they fight for a worthy cause (a la Animal Farm).
So, the next time that you read or watch a work of Science-Fiction be sure to ask yourself; what can aliens, super heroes and robots teach me about living well and living right?