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Is a good philosopher also necessarily a good writer? Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre were both, each receiving a Nobel Prize in Literature. Other great thinkers, however, haven’t impressed as much when it comes to the written word. Aristotle and Kant, two of the greatest philosophers, were among the field’s worst writers. At least, this is how things appear to Bryan Magee (1930-2019), the celebrated British broadcaster and populiser of philosophy.
In this video from his BBC Two series Men of Ideas (1978), Magee interviews the novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch, and the two set out to chart the distinctions between literary and philosophical writing and, by extension, literature and philosophy as independent disciplines. While the wide-ranging interview covers much ground, including the knotty instances in which writers of literary fiction claim to have been influenced by foundational philosophical ideas, Murdoch distills her views eloquently at the outset, declaring that, while philosophy aims to clarify, literature is for fun and mystification.
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