Philosophical Novels

These narratives will feature characters who have a philosophical interest and discuss it. The novel’s plot could also illustrate a particular philosophy.

See also Fate | Destiny

Novels About Philosophy

The Name of the Rose | Umberto Eco

Adso of Melk recounts the intriguing events of a week’s time in 1327. William, a Franciscan monk, accompanied by his novice, Adso, goes to an abbey for a religious debate. The abbot asks William to look into the recent death of a young man at the abbey. Shortly after, a monk is found dead.

Nausea | Jean-Paul Sartre

Antoine Roquetin, a thirty-year-old man, lives in Bouville, a small seacoast town in France. He is working on a biography of an obscure political figure. Roquetin notices a subtle change in his perceptions of himself and others. He grapples with his existence, and the existence of objects and others.

Read “Nausea”

Under the Net | Iris Murdoch

Jake and Finn find out that they’re being kicked out of their residence, Jake’s girlfriend’s apartment. Finn goes to stay with Dave, a philosophy professor, while Jake looks for Anna, the woman he loves. Jake goes on a few small quests related to his book (the only one he ever published) and a manuscript he translated.

Gulliver’s Travels | Jonathan Swift

Lemuel Gulliver returns from his fourth and final trip and tells about his adventures. He visited Lilliput, populated by tiny people; Brobdingnag, populated by giants; and several other places on the third and fourth trips, each with their own peculiarities.

Read “Gulliver’s Travels”

Candide | Francois Voltaire

Candide is a young man who is in love with Cunegonde, a beautiful baron’s daughter. Candide is torn between the opposing philosophies of Pangloss and Martin: blind optimism and extreme pessimism. They undergo a series of extreme hardships and injustices that put their beliefs to the test.

Read “Candide”

To the Lighthouse | Virginia Woolf 

It’s a September evening before World War I. The Ramsay’s are at home discussing the possibility of going to the Lighthouse the next day. The narrative then covers a ten year period containing the war and major changes in the family.

Read “To the Lighthouse”

The Picture of Dorian Gray | Oscar Wilde

Basil Hallward, an artist, has painted a portrait of a handsome young man, Dorian Gray. While putting on the finishing touches, a visitor, Lord Henry, speaks of his philosophy for living – to indulge one’s desires and impulses. Dorian is affected by his words; when he sees how beautiful he is in the portrait, he says he would give his soul to stay young.

Read “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

Fathers and Sons | Ivan Turgenev

Arkady returns home after graduating, bringing with him a friend and mentor, Bazarov, a nihilist. Arkady’s father and uncle don’t like Bazarov, and there are arguments between the older and younger generations. The young men meet sisters, Anna and Katya, and they pursue them.

Read “Fathers and Sons”

The Brothers Karamazov | Fedor Doestoevsky

The Karamazov brothers have no mother and an uninterested father. Dimitri is a sensualist, Ivan is a thinker, and Alyosha is spiritual. When their father, Fyodor, is murdered, Dimitri becomes the main suspect.

Read “The Brothers Karamazov”

The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Milan Kundera

Tomas is a surgeon and womanizer who falls in love with Tereza. He marries her but continues to see other women, one of whom is Sabina, an artist. Some of the same story is then told from Tereza’s point of view. We later meet Franz, a professor who has an affair with Sabina.

Siddhartha | Hermann Hesse

A young Brahman (a member of the highest Hindu caste), searches for the meaning of life through religion – Hinduism, asceticism, and Buddhism – and also through material success and physical pleasure.

Read “Siddhartha”

The Fountainhead | Ayn Rand

Howard Roark is a burgeoning architect who has just been expelled from his class. He doesn’t fight the expulsion; he moves to New York and works for Henry Cameron, a brilliant but commercially unsuccessful architect. Meanwhile, Peter Keating is the school’s valedictorian. He is a conformist, and is hired by a prestigious firm run by Guy Francon. Their lives become entwined with the life of Dominique Francon, a beautiful pessimist. The narrative follows the men’s careers, propelled by their differing philosophies for living.

Atlas Shrugged | Ayn Rand

New York is in a state of decay and economic collapse. Dagny Taggart tries to keep Taggart Transcontinental, a railroad, running despite government rules that make it difficult for businesses. She has some capitalist allies fighting with her but, one by one, they have been disappearing. It seems to be related to a person named John Galt.

Kaddish for a Child Not Born | Imre Kertesz

The unnamed narrator is a middle-aged Hungarian Jew staying at a resort in Hungary. He writes but it doesn’t provide him solace, only some escape. His stream of consciousness narration covers the significant events of his life – his upbringing, his time at Auschwitz, his ex-wife, and his secular work.

The Sea-Wolf | Jack London

Humphrey Weyden gets pressed into service aboard the Ghost, a schooner captained by Wolf Larsen, a brutish fighter who also reads philosophy and poetry. Humphrey is a gentleman, not used to physical work. He adjusts to the rough environment, and has some thought provoking conversations with Larsen. The ship’s mission is to hunt seals for their skins.

Read “The Sea-Wolf”

The Magic Mountain | Thomas Mann

Hans Castorp, a young man from an upper-class family who isn’t physically robust. He goes to a sanatorium in the Alps on his doctor’s advice to treat his anemia. He spends his time talking about the other patients, resting, walking on the grounds, and having philosophical discussions with Settembrini, an intelligent conversationalist who urges Hans to leave the sanatorium. He intended to stay three weeks, but after he catches a cold, an extended stay is recommended.

Notes from Underground | Fyodor Dostoevsky

The narrator, an ex civil servant, expatiates on consciousness and how it leads to inaction, and self-interest. He visits some old friends but feels ignored and unwanted.

Read “Notes from Underground”

Of Human Bondage | W. Somerset Maugham

Philip Carey is a young orphan raised by his uncle William, a vicar. Philip develops a love for books. He vacillates on religion. He suffers a lot of bullying at school due to his club foot. When he gets older, he develops interest in art and philosophy. He goes into medicine, and seeks contentment with various romances.

Read “Of Human Bondage”

Utopia | Thomas More

More records an account of the people of the island of Utopia – their history, laws, religion, and general customs. The Utopians hold all property in common, provide equal education for their citizens, and have a definite daily routine. More hopes that his acquaintance, Hythloday, an expert on the Utopians, will become an advisor to a king so others can benefit from their system.

Read “Utopia”

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Robert Pirsig

The unnamed narrator is riding his motorcycle from Minnesota to California with his son and two friends. He philosophizes about classicism and romanticism and relates motorcycle maintenance to an individual’s spiritual health. His son, Chris, has been diagnosed with a possible symptom of mental illness. The narrator hints that he is inhabited by an alternate personality, explaining what it is and that it might be reemerging.