Finally, Philip K. Dick and Philosophy

I was in Borders on Saturday when it occurred to me to check whether there is yet a Philip K. Dick and Philosophy book to go with all the others.

There wasn’t, despite it being such an obvious choice–PKD’s last set of letters, recently published, are replete with references to Spinoza and Heidegger.

So it was with excitement that I saw this today on Philupdates:

Call for Abstracts
Philip K. Dick and Philosophy
Open Court Popular Culture and Philosophy Series

There are few authors as popular as Philip K. Dick who offer anything even approaching the amount and quality of philosophical content that  his works contain.  His novels and short stories not only reference, but primarily concern central philosophical issues, and his career as  a whole took place at that point where existential dread meets
epistemology and metaphysics.  Dick wrote of his work that “I am a fictionalizing philosopher, not a novelist . . . the core of my writing is not art but truth.”  For this volume we seek proposals that
will present and analyze Dick’s philosophical work in the spirit in which he approached his writing:  serious, careful, entertaining, and funny.

We plan the release of the volume in Fall 2011, as soon as possible after the release of The Adjustment Bureau.  This means the entire book is planned on a reduced schedule, and we will be seeking some
authors to volunteer to rewrite immediately after the movie debut, March 4, in order to incorporate The Adjustment Bureau into their chapters.  These will likely be chapters dealing with issues of free will and choice.  For further information, watch the trailer here (, read the short story here (, and feel free to contact me with any additional questions.

Chapters may concern any of Dick’s novels or stories, or movies based upon them, although ideally we would prefer that there be some upfront mention and discussion of one of his most famous movies—Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, or The Adjustment Bureau.  In addition to addressing the movies, we would be especially  interested in chapters also dealing with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; Ubik; Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said; A Scanner Darkly; Radio Free Albemuth; VALIS; “King of the Elves,” “Adjustment Team;” and “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.”

Chapters should be interesting and engaging to readers who have only seen the movies, while still providing insightful discussion and elaboration for readers who have read his texts.  To put it another
way, chapters should have the same relationship to Dick’s writing as Dick found Blade Runner to have to his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?:
“After I finished reading the screenplay, I got the novel out and looked through it. The two reinforce each other, so that someone who started with the novel would enjoy the movie and someone who started with the movie would enjoy the novel.”

We welcome submissions from any philosophical tradition. Any number of topics would work very well.  Here are a few ideas:

• What is a ‘free will’?
• Is there ‘Elbow Room’ in The Adjustment Bureau and Minority Report?
• William James and David Norris’s Pragmatic Solution to the Problem of Free Will
• Amor Fati, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Determinism
• Mortality and the “burned so very, very brightly” theodicy in Blade Runner
• Foreknowledge, Divine and Otherwise, in The Adjustment Bureau and Minority Report
• The Will to Believe . . . a pink beam of light?
• Epistemic responsibility, Gettier problems, and the pink beam
• How can I tell reality from Rekall?
• Does a Replicant have an essence?
• The Replicant’s Sickness Unto Death
• Means-ends rationality in A Scanner Darkly
• Personal identity in A Scanner Darkly
• Moral character, habits, and memory in A Scanner Darkly
• Memory and the self; Hume, Locke and Total Recall
• Is a Replicant a person?
• “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain:” Roy Batty’s capacity for qualia
• The Man in the High Castle: On the Uses and Abuses of Alternate History for Life

Please send a 200-300 word abstract to
prior to September 9th.  Keep in mind that you’ll have to commit to working on a tight schedule.  Finished chapters, approx. 4000 words, will be required by November 18th, with a rewrite due Jan 31st,

Address any questions to:

However, it does seem not a little odd that the emphasis here is so heavily on the movies, which were after all not written or scripted by PKD (he died in 1982) and often have only attenuated philosophical content. Although the cfa here quotes Dick on Bladerunner, his relationship to that movie is not easy to chartacterise, and he also expressed strong disappointment in it. the suggested topics are also heavily oriented around the movies which I find disappointing (because when there’s good stuff and when there’s lesser stuff, it’s odd to focus on the lesser stuff philosophically when you’re publishing a philosophy book.

(h/t Complete Lies)

3 responses to “Finally, Philip K. Dick and Philosophy

  1. Dylan Wittkower

    Hey Jeremy, this is Dylan Wittkower, editor of the PKD book in question. I decided to emphasize the movies because that’s what most people who pick up the book will be most familiar with.

    My worry is that readers might pick up the book and look through the table of contents, and say to themselves, “Martian Time-Slip? Beyond Lies the Wub? I’ve never heard of half of this stuff!”, and put it back on the shelf. To make sure that readers are invited in, I want the movies and most popular books out front of most chapters, even though I expect that for most (or all) chapters, the movies will be only an introduction. That’s the case for all the abstracts I have in so far (which have, by the way, been very good!).

    I might also emphasize: I say that “Chapters should be interesting and engaging to readers who have only seen the movies, while still providing insightful discussion and elaboration for readers who have read his texts.” This certainly doesn’t mean that only the movies will be addressed, or even that they’ll be the primary content of even a single chapter. The point is to write something that’ll be worth reading, even to those who aren’t PKD “insiders.” Why?—in part, for the same reason why this series writes for those who aren’t Philosophy “insiders:” because we’re trying to invite people in.

  2. Hi Dylan,

    Thanks for this. I guess my point is that it’s a little strange to focus on the movies when Dick did not write/see them, and they are weaker philosophically than his texts. They are in fact often very very different from the original short story or novel (except for Scanner Darkly).

    On the other hand I’m all for inviting people in. I do wonder if you’ll get writers who are PKD knowledgeable about the texts, or just the movies? I do not plan to submit to this myself, but I do wonder if your book project would appeal to PKD people or indeed philosophy people?

    (I did have a colleague, David Weberman, who is a philosopher and submitted a good paper in the Matrix volume.)

  3. Dylan Wittkower

    Yeah, I won’t argue with your points on the movies. Maybe another way to put my response is that I don’t intend the chapters to focus on the movies, I intend the approach of each of the chapters to focus on the movies. Almost all abstracts submitted so far starts with a movie by way of introduction, and then goes into more depth by bringing in one or more PKD texts and bringing in some philosophers to help things along. Not a single one is just about a movie, which is very much a good thing.

    And I can tell you something about the likely set of authors based on the surprisingly many abstracts I’ve already got in: We are mostly philosophy professors, with a few authors from a couple related disciplines thrown in (English, Religious Studies, etc.), and we are mostly big PKD fans who have read widely in his writings, with just one relative newcomer to PKD fandom. Several submitters of abstracts have already done academic work on his writing. I’m super-excited about the submissions so far!

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