Philosophical Short Stories

Characters in these stories have a philosophical interest, they talk about philosophical topics, the story illustrates a particular philosophical point of view, or a character offers advice for living.

The Garden of Forking Paths | Jorge Luis Borges

A German spy knows that his cover has been blown and he’s being pursued by English authorities. He has vital information to communicate to his government, so he comes up with a plan: he finds a man named Stephen Albert in the phonebook and heads for his home.

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Dante and the Lobster | Samuel Beckett

Before visiting his aunt for supper, a man goes about his daily errands. He brings lobster with him, but is surprised that it’s still alive.

This story asserts the futility and meaninglessness of life.

Read “Dante and the Lobster”

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas | Ursula K. Le Guin

The citizens of Omelas are happy, but the narrator is vague as to what exactly they have which makes them so. However, the people’s happiness depends on one thing, which all the citizens are aware of.

This story illustrates a moral dilemma based on William James’s pragmatism.

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Three Questions | Leo Tolstoy

A king wants the answers to three very important questions. He finds a wise hermit who helps him discover the answers.

This is a parable that offers a philosophy for living.

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The Intoxicated | Shirley Jackson

At a dinner party, an intoxicated man steps into the host’s kitchen where the host’s seventeen-year-old daughter engages him in a conversation about a post-apocalyptic world.

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The Aleph | Jorge Luis Borges

After the death of the woman he loves, the narrator begins visiting her father. The father claims there’s a point in his cellar, an aleph, which contains all other points in space.

This deals with the concept of infinity.

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The Library of Babel | Jorge Luis Borges

The narrator’s universe is a room containing every possible book. Most of them are complete nonsense, but it must also contain all the world’s wisdom and accurate prophecy.

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A Country Doctor | Franz Kafka

A doctor experiences several surreal events when he’s called out during a winter’s night to treat a sick man.

This story can be read as an argument for existentialism.

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Ex Oblivione | H. P. Lovecraft

A dying man dreams he is in a valley and finds a concealed bronze gate. He wants to know what’s on the other side, but future dreams give him contradictory answers.

This story has the philosophical message that nothingness is better than life, possibly based on some of the work of Schopenhauer.

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The Wall | Jean-Paul Sartre

Pablo is accused of being a war criminal. He is held in a cell with two other men. They are all informed they will be executed. They each deal with the news differently.

This story illustrates Sartre’s existentialism.

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A. V. Laider | Max Beerbohm

The narrator goes to a hotel to recover from a bout of influenza, the same hotel he stayed in the previous year for a similar recovery. On the letter-board, he sees an undelivered letter that he had written to A. V. Laider, a man he had talked to last time. He remembers the tragic story that moved him to write to Laider.

This story discusses faith and reason, and fate and free will.

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Memnon the Philosopher, Or Human Wisdom | Voltaire

Memnon decides to become a great philosopher by rejecting all passions including love, intemperance, and quarreling.

Read “Memnon the Philosopher”

Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius | Jorge Luis Borges

The narrator learns of an encyclopedia entry on a country called Uqbar, but the entry doesn’t appear in all copies of the volume. He tries to locate more information about this country.

Among other things, this story shows a world where George Berkeley’s idealism is common sense and materialism is viewed as paradoxical.

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I Bought a Little City | Donald Barthelme

The narrator buys Galveston, Texas with the intention of creating a utopian society. He thought it would be easy to make the citizens happy, but finds that no matter what he does someone is upset about it.

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Important Things | Barbara L. Greenberg

A parent has promised to tell the children the “Important Things” in life. The parent puts it off until the kids are older and then tells them, but the kids aren’t impressed with the shared wisdom.

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Esse | Czeslaw Milosz

A man looks with amazement at a woman’s face on a train.

The narrator seems to be contemplating existence and existing things.

Read “Esse”

The Spinoza of Market Street | Isaac Bashevis Singer

Dr. Fichelson, a philosopher, lives by the rationalist teachings of Spinoza. He lives on a small income after being fired from his post as librarian at a synagogue, due to his views, which contradict Jewish doctrine.

Read “The Spinoza of Market Street”

The Slump | John Updike

A professional baseball player is in a hitting slump. He tries to figure out what his problem is. He considers physical and philosophical reasons, and tries to work through it.

Read “The Slump”

See also: The Guest (Choice)