The Philosophy of Sherlock Holmes

The Philosophy of Sherlock Holmes

Philip Tallon
David Baggett
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 214
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    The Philosophy of Sherlock Holmes
    Book Description:

    Arguably the most famous and recognized detective in history, Sherlock Holmes is considered by many to be the first pop icon of the modern age. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective has stood as a unique figure for more than a century with his reliance on logical rigor, his analytic precision, and his disregard of social mores. A true classic, the Sherlock Holmes character continues to entertain twenty-first-century audiences on the page, stage, and screen.

    InThe Philosophy of Sherlock Holmes, a team of leading scholars use the beloved character as a window into the quandaries of existence, from questions of reality to the search for knowledge. The essays explore the sleuth's role in revealing some of the world's most fundamental philosophical issues, discussing subjects such as the nature of deception, the lessons enemies can teach us, Holmes's own potential for criminality, and the detective's unique but effective style of inductive reasoning. Emphasizing the philosophical debates raised by generations of devoted fans, this intriguing volume will be of interest to philosophers and Holmes enthusiasts alike.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3687-5
    Subjects: Philosophy, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction The Case of the Conan Doyle Conference
    (pp. 1-6)
    Philip Tallon and David Baggett

    This volume came together at a special Sherlock Holmes colloquium, convened at the University of Bern, near the famous Reichenbach Falls.¹ Despite the fearsome headlines and morbid details popular in the press coverage of the event, it was mostly a delightful and relaxing conference, with many fascinating papers on deep questions raised by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous mysteries.

    The location was lovely, with conference rooms that looked out over the falls where Holmes and Moriarty had their famous battle in “The Final Problem.” Fourteen esteemed scholars were present, and of the thirteen papers read (Dr. Tallon’s not being read...

  4. Sherlock Holmes as Epistemologist
    (pp. 7-22)
    David Baggett

    A philosopher friend of mine tends to give his waitresses a hard time, though they never seem to mind. When they ask him if there’s anything else he needs, for example, he tends to reply that, now that they ask, he would like to be given the meaning of life. He’s a good tipper, but notthatgood.

    Beyond containing a skein of mysteries, life itself is a mystery, often an inscrutable one, in need of unraveling. Because omniscience for most of us, unlike Sherlock Holmes’s brother Mycroft, isn’t our specialization, we could use help in knowing how to go...

  5. Not the Crime, but the Man: Sherlock Holmes and Charles Augustus Milverton
    (pp. 23-36)
    David Rozema

    “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” is, in many respects, unique among Sherlock Holmes’s adventures.¹ In the first place, Holmes does not investigate any crime, nor is he asked to. Rather, he becomes a criminal himself, burgling a man’s house and witnessing his murder without trying to prevent it or report it. Second, his antagonist, Charles Augustus Milverton, is described by Holmes as “the worst man in London”; he likens Milverton to the venomous serpents at the zoo, “with their deadly eyes and their wicked, flattened faces,” and tells Watson, “I’ve had to do with fifty murderers in my career,...

  6. A Case of Insincerity: What Does It Mean to Deceive Someone?
    (pp. 37-48)
    Kevin Kinghorn

    Whether disguising himself as an Italian priest in “The Final Problem” or leaving false evidence of his own death in “The Adventure of the Empty House,” Sherlock Holmes always seems to be one step ahead of friends and adversaries alike. Holmes’s ultimate goal, of course, is to thwart the maneuvers of criminals throughout London. As we watch him do so time and again, we notice that he often relies on trickery of some sort. He hides his true intentions when speaking to suspects, he misdirects them as to his whereabouts, he lulls them into a false sense of security. In...

  7. Sherlock’s Reasoning Toolbox
    (pp. 49-60)
    Massimo Pigliucci

    “It is simplicity itself. . . . My eyes tell me that on the inside of your left shoe, just where the firelight strikes it, the leather is scored by six almost parallel cuts. Obviously they have been caused by someone who has very carelessly scraped round the edges of the sole in order to remove crusted mud from it. Hence, you see, my double deduction that you had been out in vile weather, and that you had a particularly malignant boot-slitting specimen of the London slavey.” So says Sherlock Holmes to a befuddled Dr. Watson in “A Scandal in...

  8. Watsons, Adlers, Lestrades, and Moriarties: On the Nature of Friends and Enemies
    (pp. 61-76)
    Philip Tallon

    In hisNicomachean Ethics,Aristotle praises friendship with powerful words. “For without friends no one would choose to live,” he asserts, “though he had all other goods.”¹ Friendship is helpful in nearly every stage and station in life (though Aristotle does pause to mention that bitter people and the elderly have a hard time making friends). Friendship comforts, protects, and corrects, and perhaps most beneficially, Aristotle writes, “those in the prime of life it stimulates to noble actions—‘two going together’—for with friends men are more able both to think and to act.”² Friendship can bring the best out...

  9. Eliminating the Impossible: Sherlock Holmes and the Supernatural
    (pp. 77-92)
    Kyle Blanchette

    In the opening scene of Guy Ritchie’s first movie adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved and enduring literary franchise,Sherlock Holmes(2009), the audience promptly makes the acquaintance of a most sinister character by the name of Lord Blackwood. Looming over a young woman as she lies flat in a trance, dagger in hand, ready to take her own life, Black-wood is engaged in what appears to be a form of black arts. In a move that typifies the clash between Holmes and Blackwood throughout the movie, Holmes and Watson manage to save the young woman in the nick...

  10. Was It Morally Wrong to Kill Off Sherlock Holmes?
    (pp. 93-108)
    Andrew Terjesen

    The “Great Hiatus” is the term used by Holmes scholars to refer to the period of time between Holmes’s tumble off of Reichenbach Falls in the “Adventure of the Final Problem” and his resurfacing three years later (in the chronology of Doyle’s stories) in “The Adventure of the Empty House.” During those three years, Holmes was presumed dead and had gone deep undercover to trap all of Moriarty’s lieutenants. By the end of that story, he had succeeded in arresting the last member of Moriarty’s criminal organization who posed a threat. Holmes’s activities during those three years are never portrayed...

  11. Sherlock Holmes: Artist of Reason
    (pp. 109-120)
    D. Q. McInerny

    Mr. Sherlock Holmes is the remarkably successful detective that all the world readily acknowledges him to be because he is a preeminent man of reason, which means, in more specific terms, that he is a man of method. The method, in turn, can be said to be the natural corollary to his complete dedication to logic. Holmes is capable of being languorously undisciplined while he is between clients, a time when boredom seems to set in quickly, engendering, according to the reports we receive from Dr. Watson, a type of melancholy that appears very much like clinical depression. Yet as...

  12. Sherlock Holmes and the Ethics of Hyperspecialization
    (pp. 121-132)
    Bridget McKenney Costello and Gregory Bassham

    Sherlock Holmes is highly specialized in the art of criminal detection—hyperspecialized, in fact. He possesses highly trained powers of observation and reasoning, which he pairs with a deep knowledge of matters that bear directly on his profession, including chemistry, anatomy, the history of crime, footprints, bloodstains, mud splatters, and tobacco ashes. Yet Holmes—at least when we are first introduced to him—is almost totally ignorant of many areas of knowledge that virtually all educated Victorians took for granted. For instance, he knows “next to nothing”¹ about contemporary literature, philosophy, and politics, and he is so ignorant of modern...

  13. Passionate Objectivity in Sherlock Holmes
    (pp. 133-142)
    Charles Taliaferro and Michel Le Gall

    The detective novel as we now know it has its origins in the nineteenth century. It was very much a phenomenon contemporary with the dissemination of Auguste Comte’s (1758–1857) positivist philosophy, a rigorously scientific approach to problem solving.¹ Edgar Allan Poe (1809–49)—one of several authors heralded as the creator of the detective novel—was himself both taken with and skeptical of the powers of reason. In his short essay “Instinct vs. Reason—A Black Cat,” Poe remarked, “The leading distinction between instinct and reason seems to be, that, while the one is infinitely more exact, the more...

  14. The Industrious Sherlock Holmes
    (pp. 143-152)
    Gregory Bassham

    Hard work was a prime Victorian virtue, and Sherlock Holmes, good Victorian that he was, was an exceptionally hardworking guy. Holmes was a person “who, when he had an unsolved problem upon his mind, would go for days, and even for a week, without rest, turning it over, rearranging his facts, looking at it from every point of view until he had either fathomed it or convinced himself that his data were insufficient.”¹ True, Holmes didn’t work all the time. When he had no interesting cases to absorb him, he frequently would fall into “fits of the blackest depression,”² “and...

  15. The Dog That Did Not Bark: Learning How to Read “The Book of Life”
    (pp. 153-166)
    Carrie-Ann Biondi

    A good detective asks himself the question, “Am I missing something?” One can miss something in at least three ways. The first and most obvious way is to overlook something that is in front of you, such as a book you are searching for when you misremember its being red rather than blue. A second and fairly common way is not to recognize the significance of what you do notice, discounting its relevance for the task at hand. For example, a police cadet might be baffled that all of the doors and windows of a robbed bank are locked, not...

  16. Aristotle on Detective Fiction
    (pp. 167-180)
    Dorothy L. Sayers

    Some twenty-five years ago, it was rather the fashion among commentators to deplore that Aristotle should have so much inclined to admire a kind of tragedy that was not, in their opinion, “the best.” All this stress laid upon the plot, all this hankering after melodrama and surprise—was it not rather unbecoming? rather inartistic? Psychology for its own sake was just then coming to the fore, and it seemed almost blasphemous to assert that “they do not act in order to portray the characters; they include the characters for the sake of the action.” Indeed, we are not yet...

  17. The Grim Reaper on Baker Street
    (pp. 181-196)
    Elizabeth Glass-Turner

    Long beforeCSI: Crime Scene Investigationand other murder mystery shows, people gathered around—and under—the guillotine to watch the bloody spectacle of death, and even, asThe Scarlet Pimperneldescribes, to collect hair from the fallen heads. Centuries before that, crowds roared around the ultimate reality series at the Coliseum, watching contestants literally fight to the death. Most of the denizens of history have had close contact with mortality. Disease, battle, and starvation used to be the norm around the world. Longer life expectancy and low mortality rates haven’t diminished interest in death. If anything, as the specter...

  18. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 197-198)
  19. List of Contributors
    (pp. 199-202)
  20. Index
    (pp. 203-206)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 207-208)