G. K. Chesterton, early twentieth-century essayist, poet, novelist, political campaigner and theologian, philosophised greatly about society and the future. A study of his thinking and selected writings, with particular reference to his status as a precursor of the genre later known as "science fiction," enriches our understanding of how we came to be where we are and how we can advocate a better future. In this book, Stephen R. L. Clark, a philosopher with a lifelong "addiction" to science fiction, explores Chesterton's ideas and arguments in their historical context and evaluates them philosophically. He addresses Chesterton's sense that the way things are is not how they must have been or need be in the future and his willingness to face up to the apparent effects of the nihilism he detected in the science and politics of his day. Clark offers a detailed study of some of Chesterton's works that have been identified by science fiction writers and critics as seminal influences.
He attempts to deal with some of Chesterton's theories that have been found offensive or "positively wicked" by later writers and critics, including his arguments against female suffrage and in praise of war, his mediaevalist leanings and his contemptuous rejection of Darwinian evolutionary theory. "Chesterton worked to remind us of the oddity, the wonder, of the world we live in, by pointing up and exaggerating too-familiar features of that world," comments Clark. "It is not necessary to agree with him on every issue to find his work invigorating and enlightening." Chesterton's approach to life and the world might be summarised as that of one who "thinks backward" or "looks at the world upside down," acknowledging the often-arbitrary nature of our customs and beliefs and, also, the underlying virtues of humanity. A philosophical analysis of this view provides insight into our past and the future we can shape.
Stephen R. L. Clark is professor of philosophy and Leverhulme Research Fellow at the University of Liverpool, England. He received his D Phil from Oxford in 1973. Dr. Clark served as chief editor at the Journal of Applied Philosophy for eleven years and is now a member of its editorial board, as well as serving on the boards of Religious Studies and the Cambridge University Press series New Studies in Christian Ethics. Well known for his interest both in religion and science fiction, he has lectured widely in the U.S. and the U.K. He has authored more than sixty scholarly articles, contributed chapters to seventy-five books, edited one book, and written fourteen others, including: The Mysteries of Religion, Civil Peace and Sacred Order, How to Live Forever, Animals and their Moral Standing, and Biology and Christian Ethics. His main work at present is with the ethics and psychology of the philosopher Plotinus."