“A Clockwork Orange” as a Philosophical-Literary Platonic Fable

Is Alex Redeemable? A Clockwork Orange as a Philosophical-Literary Platonic Fable

Jones Irwin

Institute of Education, Dublin City University


This essay explores the philosophical significance of Anthony Burgess’s 1960s novel A Clockwork Orange. Specific themes in this novel are developed through character and situation, in a way which takes cognisance of important problems in the history of philosophy. The essay looks at two particular themes in this context. The first relates to the epistemological question of the distinction between truth and illusion. The novel thematizes the demarcation between truth and illusion, or truth and appearance, and raises the issue of whether we can have a knowledge or epistemological foundation for such a distinction. Second, the novel addresses a question at the heart of ethics, that is, the issue of whether there is a clear distinction between good and evil. Moreover, it develops this question in relation to the further issue of the explanation for the seeming attractiveness of evil, if good is an acknowledged superior value. In the novel these questions are addressed especially through the main character of Alex, whose incarceration and rehabilitation treatment by psychiatry comes centre stage. Additionally, the text itself is adapted for film by Stanley Kubrick in 1971 and the essay explores how Kubrick’s interpretation of the original novel is distinct from that of Burgess (this difference being added to by the medium of film). Kubrick’s different interpretation nonetheless builds on the original novel and thus brings new insights in terms of the reading of the primary themes, while also complexifying the hermeneutics.

About the Author

Jones Irwin is Associate Professor in Philosophy and Education at the Institute of Education, Dublin City University, Republic of Ireland. His main research and teaching interests are in philosophy of education, aesthetics and ethics and he has published widely in these areas, including books on Jacques Derrida and Slavoj Žižek. His next text is a co-edited text on Paolo Freire’s philosophy of education and its contemporary impact in Europe (forthcoming Autumn 2021, Peter Lang). He also writes fiction and poetry.

Published: 2021 – 06 – 12

Vol. 4 (2021) Cover

Issue: Vol 4 (2021): The Day that Coronavirus Stopped the Earth: What Do We Learn about Pandemics in Science Fiction Stories?

Section: General Articles

Copyright (c) 2021 Jones Irwin

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