The Philosophy of Sherlock Holmes

The Philosophy of Sherlock Holmes

The Philosophy of Sherlock Holmes

The Philosophy of Sherlock Holmes


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.

In The 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.


This volume came together at a special Sherlock Holmes colloquium, convened at the University of Bern, near the famous Reichenbach Falls. 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 for obvious reasons), all were backgrounded by the soft, relaxing whoosh of the cataract as it fell into the pool below—the same pool, of course, where the body of Dr. Tallon was found floating after he failed to appear for his session.

The papers presented are here reprinted in this volume in their original order, accompanied by notes about the conference.

In the first session, Dr. David Baggett’s paper, “Sherlock Holmes as Epistemologist,” explored the intellectual virtues of Holmes that are conducive to good thinking, whether applied to solving a crime or the mystery of life. Rather than a myopic logic chopper devoid of emotion, as he is often characterized, Baggett argued that Sherlock Holmes exhibits traits that make the most ardent feminist epistemologist proud: passion, instinct, and artistry. These collectively comprise an expansive understanding of reason and rationality that yields not unjustified hubris but hard-won intellectual confidence and courage. Baggett’s paper praised the role that intuition plays in understanding the world.

After his paper on the use of abduction, Dr. Baggett fell silent for a long time, as if realizing something.

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