Literature and Moral Understanding: A Philosophical Essay on Ethics, Aesthetics, Education, and Culture

Literature and Moral Understanding: A Philosophical Essay on Ethics, Aesthetics, Education, and Culture

Literature and Moral Understanding: A Philosophical Essay on Ethics, Aesthetics, Education, and Culture

Literature and Moral Understanding: A Philosophical Essay on Ethics, Aesthetics, Education, and Culture

Synopsis

Recent philosophical discussion about the relation between fiction and reality pays little attention to our moral involvement with literature. Frank Palmer's purpose is to investigate how our appreciation of literary works calls upon and develops our capacity for moral understanding. He explores a wide range of philosophical questions about the relation of art to morality, and challenges theories that he regards as incompatible with a humane view of literary art. Palmer considers, in particular, the extent to which the values and moral concepts involved in our understanding of human beings can be said to enter into our understanding of, and response to, fictional characters. The scope of his discussion encompasses literary aesthetics, ethics, and epistemology, and he makes extensive reference to literary examples.

Excerpt

The purpose of this book is to investigate how and in what ways our understanding and appreciation of literary works call upon and further our capacities for moral understanding. Nearly all the questions this task gives rise to have their root in the perennial problem of the relation between art and life. That problem, it seems to me, should not only be of concern to philosophers working in some now (alas) unfashionable corner of philosophy known as aesthetics. It also provides meat for moral philosophy, epistemology, philosophy of mind, and what bears the amorphous title 'social philosophy'.

There is a tendency among some recent philosophers to treat the topic of 'fiction and reality' as though it were just a technical matter to be sewn up with the incisive needle of logical theory. This is symptomatic of the impoverishment of contemporary philosophy, which, both in its narrowing range of specialist interests and in its professional jargon, has yielded to the temptation to cut itself off from the human problems that matter deeply to the intelligent layman. As far as the arts are concerned, this intellectual myopia has proved disastrous. Artists of any art do not simply produce. They are profoundly affected by theoretical conceptions of the nature and importance of the activity in which they are engaged. and while mainstream analytical philosophy has turned its nose in other directions, absurd and destructive theories of art and criticism have flourished in its absence, protected from its searching demands. Indeed it is quite paradoxical that some of these theories are far more abstract and less 'humane' than they perhaps would have been had they received more critical attention from analytical philosophers.

Though what I have written is intended to be a philosophical essay, I have endeavoured, perhaps not always successfully, to avoid needless technicalities in the hope of speaking to a wider audience, which it is hoped will include those with an interest in literature and criticism, in the educational value of art, and in the moral dimension of language and culture. the general reader may find the first three chapters more technical than the remaining five, but their inclusion is necessary for the wider matters I go on to explore. My starting . . .

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