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Lecture 10

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PHIL 271
Kerah Gordon- Solomon

PHIL271 – Lecture 10 Nussbaum’s “Exactly and Responsibly” • NO CLASS NEXT THURSDAY! (13 ) TH Posner’s “Against Ethical Criticism” • Posner had 2 main targets o 1) Hume’s idea that we can evaluate the literary merit of a work by its moral merit. o 2) Nussbaum’s idea that part of the function of literature is to serve as an instrument of moral instruction Posner vs. Nussbaum • First, Posner says (pg.9) that one thing that Nussbaum claims novels enable us to do is to enable us to “play at” moral theories through the characters in the novel. Posner mentions Nussbaum’s discussion of Dickens’ Hard Times, in which the novel portrays what it would be like to try and live a totally utilitarian life. Nussbaum says (and Posner agrees) that this lifestyle isn’t a proper one by which anyone should live, and anyone raised in this way would be negatively affected. This follows Nussbaum’s theory that novels can work as moral instruction because it forces us to “conduct an experiment” on the morality of this upbringing. However, Posner says that Nussbaum is writing her analysis of this novel biasedly still, because she writes it as if contemporary people today would go along with the utilitarian morals of the Gradgrind character in the novel. Posner identifies the danger of taking novels as being able to test philosophical theories and taking the results of these tests at face value. It’s not the concern of the novelist to articulate the most plausible version of a theory, and objections to that theory. It’s easy in a novel to put words in the mouths of characters or form attitudes about the world and how appealing a character is. Works of fiction, by including vivid details and descriptions by the author, can bias a reader’s opinion or interpretations of certain characters or events in the story. • Second, Nussbaum says the value of the instrument of moral instruction of literary works really isn’t about the moral content of the work, but rather it pertains to the way in which books invite readers to think about and relate to their fictional characters and events. It’s about how we come to think and reason in the course of reading a novel, not specifically which moral view is being presented. Reading and caring about people in novels is a way to inculcate us about how to care about people in real life. The moral point of view is impartial, morality doesn’t give special weight to any particular persons inter
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