Fictional Characters, Real Problems: The Search for Ethical Content in Literature

ISBN : 9780198715719

Garry L. Hagberg
416 ページ
162 x 240 mm

Literature is a complex and multifaceted expression of our humanity of a kind that is instructively resistant to simplification; reduction to a single element that would constitute literature's defining essence would be no more possible than it could be genuinely illuminating. Yet one dimension of literature that seems to interweave itself throughout its diverse manifestations is still today, as it has been throughout literary history, ethical content. This striking collection of new essays, written by an international team of philosophers and literary scholars, pursues a fuller and richer understanding of five of the central aspects of this ethical content. After a first section setting out and precisely articulating some particularly helpful ways of reading for ethical content, these five aspects include: (1) the question of character, its formation, and its role in moral discernment; (2) the power, importance, and inculcation of what we might call poetic vision in the context of ethical understanding and that special kind of vision's importance in human life; (3) literature's distinctive role in self-identity and self-understanding; (4) an investigation into some patterns of moral growth and change that can emerge from the philosophical reading of literature; and (5) a consideration of the historical sources and genealogies of some of our most central contemporary conceptions of the ethical dimension of literature. In addition to Jane Austen, whose work we encounter frequently and from multiple points of view in this engaging collection, we see Greek tragedy, Homer, Shakespeare, Charlotte Bronte, E. M. Forster, Andre Breton, Kingsley Amis, Joyce Carol Oates, William Styron, J. M. Coetzee, and David Foster Wallace, among others. And the philosophers in this five-strand interweave include Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Locke, Shaftesbury, Kant, Hegel, Freud, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Gadamer, Levinas, and a number of recent figures from both Anglophone and continental contexts. All in all, this rich collection presents some of the best new thinking about the ethical content that lies within literature, and it shows why our reflective absorption in literature is the humane-and humanizing-experience many of us have long taken it to be.


Garry L. Hagberg: Introduction: Five Ethical Aspects of Literature

Part I: Ways of Reading for Ethical Content
1 Nora Hamalainen: Sophie, Antigone, Elizabeth: Rethinking Ethics by Reading Literature
2 Eileen John: Caring about Characters
3 Robert B. Pierce: Hamlet and the Problem of Moral Agency

Part II: Matters of Character
4 Garry L. Hagberg: Othello's Paradox: The Place of Character in Literary Experience
5 Noel Carroll: Character, Social Information, and the Challenge of Psychology
6 Valerie Wainwright: Emma's Extravagance: Jane Austen and the Character-Situation Debate

Part III: Literature, Subjectivity, and Poetic Vision
7 Richard Eldridge: The Question of Truth in Literature
8 J. Jeremy Wisnewski: The Moral Relevance of Literature and the Limits of Argument: Lessons from Heidegger, Aristotle, and Coetzee
9 Jonathan Strauss: An Endless Person: Heidegger, Breton, and Nadja at the Limits of Language

Part IV: Language, Dialogical Identity, and Self-Understanding
10 Tony Gash: The Dialogic Self in Hamlet: On How Dramatic Form Transforms Philosophical Inquiry
11 Richard Dawson: 'The Power of Conversation': Jane Austen's Persuasion and Hans-Georg Gadamer's Philosophical Hermeneutics
12 Stephen Mulhall: Quartet: Wallace's Wittgenstein, Moran's Amis

Part V: Patterns and Possibilities of Moral Growth
13 Alan Goldman: Moral Development in Pride and Prejudice
14 Daniel Brudney: The Breadth of Moral Character
15 Mitchell S. Green: Learning to be Good (or Bad) in (or Through) Literature

Part VI: Historical Genealogies of Moral-Aesthetic Concepts
16 Humberto Brito: In Praise of Aristotle's Poetics
17 Martin Donougho: Shaftesbury as Virtuoso: Or, The Birth of Aesthetics Out of a Spirit of Civility
18 Jules Brody: Fate, Philology, Freud



Garry L. Hagberg is the James H. Ottaway Professor of Philosophy and Aesthetics at Bard College, and has in recent years also been Professor of Philosophy at the University of East Anglia. Author of numerous papers at the intersection of aesthetics and the philosophy of language, his books include Meaning and Interpretation: Wittgenstein, Henry James, and Literary Knowledge; Art as Language: Wittgenstein, Meaning, and Aesthetic Theory; and Describing Ourselves: Wittgenstein and Autobiographical Consciousness. He is editor of Art and Ethical Criticism, co-editor of A Companion to the Philosophy of Literature, and Editor of the journal Philosophy and Literature.