The Influence of Fiction on Ethical Development in Outline and Gilead
To what extent, and in what ways, is it possible for works of fiction to influence their readers’ ethical development? In this essay, I explore different answers to this descriptive question in philosophy and literary studies. I dub a view shared by Iris Murdoch and Martha Nussbaum as the attention account: that great works of fiction can influence their reader’s ethical development by compelling them to cultivate ethically charged attention. I then evaluate Joshua Landy’s criticism of this account and his alternative, which I dub the clarification account: that works of fiction can influence their reader’s ethical development by helping them clarify their core ethical commitments. I argue that neither the attention account nor the invitation account describes the one and only way in which works of fiction can influence their readers’ ethical development. I then ask a normative question: what ways in which works of fiction can influence our ethical development should we embrace? Drawing on Kendall Walton’s make-believe model of fictional experience, I develop an account of a third way in which works of fiction can influence their readers’ ethical development, which I call the invitation account: works of fiction can influence their readers’ ethical development by inviting them to unseat and positively revise their ethical commitments. I make the case for the invitation account by using it to analyze two contemporary novels, Rachel Cusk’s Outline and Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. I argue that the process described by the invitation account—that is, the way of invitation—is one we should embrace.
Copyright (c) 2021 Jonah Dunch
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