Make-Believe Spelunking

The Influence of Fiction on Ethical Development in Outline and Gilead

Authors

  • Jonah Dunch Department of Philosophy, University of Alberta

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.29173/spectrum81

Abstract

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.

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Published

2021-05-17

Issue

Section

Social Sciences & Humanities