The Ethics of Non-Realist Fiction: Morality’s Catch-22

Philosophia 35 (2):145-159 (2007)
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The topic of this essay is how non-realistic novels challenge our philosophical understanding of the moral significance of literature. I consider just one case: Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. I argue that standard philosophical views, based as they are on realistic models of literature, fail to capture the moral significance of this work. I show that Catch-22 succeeds morally because of the ways it resists using standard realistic techniques, and suggest that philosophical discussion of ethics and literature must be pluralistic if it is to include all morally salient literature, and not just novels in the “Great Tradition” and their ilk.

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James Harold
Mount Holyoke College


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