Can Literature be Moral Philosophy? A Sceptical View on the Ethics of Literary Empathy

In Sebastian Hüsch (ed.), Philosophy and Literature and the Crisis of Metaphysics (2011)
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One important aspect of Nussbaum´s thesis on the moral value of literature concerns the power of literature to enhance our ability to empathise with other minds. This aspect will be the focus of the current article. My aim is to reflect upon this question regarding the moral value of our empathy for fictional characters. The article is structured in two main parts. I will first examine the concept of “empathy” and distinguish between empathy for human beings and empathy for fictional characters. I will call the latter “literary empathy”. In the second part of the paper I will examine the arguments for and against the double thesis that reading literature enhances our ability to feel empathy, and that feeling empathy prompts altruistic behaviour.
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