Do Good Novels Make Good People?

Rabbi Joshua Gutoff, one of the most thoughtful and regularly heretical people I know, is now blogging at Frost and Clouds. I recommend his heretical thoughts about the role of literature in moral education, especially because they poke holes in my cherished assumptions:

So I’m reading Martha Nussbaum’s Love’s Knowledge… Her argument, briefly, is that (certain kinds of) novels have a unique role to play in moral education, in that their portrayal of finely-drawn characters in nuanced situations helps the reader develop that kind of vision necessary to a high moral imagination…

But then you’d expect that novelists and critics and scholars – the closest, most careful readers – would be the kindest, or wisest, or possessed of the most generous hearts. But I’ve never heard that claim made. Have you? Has anyone ever said, “I was just at the MLA conference – what a bunch of sweeties” in the entire history of the Academy?

The full riff is here.

2 thoughts on “Do Good Novels Make Good People?”

  1. The above strikes me as entirely self-evident. I haven’t read the book, but I assume Nussbaum doesn’t attribute the moral faculties of readers of novels exclusively to their reading, nor does she imbue novels with a magical all-compelling power to further moral imagination in anyone who reads them.
    Exactly the same could be said about religion and just about any kind of social interaction.
    So where’s the heresy, and which are your now punctured assumptions?

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