Research Article

Literature, Moral Reflection and Ambiguity

Craig Taylora1 c1

a1 Flinders University


While a number of philosophers have argued recently that it is through our emotional response to certain literary works that we might achieve particular moral understanding, what has not been discussed in detail in this connection are works which generate conflicting responses in the reader; which is to say literary works in which there is significant element of ambiguity. Consider Joseph Conrad's novel Lord Jim. I argue that in making sense of our potentially conflicting responses to this novel, and specifically to its central character Jim, we may gain a richer sense of the ways in which literature may contribute to moral understanding – in this case by contributing to an understanding of our own character, its blind spots and its limitations.

Craig Taylor is a senior lecturer in the Philosophy Department at Flinders University, Adelaide Australia. He is the author of Sympathy: A Philosophical Analysis (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2002) and is currently completing a book on the vice of moralism, forthcoming with Acumen in 2011.