On the Body of Literary Persuasion

Estetika 47 (1):51-71 (2010)
In the analytic philosophy of literature, a common objection to the cognitive value of literary narrative fiction has been that literary works do not argue for the genuine truths they may contain. The argument maintains that although literary works could make or imply humanly interesting truth-claims, the works do not reason or justify the claims and thus they do not make significant contributions to knowledge. In this paper, I shall argue that literary works have distinct cognitive significance in changing their readers’ beliefs. In particular, I shall discuss so-called philosophical fictions and truth-claims (thematic statements considered as authorial assertions) they may imply. Leaning broadly on Aristotle’s view of the enthymeme, I shall argue that a work of literary fiction persuades readers of its truths by its dramatic structure, by illustrating or implying the suppressed conclusion (or other parts missing in the argument). Further, I shall suggest that it is exactly this ‘literary persuasion’ which distinguishes literary works from merely didactic works prone to overt “argumentation” and instruction.
Keywords literature  fiction  truth  knowledge  argumentation  persuasion  enthymeme  Aristotle
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