Against the Moral Appraisal of Art: Wayne Booth and the Case of Huck Finn

Philosophy and Literature 31 (1):125-32 (2007)
Abstract
In this essay, I argue that it is sometimes inappropriate to appeal to moral criteria in artistic judgments, even when the moral content of an artwork contributes to its artistic value. I suggest that this is the case with artworks that (1) are “interrogative” in form, posing a question or problem that remains unresolved in the work, and (2) have moral dilemmas as a principal theme. Using Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as an example of morally interrogative artwork, I critique Wayne Booth’s moral defense of the novel. I argue that because Booth incorrectly attributes a moral stance to the book, he overlooks its value as a provocation to critical reflection about morality.
Keywords Morality  Art  Aesthetics  Ethics  Literature  Aesthetic Judgment
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