Dissertation, University of Michigan (1994)

Horace recommended that poets "mingle the useful and the sweet"; but the champions of an ethical function for art have yet to explain how moral and aesthetic values can truly be mingled. Their proposed ethical functions too often seem irrelevant to what we most care about in art. Moreover, we need an explanation of what art has to show us that is of ethical significance, and that we don't already know. ;The answer is to be found in the "thick concepts" , which purport to provide reasons to feel and to act. Thick concepts are response-dependent, in that our application of them is guided by certain quasi-emotional responses, which they purport to warrant. These responses, I argue, are given content by their role in an ethical perspective, a value-laden "way of seeing" the world. Morality's aspirations to objectivity require that we gain imaginative acquaintance with the thick concepts of alien perspectives, without which real normative confrontation would be impossible. Fiction thus serves an ethical function by expanding our capacities of moral perception. ;Narrative art is uniquely well-suited to this task, because to give a reading of a story is to make sense of its characters and events in value-laden, emotional terms. Our engagement with fiction thus involves understanding the ethical perspectives that inform the text. This model of art's ethical function is immune to formalist challenges. Moreover, it answers the formidable hermeneutic and epistemological problems on which traditional theories founder
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