On Studying the Cognitive Value of Literature


The debate on the cognitive value of literature is undergoing a change. On the one hand, several philosophers recommend an epistemological move from “knowledge” to “understanding” in describing the cognitive benefits of literature. On the other hand, skeptics call for methodological discussion and demand evidence for the claim that readers actually learn from literature. These two ideas, the notion of understanding and the demand for evidence, seem initially inconsistent, for the notion of understanding implies that the cognitive benefits of literature are ultimately nonverbal and thus inarticulate. In this article, I defend both the move from knowledge to understanding and the demand for evidence. After proposing that the cognitive value of literature is best construed in terms of enhancing the reader's understanding, I argue that the place to look for evidence for the cognitive benefits of literature is not the laboratory but the practice of literature

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Jukka Mikkonen
University of Jyväskylä

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