Learning from Tolstoy: Forgetfulness and recognition in literary edification

Philosophia 36 (1):43-54 (2008)
Philosophers have often applied a distinctively epistemic framework to the question of how moral knowledge can be derived from fictional literature, by considering how true propositions, or their argumentative support, can be the cognitive fruits of reading works of fiction. I offer an alternative approach. I focus not on whether readers fail to assent to the truth of a proposition or fail to provide it rational support. Instead, I focus on how readers fail to accord a truth (which they already accept) adequate importance in their web of beliefs about living a good human life. This is a form of ignorance, but in the form of neglect, or failure to pay proper regard – which is one sense of the term ‘forgetfulness’. I argue that works of fictional literature may, at times, stimulate audience members to overcome their own particular forms of forgetfulness in this respect. And I use Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich as a case in point.
Keywords Literary edification  Moral improvement  Learning from fiction
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DOI 10.1007/s11406-007-9093-5
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