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Literature and Moral Feeling
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Book description

An influential body of recent work on moral psychology has stressed the interconnections among ethics, narrative, and empathy. Yet as Patrick Colm Hogan argues, this work is so vague in its use of the term 'narrative' as to be almost substanceless, and this vagueness is in large part due to the neglect of literary study. Extending his previous work on universal story structures, Hogan argues that we can transform ill-defined intuitions about narrative and ethics into explicit and systematic accounts of the deep connections between moral attitudes and narratives. These connections are, in turn, inseparable from empathy, a concept that Hogan proceeds to clarify and defend against a number of widely read critiques. In the course of the book, Hogan develops and illustrates his arguments through analyses of global narratives, constructing illuminating ethical interpretations of literary works ranging from Shakespeare to Chinese drama and the Bhagavad Gita.


‘The philosophy of ethics has been central to understanding human interaction since ancient times. Now Patrick Colm Hogan, the most important researcher in the twenty-first century on the relationships between psychology and worldwide literature, has written a fascinating update. He says that ethical actions typically ‘oppose egocentric self-interest' and are often based in empathy. With this beginning, and explorations that range from Shakespeare's plays to Chinese poetry and a German movie, he deepens our understanding of how we might act for the best towards others.'

Keith Oatley - author of Our Minds, Our Selves: A Brief History of Psychology

‘The morality tale in literature, and the thought experiment in moral philosophy, remind us that ethics and narrative are deeply entwined. In a superb example of consilience, breaching arbitrary disciplinary boundaries, Patrick Colm Hogan provides important new insights into how members of our species make sense of our feelings and obligations to one another.'

Steven Pinker - Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and the author of How the Mind Works and Rationality

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  • Chapter 1 - Defining Ethics
    pp 9-39


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