To save content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save content items to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
The authors explain our attraction to strange, literary places as resulting from our attraction to strange places in real life. I believe this is correct and important. The aim of the following commentary is to show that their main conclusion is closely related to – even (retrospectively) predictable from – the operation of simulation and the consequences of that operation for storytelling.
The fifth chapter marks the turn from descriptive to normative ethics – thus, what ethical ideas should guide moral actions. This half of the book does not set out a detailed ethical theory but advocates a general criterion for setting ethical parameters and adjudicating among ethical–narrative prototypes. That criterion is an effortful generalization of empathy. The particular stress on empathy derives from the basic definition of ethics, presented at the beginning of the book. This chapter draws on current cognitive and affective science to outline an account of human emotion and empathy. This account differs from common views of empathy in several ways. Most obviously, it does not construe empathy as sharing the same emotion as a target. Rather, empathy is a scalar concept that refers, fundamentally, to experiencing the same emotional valence as a target. That positive or negative empathic feeling is based on one’s own experiences, which may be more or less similar to those of the target.
The introduction outlines some important differences in approaches to literature and ethics. It goes on to situate the following work in relation to those differences. For example, we may be concerned principally with the literature (e.g., how to evaluate literary works morally) or the ethics (e.g., how to think in more nuanced ways about ethical problems in real life); this volume is concerned principally with the latter. More significantly, the study of ethics may be descriptive or normative. In other words, it may address what constitutes ethical thought or it may advocate a particular version of ethics. The book is divided into two parts. The first part treats descriptive ethics, seeking to isolate cross-cultural and transhistorical patterns in the relation between ethical attitudes, on the one hand, and structures of storytelling, on the other. The second part takes up normative ethics, focusing on an aspect of emotional response that is important in both ethics and literature – empathy.
This chapter considers ethical prototypes, which give needed specificity to the very general ethical orientations defined by principles and parameters. In ethical decision and behavior, we are concerned with sequences of actions and the motivations guiding these actions. In other words, we are concerned with stories. In this chapter, I argue that the prototypes at issue in specifying our ethical orientations are, most importantly, the universal story structures that I have sought to isolate in earlier works – heroic, romantic, sacrificial, family separation, seduction, revenge, and criminal investigation. These narrative structures are inseparable from human emotion systems. Indeed, story universals are shaped by emotion–motivation systems (along with some general patterns in emotion intensification); those systems (and patterns) account for their universality. In addition, these story genres are of crucial importance for the way we think about and respond to various worldly concerns, such as politics. The third chapter extends these arguments to ethics.
Since half of this book is devoted to advocating a particular ethical attitude, readers might reasonably conclude that the author feels ethical evaluation is a very good thing. In fact, I believe it is often (though not invariably) good when aimed at one’s own actions, but almost always a fairly bad thing when aimed at other people’s actions. To make matters worse, we appear to have a greater inclination toward the latter than toward the former. This brief afterword turns from descriptive and normative ethics to a third form of ethical study, metaethics. In it, I summarize arguments bearing on the very idea of free will, maintaining that it is a plausible notion only from a first-person perspective on a necessarily incompletely described world. That view of free will entails that, in general, ethical blame should be very narrowly restricted to the first-person perspective. Indeed, with regard even to oneself, it is confined to the present and future.
Though the term “empathy” is relatively recent, there has been a long history of valuing the ability to share a target’s feelings. For example, in the Analects, Kǒngzĭ (Confucius) says, “My way [dào] is one thing.” One of his disciples explains, “The way [dào] of Heaven is loyalty and empathy [shù, 恕].” However, several influential writers have recently argued against empathy. The seventh chapter takes up and seeks to refute the main arguments of such anti-empathy writers as Paul Bloom and Jesse Prinz, along with related arguments by Breithaupt and others. For the most part, my contention is that the arguments at issue actually suggest the need for more empathy, not less. Many of the arguments show the problems with spontaneous empathy. But the whole point of an ethical advocacy of empathy is that we should not rest content with spontaneous empathy but should undertake the effort to extend empathy (e.g., to members of out-groups).
Just as the second chapter provides a literary development of the relatively abstract first chapter, so too the fourth chapter provides literary developments of the cross-cultural genres treated in the third chapter. Specifically, this chapter considers literary cases of all the prominent, universal genres, examining their implications for ethical evaluation and action. In keeping with the cross-cultural range of these genres, this chapter considers works from different time periods and different regions. It includes discussions of the Bhagavad Gītā, Hamlet, and All’s Well That Ends Well, Yuan period Chinese dramas (The Zhao Orphan and Selling Rice in Chenzhou), as well as more recent fiction and nonfiction from India (Nectar in a Sieve) and Australia (Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence). The longest section develops a particularly detailed interpretation of the sacrificial structure in F. W. Murnau’s film, Nosferatu. I undertake a more extensive development of this analysis to illustrate more clearly the impact of story structure on moral response.
The first chapter takes up the task of defining ethics, considered as a set of psychological structures and processes. In other work, I have argued that the three processes of categorization are, in distinct ways, consequential for our response to literature. Specifically, we make use of rule-defined categorization, prototype-defined categorization, and exemplar-defined categorization. In my descriptive account of ethics, all three types also enter importantly into our moral thought, feeling, and behavior. In connection with rule-based categorization, I argue that we have broad or fundamental ethical orientations that are guided by our various settings of parameters within general principles. These parameters concern such issues as what sorts of action or condition fall under the scope of morality. For example, there appears to be a broad division between people who are principally concerned with ending unjustified pleasure and people whose primary moral worries bear on undeserved pain. The first chapter explores this level of ethics.
The seventh chapter follows the pattern of extending and specifying theoretical points through the close interpretation of a literary work, in this case Tony Kushner’s widely admired, award-winning treatment of the AIDS crisis, Angels in America. This chapter also develops a concept of “critical empathy,” designed to respond to some potential problems raised by critics of empathy. Critical empathy involves effortful compensation for empathic biases (e.g., the saliency of the target or his or her in-group status). It also involves attention to ameliorating the condition of the targets of empathy, rather than brooding on shared emotional pain. In relation to these points, the chapter articulates a distinction between normative outcomes (the objective conditions that we would judge to be consistent with ethical imperatives, whatever their motivations) and ethical choices (the decisions that derive from ethical motivations, whatever their results). Additionally, the chapter considers the dynamics and ethical implications of guilt, shame, and attachment bonding.
Literary texts commonly manifest ethical attitudes. These may be represented in terms of distinct parameter settings within more widely held principles. The author is often not fully aware of the ethical views that guide his or her storytelling in this way. In addition, the implicit ethics of a work are often connected more specifically with its story genre – thus, its ethical prototype – such as the heroic usurpation story of Julius Caesar. More narrowly still, the ethical views represented in a work may have a generally trusting attitude toward the hero’s ethical self-presentation or may take a more skeptical view. I refer to the latter as a “critical ethics.” Critical ethics stresses the dissociation of a character’s rhetoric from his or her actual motivation. The second chapter develops some theoretical concepts along these lines. It goes on to concretize the first chapter’s relatively abstract treatment of ethical principles and parameters through an examination of the ethical concerns underlying characters’ judgments and behaviors in Julius Caesar.
In keeping with the pattern established in the first part of the book, the sixth chapter turns to a literary development of some key theoretical points, in this case examining how A Midsummer Night’s Dream guides empathic responses of audience members. More precisely, the processes of empathic understanding and emotion are highly complex in any real-world activity. That complexity involves repeated cycles of perception, recollection, inference, and simulation that are inseparable from one another, regularly providing the conditions for one another’s operation. (Simulation is a quasi-perceptual imagination of particular causal sequences that may be hypothetical and/or counterfactual, or they may simply serve to fill in unobserved aspects of an ongoing situation.) All these inferential and simulative processes are on display in our spontaneous and elective, automatic and effortful forms of empathic processing of literature. Through the analysis of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the chapter illustrates some aspects of this complexity as it bears on empathic response.
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 insightful analysis of Menninghaus et al. could be deepened and rendered more systematic by recognizing that our emotional enjoyment of tragedy – and our response to fiction more generally – are versions of what happens with simulation. They derive from the operation and evolutionary function of simulation. Once we understand emotion in simulation, we largely understand emotion in tragedy (and fiction).