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Does Reading Literature Make You More Moral?

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Published on Feb 11, 2014

We read novels for many reasons: for interest, to learn about writing techniques, to be intellectually challenged, for sheer pleasure. Some have speculated that reading novels also serves moral purposes. For example, in his book The Better Angles of Our Nature, psychologist Steven Pinker speculates that the rise of literacy and the reading of novels extended empathy more broadly and led people to inflict less violence on their peers. How might reading novels help people better understand the moral issues that they face in their everyday lives? Or to put the question more starkly: if I am interested in learning about what are right and wrong actions, what human ends are worth pursuing, or what are virtues of character, why would I turn to literature at all?


The McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society is committed to bringing ethical reflection to bear on important social problems through research, teaching, and engagement. Visit the Center's website for more information: http://ethicsinsociety.stanford.edu

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