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Martha C. Nussbaum | Literature and Ethical Theory: Allies or Adversaries?

Abstract

In this article Martha Nussbaum examines the problematic relationship between literature and ethical theory. Inspired by reaction against the ascendancy of reductive theory, especially normative theory deriving from economics, she shows that literature is more than a handmaid of ethical theory, claiming that novels not simply represent ethical deliberation, but incite it. Nussbaum wishes to offer an account that goes beyond the narrow and excessively rationalistic accounts of what moral philosophy includes in claiming that the fluidity of the moral life is well captured in works of literature. The other way round, she sees literature as in need of a partnership with theory, so that we will read critically. In short, literature is needed as a supplement to the theoretical enterprise of ethics; literature and ethics are allies, not adversaries.

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