Stanford scholars debate the moral merits of reading fiction

Does reading literature make you more moral? Scholars speaking at a Center for Ethics in Society event say the answer depends on who’s reading: Stanford News

The last time you finished a novel or short story, your emotions might have been stirred, your intellect exercised, or your curiosity disappointed. But were your morals improved?

The relationship between literature and morality – and the proper role of both – has long engaged philosophers, critics and writers. But at a recent event hosted by the Stanford McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society, Stanford humanities scholars said that while literature is capable of providing new perspectives and challenging our assumptions, imparting morality might not be one of its strong suits.

“The best we can say about literature is that its effects are not reliable,” said panelist Joshua Landy, a professor of French and of comparative literature and co-director of Stanford’s Initiative in Literature and Philosophy. “As they say in the medical profession: results may vary.”

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