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Two Richards: Hart and Rorty on Literature and Morality

Posted 04/11/2017
Submitted by Brian Skelly
Category: Campus Announcements

Join us at this week’s Philosophy Club meeting Thursday, April 13th, from 12:15 to 1:45 in 421 Auerbach Hall as philosopher Richard Hart presents on the topic of literature and moral experience.  

Richard Hart contends that while philosophy and literature are kindred spirits, they are not the same, in method or objective. Philosophy asserts, makes claims, seeks to prove a point or reach a conclusion via rational argument. Literature exhibits, shows, demonstrates, offers alternative perspectives. In narratives—dramatic, humorous, ironic—it provokes and challenges our feelings and thoughts. In terms of morality and moral philosophy, literature can, and sometimes does, bring into being a unique sort of “moral experience” that is useful, perhaps essential to moral reflection.  

Philosopher Richard Rorty would largely agree with this, according to HartHART, but goes a step further. One of his more controversial proposals, ingredients of which are found scattered throughout his wide-ranging essays, is that it is, indeed, possible to achieve a measure of moral progress through the reading of what he calls “inspirational works of literature.” What notions undergird and give shape to his optimistic, or he might say “hopeful,” projection about the reader’s interaction with narratives? What does “moral progress” mean in this context? How could it be measured?

 This talk hopes to shed light on the two Richard’s views on literature and morality, and thereby stimulate a lively discussion.

Richard E. Hart is Cyrus H. Holley Professor of Applied Ethics and Philosophy Emeritus at Bloomfield College in New Jersey. He is editor or co-editor of four books in the areas of environmental ethics, the Platonic dialogues and  American philosophy. His 70 or so published articles, reviews, essays and book chapters address themes in ethics, social philosophy, teaching philosophy, American pragmatism and philosophy and literature, and covers figures such as John Dewey, Justus Buchler, Suzanne Langer and Richard Rorty. He is one of a handful of philosophers who has explored the philosophical dimensions of the work of American writer, John Steinbeck. He serves on the editorial board of The Steinbeck Review , and has lectured on Steinbeck throughout the US and in countries such as England,Japan, Romania, Spain, Hungary and the Czech Republic.