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Imagining and KnowingThe Shape of Fiction$
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Gregory Currie

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780199656615

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199656615.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 25 July 2021

Fiction and empathy

Fiction and empathy

(p.199) 11 Fiction and empathy
Imagining and Knowing

Gregory Currie

Oxford University Press

It is often claimed that fiction refines and enlarges our empathic sensitivities to morally charged situations, exposing us to exemplars—imaginary ones—of demanding, complex situations beyond those we are likely to encounter in daily life, expanding the circle of those we care about and our ability to help them. I begin by outlining a concept of empathy useful for our discussions, and offer some reasons for thinking that empathy is not always to be thought of as aiding moral reflection or leading to morally good outcomes. I then review some of the evidence relevant to assessing fiction’s impact on our empathic tendencies, finding a somewhat mixed picture. In light of this I list a variety of ways that fictions may fail to deliver empathic benefits. Finally I look in some detail at the phenomenon of ‘moral self-licencing’, which suggests that at least one of these possible ways really is a barrier to the enlargement of empathy by fiction.

Keywords:   empathy, sympathy, fiction, moral reasons, moral self-licencing

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