Volume 19, Issue 2, 2019
Philosophy of Art
James O. Young
Literary Fiction and the Cultivation of Virtue
Many philosophers have claimed that reading literary fiction makes people more virtuous. This essay begins by defending the view that this claim is empirical. It goes on to review the empirical literature and finds that this literature supports the claim philosophers have made. Three mechanisms are identified whereby reading literary fiction makes people more virtuous: empathy is increased when readers enter imaginatively into the lives of fictional characters; reading literary fiction promotes self-reflection; and readers mimic the prosocial behaviour of fictional characters. The paper concludes with a caution: there is a danger that readers could mimic antisocial behaviour displayed in literary fiction. If they do, reading some literary fiction could make readers less virtuous.