Nussbaum on literature and morality

Nussbaum credits this as a good way to live a life — both because it’s more personally fulfilling and because it leads to more accurate judgments. “It is somehow a key to all the rest,” Nussbaum argues, “that a willingness to surrender invincibility, to take a posture of agency that is porous and susceptible of influence, is of the highest importance in getting an accurate perception of particular things in the world.” She follows Aristotle who believed that the way to arrive at good judgments was to circle in on the truth: to revise old views in light of new information while striving to preserve “the greatest number and the most basic” of the original beliefs. Nussbaum calls the end point (or resting point) of this process the state of “perceptive equilibrium.”

Nussbaum argues that literature is particularly good at driving us towards perceptive equilibrium. Literature, she writes, “searches for patterns of possibility — of choice, and circumstance, and the interaction between choice and circumstance –€“ that turn up in human lives with such a persistence that they must be regarded as our possibilities.” Put another way, literature presents us with the options by which we might live our own lives — and it teaches us to go beyond superficial judgments in order to try and imagine the interior lives of other people.

The Millions : The Moral Value of Surprise: Lessons from Literature for a Fracturing Country Nussbaum on literature and morality