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

Advertising power

Yet, as the Nike advertisement reflects, this generally isn’t the sort of thing the media would have us strive for. Often, advertisements, television, and cinema leave us wanting for things like SUVs, junk food, and fame, and striving for unrealistic standards of beauty and body weight. Some movie makers would have us think that James Bond is the epitome of cool – a character that Matt Damon aptly described as an “imperialist, misogynist, sociopath who goes around bedding women and swilling martinis and killing people.” As Damon explains, “The movies have a formula, they stick to it, and it makes them a lot of money. They know what they are doing and they’re going to keep doing it.”

The media doesn’t just shape our desires and our standards of coolness and beauty, it influences how we define success and the sorts of goals we set for ourselves. It directs the course of our social evolution, and in this sense, it functions as a kind of leadership.

This leadership, though powerful, isn’t at all democratic. The media is largely controlled by people who are primarily concerned with making money. It often doesn’t serve the interests of the people who are subjected to it and may even be harmful. Media influence is also insidious; it tends to evade moral and rational scrutiny, leaving us desiring a product or thinking in a different way without even noticing that we’ve been affected or questioning the effects.

Let’s set our own goals Goals, Nike, Kobe Bryant, ads, media, morality. Great short piece on personal goals and advertising and more.