Drawing on empirical studies, the article argues that developing moral character and advancing social justice through literary study is both eminently feasible and profoundly ethical, and that claims to the contrary are based on faulty notions of the psychological bases of morality and justice. The article explains how certain literary texts together with certain pedagogical practices can achieve these ends by training students to recognize two key but routinely overlooked facts about other people—their profound sameness and interconnectedness with oneself and their ultimate blamelessness for negative life outcomes, behaviors, and character traits—as well as a key fact about themselves: that they are inherently compassionate, as manifested by their compassionate impulses and the gratification they get from helping others in need.
Can—and Should—Literary Study Develop Moral Character and Advance Social Justice? Answers from Cognitive Science
Mark Bracher is professor of English and director of the Neurocognitive Research Program for the Advancement of the Humanities at Kent State University. His most recent books include Literature and Social Justice: Protest Novels, Cognitive Politics, and Schema Criticism (2013), Educating for Cosmopolitanism: Lessons from Cognitive Science and Literature (2013), and Social Symptoms of Identity Needs: Why We Have Failed to Solve Our Social Problems and What to Do About It (2009). He is currently completing a book on compassion-cultivating pedagogy.
Mark Bracher; Can—and Should—Literary Study Develop Moral Character and Advance Social Justice? Answers from Cognitive Science. Poetics Today 1 September 2019; 40 (3): 519–541. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-7558122
Download citation file: