Moral of the Novel: Rorty and Nussbaum on the Ethical Role of Literature


This paper’s aim is to provide a new interpretation of Martha C. Nussbaum’s and Richard Rorty’s views on the ethical role of literature. I pursue this aim in a threefold manner. First of all, I shortly discuss and provide a critique of previous comparisons by other authors. Afterwards, based on the presented critique of other comparisons, I present concise summaries of their respective views. Finally, I propose a double context for interpreting and assessing their views together. The main claim of the paper is the following: despite several differences in their philosophical underpinnings, Nussbaum’s and Rorty’s views on literature can be interpreted together using the context of John Rawls and Jacques Rancière. This interpretation consists of showing how uncovering a shared Rawlsian characteristic of Nussbaum’s and Rorty’s views paves a way for explaining how literature actually does ethical work, using some concepts of Rancière. Such a contextual reading allows for both a more thorough understanding of their respective projects and assessing their shared shortcomings.


Rorty, Nussbaum, ethics, literature, novel, Rawls, Rancière

How to cite:

Bednarski, Maciej. “Moral of the Novel: Rorty and Nussbaum on the Ethical Role of Literature.” Eidos. A Journal for Philosophy of Culture 4, no. 4 (2020): 175-189. https://doi.org/10.14394/eidos.jpc.2020.0046.


Maciej Bednarski
Doctoral School of Humanities, University of Warsaw
Dobra 56/66, 00-312 Warsaw, Poland


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