English Is Fun Essay

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A Sense of the World: Essays on Fiction, Narrative, and Knowledge
John Gibson, Wolfgang Huemer, and Luca Pocci (eds.), A Sense of the World: Essays on Fiction, Narrative, and Knowledge, Routledge, 2007, 344pp., $140.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780415701914.

Reviewed by Allen Speight, Boston University
Much has been written about the "ancient quarrel" between philosophy and poetry – as has, by extension, the broader "quarrel" between philosophy and literature. Neither is, of course, in any sense a single-issue quarrel: from Plato alone stem epistemological and ontological debates about the status of images and the activity of mimēsis, ethical and political concerns over the emotional appeal of particular literary genres, as well as theological and philosophical arguments about the nature of good, evil and the gods as represented by literary works.

The editors of this welcome volume have taken as their particular focus the question of literature's cognitive potential: whether and in what sense there is knowledge to be gained from our encounter with works of literary fiction. Stated in these terms, as Noël Carroll acknowledges in the second of this volume's essays, the question may strike non-philosophers as having an entirely obvious answer: of course we learn from literature, of course novelists, dramatists and poets expand our understanding of ourselves and the world.

But there are many ways of expressing that immediate conviction about literature's cognitive potential that have given pause to philosophers -- both those who would be delighted to have poetry and literary artists in their city and those who wouldn't. Is there, for example, something which deserves to be called artistic truth? Is the knowledge involved propositional knowledge or not? And, if there is knowledge or truth of some sort "in" literary works, does it result from essential features of those works and is it the product of the intentional aims of their authors?

The editors have wisely...

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