Reading fiction is like riding a bike with training wheels

If only we could just sit in our cozy sofa, read an enthralling novel and, without having to go through any real-world trouble, become better people. How great would it be if all we needed to do in order to raise a good person was raise a fiction lover. Of course this is not how it works. But some philosophers, most famously Martha Nussbaum[1] have argued that engaging with certain kinds of fiction can change our outlook on the world, our values, and our personality. In empathizing with fictional characters, we practice our empathic skills for real life: we practice feeling with other people, we practice understanding people that differ from us. And we thereby practice what motivates altruistic behavior in real life.

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Damage and Imagination

A post by Adam Morton

Our ability to treat one another well, or even decently, depends on our capacities to imagine, simulate, sympathize, empathize, and intuit other people. These are a wide array of different, similar, and overlapping, capacities, essential to human social life. I shall lump them all together as imagining (but see). We imagine what it is like for one another, and we act accordingly. We tend not to give people presents they will hate, or to spare people experiences they will enjoy.

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