Thursday, October 03, 2013

Literature Improves Theory of Mind

I have argued previously and elsewhere that literature makes us more empathetic. This is supported by the work of Jonathan Gottschall. This is important because empathy underlies certain moral judgments. If you want to be more moral, more empathetic, and thus more able to live in an increasingly connected, highly pluralist world, read more literature.

But wait! There's more!

There is now evidence that reading specifically literary fiction improves the reader's theory of mind. This is tied to the complexity of the texts. Literature exercises our minds. Of course, if one's theory of mind is improved, one's empathy must of necessity be improved as well. The more mind I attribute to you, the more empathy I feel toward you.

If we combine this with the fact that poetry moralizes by weirding and the fact that surrealist literature makes our thinking more complex, and we can begin to see how important literature of all kinds is to our moral development.

And theater, because it draws people together, makes us want to work more together to solve social problems, according to Russell Berman.

Combine all of this with my arguments in The Spontaneous Orders of the Arts, and we can see that literature makes us more moral by complexifying our thinking in general, fine-tuning our theory of mind and expanding our empathy, and even moving us to act.

Imagine what literature classes would be like if we taught them using this knowledge.

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