Empathy at the Intersection

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Empathy at the Intersection

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One of the ways that art contributes to society is by preventing anesthesia of the heart. The aesthetic experience characteristically makes us more alive, vibrant, and open to possibilities. Aesthetic experience need not be limited to the “fine arts,” of course. In this project, I consider a broad variety of media, including jokes, modernist poetry, Greek tragedy, literature, film, and conversation. What these forms of aesthetic communication have in common is their ability to tell stories. I will argue certain features of narrative that (typically set aside as ethical considerations) have aesthetic relevance insofar as they affect our engagement with the story. I do not intend to minimize the differences between racist jokes and Anna Karenina nor blur the distinction mundane conversation and the poetry of Robert Frost. I invite the reader to indulge my choice of examples, as I am mainly interested in a particular aspect these art forms share—narrative structure and aesthetic affect. My terminology (empathy/sympathy/etc) is not constructed as an end, but only as a means; insofar as they clarify these shared aspects for my defense of ethicism. There are three ways one might understand ethicism with respect to jokes: 1. Moral defects detract from aesthetic value (humor). 2. Aesthetic defects have moral impact. 3. Certain moral defects have a structure that is aesthetically flawed. Although, I do not disagree with the first two claims, it is my intent to argue for the third claim.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. September 2015. Major: Philosophy. Advisor: Marcia Eaton. 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 166 pages.

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Rodriguez, Tanya. (2015). Empathy at the Intersection. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/175504.

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