Sympathy for the Devil: The Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance, the Role of Fiction in Moral Thought, and the Limits of the Imagination

Philosophy 96 (2):253-275 (2021)
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What are the limits of the imagination in morality? What role does fiction play in moral thought? My starting point in addressing these questions is Tamar Szabo Gendler's ‘puzzle of imaginative resistance’, the problem of explaining the special difficulties we seem to encounter in imagining to be right what we take to be morally wrong in fiction, and Gendler's claim that those difficulties are due to our unwillingness to imagine these things, rather than our inability to imagine what is logically or conceptually impossible. Using a wide range of examples, I argue that there is no puzzle of imaginative resistance and that to think that there is such a puzzle is to miss almost entirely the role fiction plays in moral thought. That, however, does not mean that there are no limits to what we can imagine in morality. In fact, I argue, the imagination is limited in morality, as elsewhere, by what is logically or conceptually possible. Together, those claims suggest that fiction and the imagination play a fundamental role in shaping our conception of the moral landscape. The paper concludes by drawing some of the consequences of these views for the nature of moral thought.



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Edmund Dain
Providence College

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References found in this work

Philosophical investigations.Ludwig Wittgenstein & G. E. M. Anscombe - 1953 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 161:124-124.
Tractatus logico-philosophicus.Ludwig Wittgenstein - 1922 - Filosoficky Casopis 52:336-341.
The Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle - 1951 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 143:477-478.
The Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance.Tamar Szabó Gendler - 2000 - Journal of Philosophy 97 (2):55.
The expression of feeling in imagination.Richard Moran - 1994 - Philosophical Review 103 (1):75-106.

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