Learning from Literary Experience

Journal of Aesthetic Education 56 (1):56-73 (2022)
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According to a popular account, literary works can give a sense of the “inside” feel of various human experiences, literature thereby supplementing the external and objective perspective on the world that the different sciences aim at. This paper extends this understanding of literature's cognitive value, usually called “experiential knowledge,” with some key ideas of John Dewey's philosophy. It is argued that Dewey's general take on experience, as well as three of his central concepts—undergoing, inquiry, and growth—can significantly contribute to our understanding of how experiential knowledge emerges from literary engagements and of the general cognitive significance of this type of knowledge. A particularly important goal of the paper is to show, against some skeptics, that experiential knowledge can have genuine epistemic weight, despite its nonpropositional and subjective character. It is also argued that experiential knowledge does not require a complete overlap between real-world experiences and literary experiences, as one recent criticism assumes.



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Kalle Puolakka
University of Helsinki

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