Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Writing { and reading and publishing } ~

Is There Any “Moral” Merit In Reading Fiction?

Why do you read fiction?


Image courtesy of Michal Zacharzewski ~

I think there are as many reasons to read fiction as there are people on this earth.

Sure, some of those reasons are common to lots of people — entertainment, pleasure, exploration, excitement.

But, reading fiction to become more moral?

Perhaps a bit of definition is called for

My dictionary says moral means:

“Concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character”

Some folks like to split hairs over whether something is moral or ethical yet the etymology of ethics says it’s “the science of morals”.

Then there are the arguments about what “good” and “bad” mean.

And, there are the philosophers who would have you believe that all morals are merely relative—there is no firm standard of morality—quite popular now in our heavily materialistic culture

Naturally, I have my own hard won ideas about ethics and morality and their place in fiction.

The easiest way to find out what I think is to read my short novel, Notes from An Alien <— Free :-)

Recently, a  Stanford University news article said:

“The relationship between literature and morality – and the proper role of both – has long engaged philosophers, critics and writers. But at a recent event hosted by the Stanford McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society, Stanford humanities scholars said that while literature is capable of providing new perspectives and challenging our assumptions, imparting morality might not be one of its strong suits.”

A few comments from participants at that event:

“The best we can say about literature is that its effects are not reliable

“Literary fiction helps us develop additional schemas, other ways of seeing the world different from our own

literature plays on our emotions instead of giving us rational reasons to adopt new beliefs, so we can easily be manipulated by it.”

“Let the truth do its work. And if people aren’t yet capable of discerning truth from lies, help them. Cultivate their ability to separate good from bad arguments.”

I put a video of the event below


There was a man named ‘Abdu’l-Bahá who spent 40 years in prison because of his moral beliefs.

He gave a talk at Stanford University back in 1912.

Here’s an excerpt from that talk:

“If the animals are savage and ferocious, it is simply a means for their subsistence and preservation. They are deprived of that degree of intellect which can reason and discriminate between right and wrong, justice and injustice; they are justified in their actions and not responsible. When man is ferocious and cruel toward his fellowman, it is not for subsistence or safety. His motive is selfish advantage and willful wrong.”

If you’d like to read the whole talk, you can download it as a Word .doc or an Adobe .pdf.


If you happen to watch the video, I’d love to know in the Comments what you thought/felt…
If your mobile device isn’t showing the video, here’s its YouTube address

To Leave A Comment, Use The Link At The Top-Right of The Post :-)
For Private Comments, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com
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GRAB A FREE COPY of Notes from An Alien


2 responses to “Is There Any “Moral” Merit In Reading Fiction?

  1. Jane Watson February 28, 2014 at 6:09 am

    The writer D.H.Lawrence made this comment once:

    The essential function of art is moral. Not aesthetic, not decorative, not pastime and recreation. But moral. The essential function of art is moral.
    But a passionate, implicit morality, not didactic. A morality which changes the blood, rather than the mind. Changes the blood first. The mind follows later, in the wake…

    ~ ‘Studies in Classic American Literature’ by D. H. Lawrence.

    I was reminded of this passage again by your interesting post, then I found it again quoted in a thought provoking article, ‘Can Fiction Improve Us? Yes, That’s What It’s For’, by Austin Allen on this website –



    • Alexander M Zoltai February 28, 2014 at 11:56 am

      Thank you, Jane, for the quote from Lawrence; and, especially the link—went and scanned it—I do believe I have material for a Part Two to this post :-)


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