ERIC Number: ED345282
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1992-Mar
Reference Count: 0
Thinking about War: Empathetic Imagination in the First Year Writing Class.
Berg, Allison; Hutnik, Kathy
As Martha Nussbaum argues, narratives, and especially novels, provide a way of reflecting on what it means to live well morally, and the emotional responses that stories evoke are crucial to the ability to formulate complex moral judgments. An important aspect of the moral nature of literature is the reader's "empathetic imagination," or the ability to connect to the situation of another, both emotionally and intellectually. In a college course based on the literature of the Vietnam war, the students' responses to the war narratives suggest a relation between emotion and the empathetic imagination. Frequently, students expressed their strongest emotional reactions when they had cause to empathize with characters, as one excerpt from a student paper shows. Another excerpt depicts one student's attempt to confront the specific ethical dilemmas faced by the soldiers, and by so doing to reconsider personal moral beliefs. Students discovered that being a good soldier was not the same as being a good person, so that standards of "good" are largely contextual. For many students, the entire process of closely examining personal beliefs can be scary, as William Perry's model of moral development suggests. One last set of excerpts shows how a student begins to question the cultural narratives that have structured her beliefs. Strong emotional responses to readings about a highly controversial and unpopular war demonstrated the validity of Nussbaum's notion of the interrelatedness of emotion and ethical judgment. (HB)
Publication Type: Speeches/Meeting Papers; Opinion Papers
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers: Empathetic Imagination; Moral Reasoning; Nussbaum (Martha)
Note: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (43rd, Cincinnati, OH, March 19-21, 1992).