January 20, 2004

Hall to examine relationship between ethics, literature

By Stephanie Sonnenfeld

Pamela Hall may have her Ph.D. in philosophy, but her undergraduate roots are in English literature and her Jan. 22 Great Teacher’s Lecture will give her a chance to connect the two disciplines.

Hall, associate professor of philosophy and Women’s Studies and Women’s Studies department chair, will examine the fundamental role that literature (and, more broadly, the arts) plays in moral education in her lecture, “Other Minds, Other Hearts: Concerning Ethics and Literature.” The event will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Miller-Ward Alumni House.

Many think of morality as a system of rules or a set of laws, but Hall argues that character—the habits of desires, emotions and motivations that help define every individual— is a crucial concern for ethics. Using examples from Shakespeare, James Joyce, Toni Morrison and poet Mary Oliver, Hall will explore how character is shaped, and explain the defining roles literature—and the arts—play in that development.

The arts are fundamental for moral education because they affect the education of an individual’s imagination, the formation of an individual’s love for people and activities, and an individual’s recognition of the limits of their understanding, Hall said.

“[Literature and art] form your desires, help to shape your imagination, give us characters we can look up to—and characters who are not to be looked up to,” she said.

Hall alluded to contemporary philosopher Iris Murdoch (a novelist herself), who has written extensively on the connection between literature and ethics, and has said great literature allows us to see how good people see the world.

“Great literature provides a ‘goodness by proxy’ in Murdoch’s words. To see the world through Tolstoy’s eyes or Shakespeare’s eyes or Toni Morrison’s eyes is to see a world amplified, detailed and less distorted than, say, what I would see on my own,” she said.

However, while literature may act as a medium for ethical discourse, its main purpose is not necessarily to be a teacher of ethics—but this function is to some degree inescapable, Hall said.

A 1992 Emory Williams Award winner, Hall’s primary academic interests are in ethics, moral psychology and feminist thought. From 1998 to 2000
she was awarded the Massee-Martin/NEH Distinguished Teaching Chair, and she has served on the advisory boards of Emory’s Center for Ethics in Public Policy and the Profes-sions, the Center for Teaching and Curriculum, and the Violence Studies program. She has also served on the national Committee on the Status of Lesbian, Gay and Transgender People in the Profession of the American Philosophical Association.

In 1994, Hall published Narrative and the Natural Law: An Interpretation of Thomistic Ethics, and she currently is writing a book on tragedy and virtue ethics.
Hall’s lecture is the third of six Great Teacher’s Lectures during 2003–04; the series is sponsored jointly by the Center for Lifelong Learning, the Office of Public Affairs and the Association of Emory Alumni. The lecture is free and open to
the public.

For more information visit www.cll.emory.edu/gtls or call 404-727-6000.