Huckleberry Finn’s Conscience: Ending the Evasion
Steve Clarke (Charles Sturt University)

March 20, 2018, 4:00pm - 5:30pm
PHI research group, Deakin University

C 2.05
221 Burwood Hwy
Burwood 3125
Australia

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities

Sponsor(s):

  • School of Humanities and Social Sciences

Organisers:

Deakin University

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Abstract

Mark Twain’s famous novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (AHF) (1884), has been much discussed by philosophers. Its two most influential philosophical interpreters are Jonathan Bennett and Nomy Arpaly. Bennett takes AHF to illustrate the important role that sympathy can and should play in minimising the influence of ‘bad morality’ on behaviour. I’ll argue, contra Bennett, that when we consider AHF carefully it becomes clear that the book is a better illustration of the ways in which moral theoretical presuppositions shape people’s sympathies. Sympathies that are themselves shaped by bad moral presuppositions cannot be relied on to prevent people’s behaviour from being shaped by bad morality. Arpaly interprets AHF as depicting its central character, Huck, as unconsciously coming to perceive Jim, the runaway black slave, as a person, and therefore deserving of full moral status. I’ll argue that this interpretation obscures a crucial point about the way in which Huck’s perception of Jim develops. Although Huck comes to recognise that Jim is worthy of greater moral status than their society accords him, this is not because Huck recognises that Jim is a person and that all black people deserve full moral status. On my interpretation of AHF, Huck is well positioned to realise that all black people deserve full moral status, and that therefore slavery is wrong, but it fails to occur to him that all black people deserve full moral status. This failure is a consequence, inter alia, of Huck’s renunciation of conscious moral deliberation.

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