Knowledge, Truth & Literature
Philosophers have largely dismissed literature as imaginary and fictitious, and necessarily unconnected with real-life experience; it could not communicate truth or be a source of knowledge because, according to traditional definitions, such could be acquired only from the factual world. In this discussion we are going to consider this ancient problem in the light of more recent theory of knowledge.
We will discuss traditional notions of knowledge and truth and the definition of true, justified belief. There is more to knowledge than factual information, the understanding of which involves concepts learned from a variety of examples embodied in language; these may be imaginary, but they are applicable to life. We should underline the importance of language in the understanding of emotions, which cannot be private. Literature can enrich emotion concepts by verbalising our emotional experiences.
Some, on the other hand, are a bit sceptical about whether literature really can be a source of genuine knowledge. Fiction could be considered to be like a thought experiment in ethics, allowing us to see how we respond to typical human situations and actions. In that sense it helps us to extend our sensibilities and understanding of human life. But it's doubtful how wise it would be to learn about romantic love from 19th century novels. You might set yourself up for disappointment.
We should also consider other forms of writing such as Science Fiction. Is it really literature "under the terms of the Act" and what do I learn from reading it? There is great delight in seeing an imagined world worked out and described in detail but do I get "knowledge" from such an exercise?