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Huck Finn, Moral Reasons and Sympathy

  • Craig Taylor (a1)

In his influential paper ‘The Conscience of Huckleberry Finn’, Jonathan Bennett suggests that Huck's failure to turn in the runaway slave Jim as his conscience – a conscience distorted by racism – tells him he ought to is not merely right but also praiseworthy. James Montmarquet however argues against what he sees here as Bennett's ‘anti-intellectualism’ in moral psychology that insofar as Huck lacks and so fails to act on the moral belief that he should help Jim his action is not praiseworthy. In this paper I suggest that we should reject Montmarquet's claim here; that the case of Huck Finn indicates rather how many of our everyday moral responses to others do not and need not depend on any particular moral beliefs we hold about them or their situation.

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1 The Conscience of Huckleberry Finn’, Philosophy 49 (1974), 123.

2 Huck Finn, Aristotle, and Anti-Intellectualism in Moral Psychology’, Philosophy 87 (2012), 5163. Hereafter AIMP.

3 Twain M.The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (London, Penguin, 1966), 147. Hereafter, HF.

4 Moral Incapacity and Huckleberry Finn’, Ratio 14 (2001), 5667. In this paper I respond to objections by Michael Clark to my earlier paper Moral Incapacity’, Philosophy 70 (1995), 273–85.

5 Arpaly N. ‘Moral Worth’, in her Unprincipled Virtue: An Inquiry into Moral Agency (New York NY: Oxford, 2003).

6 I will argue against even such a view however that Huck's response in helping Jim determines his sense of Jim's humanity rather than his sense of Jim's humanity determining his response here.

7 See here especially Taylor, Sympathy: A Philosophical Analysis (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002).

8 Bennett, 133.

9 Douglass F., Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. (London: Penguin, 1982), 58.

10 The point here is not that Douglass's readers be, as we might say, ‘emotionally moved’. Rather the whole point of his Narrative is to move his readers to action to help those still under the yoke of slavery. The book had a very practical political purpose.

11 Cavell S., The Claim of Reason (New York NY: Oxford, 1979), 376. I have in mind in particular here Cavell's discussion of what he calls ‘soul-blindness’ in connection with American slavery.

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  • ISSN: 0031-8191
  • EISSN: 1469-817X
  • URL: /core/journals/philosophy
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