Versuch der Grundlegung einer Ethik der Literatur. Fallbeispiele aus den drei Hauptgattungen

Hauptsächlicher Artikelinhalt

Wolfgang G. Müller


This essay attempts to establish an ethics of literature, which, as distinct from earlier approaches, is transgenerically oriented in that it does not focus on narrative alone but on the three main literary genres of narrative, dramatic, and lyric art. It follows Wittgenstein’s much-quoted dictum that aesthetics and ethics are one. Its basic assumption is that ethics emerges in literature under the condition of aesthetic form. The much-discussed problem of the relation between philosophy and literature is found in the concept of the proposition, which, in Aristotle, who uses the term apophansis, means a statement, assertion, or predication. In philosophy, the proposition is, as Gottfried Gabriel emphasizes in his monograph on cognition (2015), an essential element within deductive processes of argumentation, contributing to proving a theoretical position or working out a theoretical position. In literature, propositions usually do not occur in extended argumentative contexts. They make a statement that may have a significant philosophical and specifically ethical impact and that may relate to the entire works concerned. Hence, the concept of propositionality makes it possible to relate and simultaneously differentiate the two great achievements of the human mind: philosophy and literature. In the essay’s analytic part attention is given to specific ethical dilemmas in Homer’s “Iliad” and Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, the representation of evil in Shakespeare’s tragedies, narrative strategies for presenting ethical situations and events in nineteenth-century novels (Austen, Dickens, Trollope, Twain, Tolstoy), and the occurrence of ethical elements in lyric poetry. As far as the lyric genre is concerned, we take note of the paradoxical fact that even in the object poetry of Rilke and the imagists (Williams), an ethical aspect emerges. A common result of textual analysis is the recognition of propositional elements in all texts investigated.


Müller, W.G. 2022. Versuch der Grundlegung einer Ethik der Literatur. Fallbeispiele aus den drei Hauptgattungen. Internationale Zeitschrift für Kulturkomparatistik. 5 (2022), 111–167. DOI: