From an early age, children tell stories that exercise their capacity for make-believe, and philosopher of art Kendall Walton has shown that this ability extends into adulthood. All our representations – paintings, theatrical plays, films and novels – use imagination in a manner parallel to that of children's games, albeit with a considerably higher degree of sophistication. Where those fictions involve storytelling, an ethical dimension inevitably creeps in. As the prolific author Michael Moorcock has noted, morality and story structure are closely linked. We do not need heavy handed "And the moral of the story is..." endings to draw ethical conclusions from a tale; the very arrangement of a narrative has a moral dimension.
What is more, Professor Walton has noted (as indeed Hume did centuries earlier) that we are resistant to a story that forces unwelcome moral principles upon us. Ordinarily, we accept all manner of wild propositions simply on the author's authority, as in fantasy and science fiction, which bend the rules of reality in absurd ways as a matter of course. But we are not willing to accept the author's authority on moral matters. If we read a book in which the omniscient narrator tells us that the mixing of races is wrong, for instance, we will say that the author has a perverse moral attitude and not accept this aspect of the story – we can accept almost anything in fiction, it seems, provided it does not transgress our prior values.
Part 10 of 23 in the Pentenary series.