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Moral value

Literature has moral value if reading it gives occasion to learn a lesson. If a story or poem TEACHES us how to live, or attempts to teach us, then it has a moral dimension. Is the work still valuable if we do not like the lesson it teaches? Perhaps so. The best readers will see the moral value of a work even if the morals it endorses are somehow distasteful to them. Moral value is a dangerous value to measure. The history of censorship, for instance, is based on the idea that if a work teaches the "wrong" thing, it should not be read at all. This idea goes all the way back to Plato, one of the earliest philosophers to explore the moral dimension of stories and poetry. We have to be careful, I think, not to hold moral value as the most important one. If we reduce a story or poem to a moral lesson, or require that a story or poem BE a moral lesson that we can endorse, then we are USING literature to back up our own beliefs. To avoid this mistake, we must learn to appreciate works of literature for its various kinds of value. "To appreciate" means "to measure the value of something," and we need to try to find value in a work if we are inclined to reject it simply because we think it teaches the wrong lesson. Here is where ethical value comes into play.

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