Alan H. Goldman presents an original and lucid account of the relationship between philosophy and the vel. In the first part, on philosophy of vels, he defends theories of literary value and interpretation. Literary value, the value of literary works as such, is a species of aesthetic value. Goldman argues that works have aesthetic value when they simultaneously engage all our mental capacities: perceptual, cognitive, imaginative, and emotional. This view contrasts with w prevalent narrower formalist views of literary value. According to it, cognitive engagement with vels includes appreciation of their broad themes and the theses these imply, often moral and hence philosophical theses, which are therefore part of the vels' literary value. Interpretation explains elements of works so as to allow readers maximum appreciation, so as to maximize the literary value of the texts as written. Once more, Goldman's view contrasts with narrower views of literary interpretation, especially those which limit it to uncovering what authors intended. One implication of Goldman's broader view is the possibility of incompatible but equally acceptable interpretations, which he explores through a discussion of rival interpretations of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. Goldman goes on to test the theory of value by explaining the immense appeal of good mystery vels in its terms. The second part of the book, on philosophy in vels, explores themes relating to moral agency-moral development, motivation, and disintegration-in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, John Irving's The Cider House Rules, and Joseph Conrad's Nostromo. By narrating the course of characters' lives, including their inner lives, over extended periods, these vels allow us to vicariously experience the characters' moral progressions, positive and negative, to learn in a more focused way moral truths, as we do from real life experiences.
Alan H. Goldman is Kenan Professor of Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at the College of William & Mary. He is the author of seven previous books in ethics, epistemology, practical reason, and aesthetics, including Reasons from Within: Desires and Values (OUP, 2009).