纽约时报文摘 | 阅读文学会提高我们的道德水平吗?

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You agree with me, I expect, that exposure to challenging works of literary fiction is good for us. That’s one reason we deplore the dumbing-down of the school curriculum and the rise of the Internet and its hyperlink culture. Perhaps we don’t all read very much that we would count as great literature, but we’re apt to feel guilty about not doing so, seeing it as one of the ways we fall short of excellence. Wouldn’t reading about Anna Karenina, the good folk of Middlemarch and Marcel and his friends expand our imaginations and refine our moral and social sensibilities?
料想你一定同意我吧:挑战文学小说的经历于我们有益。也正因此,我们痛惜学院课程“低能化”,悲叹互联网及其“超链接”文化兴起。也许我们并没有读许多堪称伟大的文学作品,但我们都倾向因此感到内疚,且认为这就是导致我们不够优秀的原因之一。难道,读一读安娜·卡列尼娜的故事、看一看米德尔马契省城住民的生活、了解一下小马塞尔和他的朋友们,无助于开阔我们的想象力、完善我们的道德与社会良知吗?

If someone now asks you for evidence for this view, I expect you will have one or both of the following reactions. First, why would anyone need evidence for something so obviously right? Second, what kind of evidence would he want? Answering the first question is easy: if there’s no evidence – even indirect evidence – for the civilizing value of literary fiction, we ought not to assume that it does civilize. Perhaps you think there are questions we can sensibly settle in ways other than by appeal to evidence: by faith, for instance. But even if there are such questions, surely no one thinks this is one of them.
如果现在有人就这一观点向你索求证据,我估计你会有以下两种反应中的至少一种。第一:如此显然正确的观点,为什么会有人想要证据啊?第二:他想要什么样的证据呢?回答第一个问题很简单:如果没有证据——即使是间接证据——可以证明文学小说具有开化价值,那我们就不应该假定其可以使人开化。也许你会认为,除了诉诸证据外,有些问题我们还可以通过其他方式明智解决,比如:诉诸信仰。但即使有这样的问题存在,想必没人会认为这里探讨的问题就属于这一类。

What sort of evidence could we present? Well, we can point to specific examples of our fellows who have become more caring, wiser people through encounters with literature. Indeed, we are such people ourselves, aren’t we?
我们能拿出什么样的证据?这个嘛,我们可以指明具体的实例,比如我们认识的人,他确实因为与文学邂逅而变得更有同情心、更具智慧。实际上,我们自己不就正是这样的人吗?

I hope no one is going to push this line very hard. Everything we know about our understanding of ourselves suggests that we are not very good at knowing how we got to be the kind of people we are. In fact we don’t really know, very often, what sorts of people we are. We regularly attribute our own failures to circumstance and the failures of others to bad character. But we can’t all be exceptions to the rule (supposing it is a rule) that people do bad things because they are bad people.
我希望不要有人在这个问题上过于强硬。就我们对自己的了解而言,我们所知道的一切,都表明我们并不十分清楚我们何以成为像我们这样的人。事实上,很多时候我们其实并不真正知道,我们自身到底是什么样的人。我们习惯性地将自己的失败归因于际遇不佳,将别人的失败归咎为人品不好。然而,我们不可能人人都是特例,不可能我们每个人都不遵循这个规律(假设真有这么一条规律的话)——那就是人们之所以做坏事,是因为他们是坏人。

We are poor at knowing why we make the choices we do, and we fail to recognize the tiny changes in circumstances that can shift us from one choice to another. When it comes to other people, can you be confident that your intelligent, socially attuned and generous friend who reads Proust got that way partly because of the reading? Might it not be the other way around: that bright, socially competent and empathic people are more likely than others to find pleasure in the complex representations of human interaction we find in literature?
对于我们为什么做出某个选择,我们知之甚少。并且,我们无法辨别导致我们更改选择的那些微小环境变化。当涉及到别人时,比如你的某位朋友,他聪颖机智、融入社会、慷慨大方、读普鲁斯特,你能确信他之所以成为他,一部分就是因为读了普鲁斯特吗?有没有可能恰好相反:其实是,你的那位朋友聪明能干、适应社会、富同情心,所以比起其他人来,更可能通过文学中人际交往的复杂表现,找到乐趣?

There’s an argument we often hear on the other side, illustrated earlier this year by a piece on The New Yorker’s Web site. Reminding us of all those cultured Nazis, Teju Cole notes the willingness of a president who reads novels and poetry to sign weekly drone strike permissions. What, he asks, became of “literature’s vaunted power to inspire empathy?” I find this a hard argument to like, and not merely because I am not yet persuaded by the moral case against drones. No one should be claiming that exposure to literature protects one against moral temptation absolutely, or that it can reform the truly evil among us. We measure the effectiveness of drugs and other medical interventions by thin margins of success that would not be visible without sophisticated statistical techniques; why assume literature’s effectiveness should be any different?
我们经常听到一种来自另一边的说法,今年《纽约客》网站上一篇文章就阐述了这个问题。作者特舒·寇尔(Teju Cole)指出:有个总统,虽然读小说、读诗,但仍愿意签署每周无人飞机空中打击同意书,这令我们想起了那些有文化的纳粹。作者发问:“文学曾引以为豪的能激发读者共鸣和同情的力量”如今变成什么样了?我并不太喜欢这个主张,不仅仅是因为我还并未被针对“无人飞机”的这个道德案例说服。任何人都不应该声称,文学阅读经历足以完全保护个人免受道德诱惑影响,或足能改善我们之中真正邪恶的人。我们衡量药品和其他医疗干预的效力,总是通过衡量其成功性的细微边际差异实现,这无法脱离精密的统计技术;那么为什么要想当然地假定文学的效力就与之全然不同呢?

We need to go beyond the appeal to common experience and into the territory of psychological research, which is sophisticated enough these days to make a start in testing our proposition.
我们需要超越对通常经验的诉求,而上诉到心理学的研究领域。这才是当今足够发达与精密的领域,使我们得以开始测试我们的命题。

Psychologists have started to do some work in this area, and we have learned a few things so far. We know that if you get people to read a short, lowering story about a child murder they will afterward report feeling worse about the world than they otherwise would. Such changes, which are likely to be very short-term, show that fictions press our buttons; they don’t show that they refine us emotionally or in any other way.
心理学家已开始着手这一领域的研究工作,截至目前,我们也已有一些收获。我们了解到,如果你让人读一个有关谋杀儿童的阴沉小故事,那么读者反映,他们阅读以后感觉世界变得更糟了。这样的变化,很可能极其短期,表明小说确实触动人的情绪,甚至惹人生气;但并不表明小说可以从情感上或任何角度上完善我们。

We have learned that people are apt to pick up (purportedly) factual information stated or implied as part of a fictional story’s background. Oddly, people are more prone to do that when the story is set away from home: in a study conducted by Deborah Prentice and colleagues and published in 1997, Princeton undergraduates retained more from a story when it was set at Yale than when it was set on their own campus (don’t worry Princetonians, Yalies are just as bad when you do the test the other way around). Television, with its serial programming, is good for certain kinds of learning; according to a study from 2001 undertaken for the Kaiser Foundation, people who regularly watched the show “E.R.” picked up a good bit of medical information on which they sometimes acted. What we don’t have is compelling evidence that suggests that people are morally or socially better for reading Tolstoy.
我们还了解到,人们很容易接受虚构故事中作为背景信息陈述或暗示的(据称)事实。奇怪的是,如果故事背景设定远离读者家乡,那么读者更容易受影响。德波拉·普林提斯(Deborah Prentice)与她的同事曾于1997年发表了一项研究。研究显示,普林斯顿大学的本科生读同一个故事,当故事背景设置在普林斯顿本校时,他们读后的反应比背景设在耶鲁大学时弱。(普林斯顿人也不必担心,因为耶鲁人在面对相对应的同等测试时,结果一样。)另外,电视上连续播放的节目,也有益于某些特定学习过程。据2001年凯撒基金会(Kaiser Foundation)进行的一项研究显示,经常观看连续剧《急诊室的故事》(E.R.)的人,从节目中获取了不少医学信息,而且时常学以致用。但我们目前还没有令人信服的证据表明,阅读托尔斯泰的人在道德层面或社会层面优人一等。

Not nearly enough research has been conducted; nor, I think, is the relevant psychological evidence just around the corner. Most of the studies undertaken so far don’t draw on serious literature but on short snatches of fiction devised especially for experimental purposes. Very few of them address questions about the effects of literature on moral and social development, far too few for us to conclude that literature either does or doesn’t have positive moral effects.
目前已经进行的研究几乎远远不够;我也并不认为心理学的相关证据指日可待。迄今进行的大部分研究均未以严肃文学为依据,而是着眼专为实验目的设计的虚构短小文段。这些研究中又极少有着眼文学在道德与社会发展方面效果的问题,远远不足以令我们得出结论,证明文学到底有或没有积极的道德影响。

There is a puzzling mismatch between the strength of opinion on this topic and the state of the evidence. In fact I suspect it is worse than that; advocates of the view that literature educates and civilizes don’t overrate the evidence — they don’t even think that evidence comes into it. While the value of literature ought not to be a matter of faith, it looks as if, for many of us, that is exactly what it is.
就此话题而言,目前观点的力度与证据陈述的力度并不相称,莫名其妙。事实上,我怀疑情况其实更糟:持文学教育开化观点的倡导者并没有夸大证据——他们可能根本就不认为这个观点会产生任何证据。虽然文学的价值不应该是一个信仰问题,但看起来对我们许多人而言,这就恰恰是个信仰问题。

Now, philosophers are careful folk, trained in the ways of argument and, you would hope, above these failings. It’s odd, then, that some of them write so confidently and passionately about the kinds of learning we get from literature, and about the features of literature that make it a particularly apt teacher of moral psychology. In her influential book “Love’s Knowledge,” Martha Nussbaum argues that the narrative form gives literary fiction a peculiar power to generate moral insight; in the hands of a literary master like Henry James, fiction is able to give us scenarios that make vivid the details of a moral issue, while allowing us to think them through without the distortions wrought by personal interest.
如今,哲学家个个小心谨慎,接受过论证的训练,你可能期望他们总能避免这样的疏忽或失误。但奇怪的是,他们中有些人,写到我们从文学中能学到的各种东西时,或写到文学具有种种特质,尤其适合充当道德心理学教师角色时,总是充满了信心和热情。玛莎·努斯鲍姆(Martha Nussbaum)在她的畅销书《爱的知识》(Love’s Knowledge)中辩称:叙事形式使得文学小说具有生成道德洞察力的独特能力;在如亨利·詹姆斯(Henry James)这样的文学大师手中,小说能够给我们提供各种场景,生动描绘某个道德议题的细节,让我们得以在不受个人兴趣曲解的影响下,透彻思索这些问题。

I’m not inclined to write off such speculations; it is always good to have in mind a stock of ideas about ways literature might enhance our thought and action. But it would be refreshing to have some acknowledgment that suggestions about how literature might aid our learning don’t show us that it does in fact aid it. (Suppose a schools inspector reported on the efficacy of our education system by listing ways that teachers might be helping students to learn; the inspector would be out of a job pretty soon.)
我并不想要彻底摒弃这样的思辨;心里有这么一些想法,认为文学足以提高我们的思想和行动,毕竟总是件好事。但是,文学可能于我们的学习有益,而这样的心理暗示并不能向我们证明,它的确就于我们的学习有益——适当接受并且承认这个观点,亦可令我们神清气爽。(假设某个学校的督学,就我们的教育系统功效做报告,仅仅列出了老师可能帮助学生学习的方法,那么这个督学可能很快就会丢饭碗了。)

I’m confident we can look forward to better evidence. I’m less optimistic about what the evidence will show. Here, quickly, is a reason we already have for thinking the idea of moral and social learning from literature may be misguided.
我有信心,我们可以期待更有利的证据。但我不太看好证据将会证明的结论。下面,我就马上讲一个我们已经掌握的理由,就读者从文学中获得道德和社会学习经验这个观点而言,证明我们的看法其实被误导。

One reason people like Martha Nussbaum have argued for the benefits of literature is that literature, or fictional narrative of real quality, deals in complexity. Literature turns us away from the simple moral rules that so often prove unhelpful when we are confronted with messy real-life decision making, and gets us ready for the stormy voyage through the social world that sensitive, discriminating moral agents are supposed to undertake. Literature helps us, in other words, to be, or to come closer to being, moral “experts.”
诸如玛莎·努斯鲍姆等人主张文学有益,这其中一个原因就是:文学,或具有切实品质的虚构叙事,把玩的是复杂性。即,当我们面对复杂麻烦的现实生活,需要做决策时,简单的道德规则常常经不起考验,无甚帮助。文学带我们远离这些简单道德规则,带我们准备好进入一场暴风雨般的旅程,见识真实社会世界里,敏感的、敏锐的、甚至带有偏见的道德行为体所应该面对的一切。换句话说,文学帮助我们成为——或变得更接近——道德“专家”。

The problem with this argument is that there’s long been evidence that much of what we take for expertise in complex and unpredictable domains – of which morality is surely one – is bogus. Beginning 50 years ago with work by the psychologist Paul Meehl, study after study has shown that following simple rules – rules that take account of many fewer factors than an expert would bother to consider – does at least as well and generally better than relying on an expert’s judgment. (Not that rules do particularly well either; but they do better than expert judgment.)
这种说法的问题就在于,长期以来均有证据表明,在复杂和未知领域内——道德必然就是这样的一个领域——我们所以为的专家意见,大部分都是冒牌货。从五十年前心理学家保罗·米尔(Paul Meehl)的成果开始算起,一个又一个研究都证明:遵循简单规律——即相较于专家考量而言考虑因素少得多的规律——结果至少都和依靠专家判断一样好,或通常情况下更好。(这并不是说遵循规律就特别好,而是说遵循规律结果确实优于专家判断。)

Some of the evidence for this view is convincingly presented in Daniel Kahneman’s recent book “Thinking Fast and Slow”: spectacular failures of expertise include predictions of the future value of wine, the performance of baseball players, the health of newborn babies and a couple’s prospects for marital stability.
有关这一观点,丹尼尔·卡尼曼(Daniel Kahneman)在其新近著述《思考:快与慢》(Thinking Fast and Slow)中展示了一些令人信服的证据:就葡萄酒的未来价值、棒球运动员的表现、新生婴儿的健康情况,以及一对夫妇对婚姻稳定度的前景期望等问题,专家做出的预测大错特错,令人叹为观止。

But why, I hear you say, do you complain about people’s neglect of evidence when you yourself have no direct evidence that moral expertise fails? After all, no one has done tests in this area.
我想你可能要问我:那你自己也没有直接证据可以证明道德专家失败无能,为什么还抱怨别人对证据的忽视呢?毕竟,这个领域尚无任何人做过试验。

Well, yes, I grant that in the end the evidence could go in favor of the idea that literature can make moral experts of us. I also grant that moral thinking is probably not a single domain, but something that goes on in bewilderingly different ways in different circumstances. Perhaps we can find kinds of moral reasoning where experts trained partly by exposure to the fictional literature of complex moral choice do better than those who rely on simple moral rules of thumb.
要说嘛,是,我承认最终证据可能会偏向那一方,即文学能让我们成为道德专家。我也承认,道德思考或许并不是一个单一领域,而是在不同情况下以各种令人摸不着头脑的方式呈现。也许,文学小说拥有一定的复杂道德选择,专家在接受了这样的文学体验训练后,如果确实比那些依赖简单道德规则的人做得更好,那么我们可能可以从中获取各种道德推论。

I haven’t, then, in any way refuted the claim that moral expertise is a quality we should aspire to. But I do think we have identified a challenge that needs to be met by anyone who seriously wants to press the case for moral expertise.
同时,对于这种说法,即道德专家是我们应该向往的优良品质,我也并未以任何方式驳斥。但是,我确实认为,如果有人竭力主张道德专家一说,那么我们已经为他明确了一项他必须应对的挑战。

Everything depends in the end on whether we can find direct, causal evidence: we need to show that exposure to literature itself makes some sort of positive difference to the people we end up being. That will take a lot of careful and insightful psychological research (try designing an experiment to test the effects of reading “War and Peace,” for example). Meanwhile, most of us will probably soldier on with a positive view of the improving effects of literature, supported by nothing more than an airy bed of sentiment.
最终一切都取决于我们能否找到直接因果证据:我们需要展示的是,就我们最终成为什么样的人而言,文学经历本身是否对其产生了某种积极的改变。这需要耗费大量细心以及深刻的心理学研究。(比如尝试设计一个实验,验证读《战争与和平》的影响。)与此同时,就文学改善读者的效果而言,我们大多数人可能会继续坚守积极的观点,虽然毫无任何依据可言——支持我们的无非是多愁善感的乡愿。

I have never been persuaded by arguments purporting to show that literature is an arbitrary category that functions merely as a badge of membership in an elite. There is such a thing as aesthetic merit, or more likely, aesthetic merits, complicated as they may be to articulate or impute to any given work.
有些观点意图证明文学是一种专断的分类,其功能无非就是精英阶层的会员徽章。我从未被这样的观点说服。因为存在着某种审美价值,或更有可能是多种审美价值,或许非常复杂,以至其难以清晰表述或归因于任何一部文学作品。

But it’s hard to avoid the thought that there is something in the anti-elitist’s worry. Many who enjoy the hard-won pleasures of literature are not content to reap aesthetic rewards from their reading; they want to insist that the effort makes them more morally enlightened as well. And that’s just what we don’t know yet.
然而,很难避免一种想法,即,反精英的担忧可能掺杂他物。许多人,辛辛苦苦阅读,享受着来之不易的快感,他们从文学中收获了美学的报酬,但并不满足于此;他们还想坚持认为,他们付出的努力,亦使得他们在道德上更加开明进步。而这恰恰就是我们还不知道的事。

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