Prototype theory and the importance of literary form for moral imagination

Yi Zheng*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


Prototype theory, which argues that categories have graded (and thus fuzzy) membership based on prototypes, has been used as cognitive evidence to support moral particularism because if categories (in moral rules) only have fuzzy conceptual boundaries, moral rules are not enough for moral judgment, as specific situations also need to be considered to determine how these fuzzy categories should be understood, which is what moral particularism believes. The importance of literature for ethics, especially for moral imagination, has also been extensively discussed because literature can provide vivid examples for us to imagine different moral dilemmas, the consequences of different moral choices, and the feelings of different people facing different situations. Martha Nussbaum specifically argues that the literary form is the only adequate form to imagine certain complex moral situations. By analyzing concrete literary examples as well as the related ethical discussions and empirical findings, this article argues that, building on Nussbaum’s argument, prototype theory can serve as a cognitive basis for the importance of literary form for moral imagination, because the literary form’s tolerance of ambiguity suits how we ambiguously categorize the world.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1329628
Number of pages11
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 11 Apr 2024

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

User-Defined Keywords

  • Henry James
  • Martha Nussbaum
  • The Golden Bowl
  • literary form
  • moral imagination
  • prototype theory


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