Rowman and Littlefield International

Once Upon a Time

Essays in the Philosophy of Literature

By Peter Kivy and Aaron Meskin

2 Reviews

Kivy raises questions of a philosophical nature about the novel that will be of interest both to the professional philosopher and to the general reader.

Hardback ISBN: 9781786607348 Release date: Aug 2019
£92.00 €112.00 $120.00
Paperback ISBN: 9781786607355 Release date: Aug 2019
£31.00 €34.95 $39.95
Ebook ISBN: 9781786607362 Release date: Aug 2019
£24.95 €34.95 $38.00

Pages: 140


Once Upon a Time is a collection of essays in the philosophy of literature with two central themes: the significance of story –telling for us and the question of whether the novel, perhaps the art form most closely associated with story-telling, is a legitimate source of human knowledge. Leading philosopher of art Peter Kivy explores why human beings are so enthralled by being told stories and whether story-telling is a significant source of knowledge. Starting with a study of Aristotle's Poetics, Kivy then undertakes a critical discussion of Noel Carroll’s suggestion that our interaction with the artists of the past is a kind of “conversation.” He goes on to defend the thesis that one of the legitimate artistic pleasures we take in novel-reading is the acquiring of knowledge and, furthermore, that the silent reading of a novel is a kind of performance, making the novel one of the performing arts. The volume concludes with a chapter about jokes, and, in particular, whether it is immoral to tell or be amused by an “immoral” joke. This volume of essays is a must-read for anyone seriously interested in literature and the conceptual problems it may raise for philosophers.

Preface / 1. The Actual, the Possible and the Probable: Problems in Poetics IX / 2. Criticism, Communication, Conversation, Craft / 3. Facts From Fictions / 4. Knowledge and Novel Knowledge / 5. Swept Up in the Story / 6. Tell Me a Story! / 7. The Dancer and the Dance: On Reading as Performance / 8. Joking Morality / Bibliography / Index

Peter Kivy was Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Rutgers University. His many published works include De Gustibus: Arguing About Taste and Why We Do It (2015), Music Alone: Philosophical Reflections on the Purely Musical Experience (2009), The Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics (2004) and Antithetical Arts: On the Ancient Quarrel Between Literature and Music (2009). Several of his books have been translated into Chinese, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish. He was a former Guggenheim Fellow and a past President of the American Society for Aesthetics.

Aaron Meskin is
the Head of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Georgia.

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2 Reviews

Kivy (1934–2017) was well known as one of the US's leading writers on aesthetics, especially the philosophy of music and the philosophy of art. But he had other scholarly interests, and this posthumous collection brings together eight previously unpublished essays concerned with a number of different topics in the philosophy of literature, broadly conceived. Together, the essays testify to Kivy’s meticulous approach to aesthetics and philosophy, his subtlety, and his sense of style. Among the topics discussed: Aristotle’s Poetics, the idea of reading as a kind of performance, the allure of storytelling and the deep human need for stories, and the literary aspect of jokes. This last of these is especially intriguing: Is it always wrong to tell an “immoral” joke? Is it always wrong to laugh at such a joke? In discussing these things, Kivy begins with experience and then skillfully draws out the philosophical contours of his subject. His work is refined but down-to-earth. Kivy was an urbane and sophisticated writer of the old school, and he will continue to be missed.

Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students, researchers, faculty.


We want to be told a story almost as much as we want to breathe. But why? The answer is classic Kivy, a healthy serving of common sense spiced with eloquence, wit, and an unforgettable personal voice. A book to take to heart.

Dominic McIver Lopes, Professor of Philosophy, University of British Columbia

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