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Knowledge, truth and literature

Godden, B. P. G (1981) Knowledge, truth and literature. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94373) (KAR id:94373)

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Philosophers have largely dismissed literature as imaginary and fictitious, and necessarily unconnected with real-life experience; it could not communicate truth or be a source of knowledge because, according to traditional definitions, such could only be acquired from the factual world. This thesis considers this ancient problem in the light of recent epistemology. Part 1 discusses traditional notions of knowledge and truth and the definition of true, justified belief. Classical essentialism, as Wittgenstein shows, must be rejected. There is more to knowledge than factual information, the understanding of which involves concepts learned from heterogeneous examples embodied in language, and these may be imaginary, but applicable to life. Part 2 underlines the importance of language in the understanding of emotions, which cannot be private. Literature can enrich emotion concepts and verbalize emotional experiences. Truth and sincerity of emotions and the inchoate verbal relationship are analysed. Part 3 discusses the form/content dichotomy. In ordinary language this involves paraphrase, but in creative literature, where form and content amalgamate, this is illogical. "Pure" language is ruled out, the figurative is defended and can be true and meaningful. Part 4 focuses upon literature and truth, including the role of truth in critical theories. Literature does not involve a "different truth" from that of life. The same complex criteria apply in both dimensions. The relationship between truth and beauty is investigated and found to be indivisible; moral content cannot be excluded from literary evaluation; aestheticism is rejected. The problem of universals in literature is considered. Essentialism falsely depicts literature as a vehicle of information, but it is demonstrated that general truths cannot be abstracted from particular literary form in informational terms, though form is of crucial importance in conveying conceptual knowledge. Literary examples illustrate their contribution to conceptual development and enrichment. Critical reasoning is discussed in an appendix.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94373
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: Philosophy
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
M Music and Books on Music > ML Literature on music
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > Department of Philosophy
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 25 Jul 2022 14:40 UTC
Last Modified: 17 Jul 2023 09:06 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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