Huckleberry Finn’s conscience: Reckoning with the evasion

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Huck Finn’s struggles with his conscience, as depicted in Mark Twain’s famous novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (AHF) (1884), have been much discussed by philosophers; and various philosophical lessons have been extracted from Twain’s depiction of those struggles. Two of these philosophers stand out, in terms of influence: Jonathan Bennett and Nomy Arpaly. Here I argue that the lessons that Bennett and Arpaly draw are not supported by a careful reading of AHF. This becomes particularly apparent when we consider the final part of the book, commonly referred to, by literary scholars, as ‘the evasion’. During the evasion Huck behaves in ways that are extremely difficult to reconcile with the interpretations of AHF offered by Bennett and Arpaly. I extract a different philosophical lesson from AHF than either Bennett or Arpaly, which makes sense of the presence of the evasion in AHF. This lesson concerns the importance of conscious moral deliberation for moral guidance and for overcoming wrongful moral assumptions. I rely on an interpretation of AHF that is influential in literary scholarship. On it the evasion is understood as an allegory about US race relations during the 20-year period from the end of the US Civil War to the publication of AHF.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)485-508
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Ethics
Early online date12 Sep 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

Grant Number

  • DP130103658


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