Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (AHF) has been much discussed by philosophers who seek to draw moral lessons from it. Two of them stand out, in terms of influence: Jonathan Bennett and Nomy Arpaly. I’ll argue that the lessons that Bennett and Arpaly extract from AHF are not supported by a careful reading of AHF. This becomes apparent when we consider the final part of the book, referred to by literary scholars as "the evasion". I extract a new lesson from AHF. On my interpretation, Huck is well positioned to question his presuppositions that racism and slavery are morally acceptable, which he has acquired as a part of his upbringing. But because, inter alia, he decides to forego conscious moral deliberation, he fails to question these presuppositions. AHF illustrates how we can miss opportunities to overcome the influences of wrongful moral assumptions that we acquire from our society when we forego conscious moral deliberation.
About the speaker
Steve Clarke is an Associate Professor in philosophy at Charles Sturt University and a Senior Research Associate in the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford.