Moral/ Philosophical Criticism

"The School of Athens"
By: Gerardo Gandara, Hayley Beck, Yuriy Slabicky, and Shinichi Nguyen

Criticism is a critical evaluation that is usually negative of a book, play, poem, or any other forms of art. Several different types of criticism would include:

Unlike other types of criticism, moral and philosophical criticisms are based on human ethics.


"The Thinker" by Auguste Rodin, a figure often connected to philosophy
Moral - The ethical principles of right conduct, the distinction between right and wrong

Philosophy - The investigation of the truths, pertaining to the principles of being, knowledge, or conduct

In literature, morality and philosophy are often held as the higher purposes of writing. Critics would often stress that written works should provide valuable moral lessons to its readers by teaching them what is right and what is not right to do. With this knowledge, critics expect that the readers would soon understand the philosophical aspects of life. They state that readers should be able to recognize certain truths about the world and as a result, have a desire to start digging for a deeper understanding. Moral and philosophical critics view literature in all forms, whether poetry, fiction, or nonfiction, as a guidance for life. In these critics' mindsets, all works should teach the fundamentals of spirit and religion. They believe that all literature should be at a point where it is able to surrogate true religious scriptures such as the sacred Bible of Christianity, the sacred Koran of Islam, or the sacred Torah Judaism. Any written work that does otherwise by misguiding the readers or corrupting their beliefs are strongly condemned. By reading literature, critics hope that all readers will renew their ethical values.

Important Figures

Among the most important figures of this philosophy are Matthew Arnold, Horace, and Plato.

Matthew Arnold

A potrait of Matthew Arnold

"For the creation of a masterwork of literature two powers must concur, the power of the man and the power of the moment, and the man is not enough without the moment."- M. Arnold

Arnold began his literary career as a poet, and is renowned as the third great Victorian poet, along with the Tennyson and Browning. He turned towards literary criticism in 1857. He is famous for pioneering a more personal form of literary criticism, where he easily transitioned between literature and moral and social issues. He believed that that the key characteristics for literature to possess were "high truth" and "high seriousness," and that other works with such qualities could be used as a benchmark. He also thought that works of literature should be a resource from which people learn, and that readers should be impacted by literature.

"Poetry; a criticism of life under the conditions fixed for such a criticism by the laws of poetic truth and poetic beauty."- M. Arnold


A sketch of Horace
"Good sense is both the first principal and the parent source of good writing."-Horace

Horace was a Roman poet and playwright. His works have influenced many future writers, such as Vega, Tasso, and de Leon. He was also known for being able to reconcile the works and styles of Roman and Greek writing. He, as well as Arnold, believes that literature should be instructive.

"A portion of mankind take pride in their vices and pursue their purpose; many more waver between doing what is right and complying with what is wrong"- Horace


A representation of Plato by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino
"Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind."-Plato

Plato was a Greek philosopher and writer. He traveled the known world to various centers of learning, and acquired knowledge. He then created the Academy at Athens. He preached the Socratic style of thinking, and enforced mathematical style of thinking. In one of his books, the Euthyphro, he questioned whether morally right actions can be justified in any way. He also believed that no one can knowingly do any wrong, and that virtue might not be able to be taught. He believed that literature, through its teachings, is capable of corrupting religion and undermining the morality of people. His famous (or infamous) allegory of the cave also describes the potential of human life.

"Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge."- Plato

Significant Pieces of Literature

The Bible

The Bible
The Christian Bible is one of the most venerable tomes of morals in the world. It lays down the basis of morality and the philosophies of the Christian religion, as well as its off-shoots, and creates a foundation for moral and philosophical criticism around the world.

Plato's dialogues


The dialogues are Plato's dissertations, and are about him discussing various theories of ethics and morals. They were portrayed as him talking with an expert, and informed the reader of morals. Later dialogues talk about deeper moral issues, such as good and evil.

Culture and Anarchy

4._culture.jpgThis book, by Matthew Arnold, is an analysis of the culture of the people at that time. He criticizes the ideals and morals of the people of the Victorian era, particularly the gentry. He praises culture as a means to achieve moral perfection.

Instances of this Philosophy in the World Around Us

The Great Gatsby

gatsby1.jpgThe Great Gatsby is a novel full of statements which question people's morality, as well as how honest they are to themselves and to others. This act of questioning ones self is translated into ones actions in reality, and they can become a better judge of morals.



Othello contains many instances when one character utilized morally grey techniques as a mean to their ends. These instances bring into question a reader's morals and motivations in discerning means to a solution, and can cause them to better interpret their actions.

James Cameron's Avatar


This movie deals with the clash of capitalist advancement and what is morally right. The marines wish to eliminate the sentient Na'vi to get a rare element, without regards to the feelings of the Na'vi. This moral clash causes the viewer to witness the virtue in other people, and interpret the value of life.

External Links



Group Rubric

Categories: DHS Cyber English | Literary Lens | Hayley Beck | Gerardo Gandara | Yuriy Slabicky | Shinichi Nguyen