Academic Questions

, Volume 32, Issue 3, pp 334–341 | Cite as

Why We Need to Read

  • Karen Swallow PriorEmail author

In a 1771 letter to a friend, Thomas Jefferson praised both the pleasures and the usefulness of reading fiction:

[E]verything is useful which contributes to fix in the principles and practices of virtue. When any original act of charity or of gratitude, for instance, is presented either to our sight or imagination, we are deeply impressed with its beauty and feel a strong desire in ourselves of doing charitable and grateful acts also. On the contrary when we see or read of any atrocious deed, we are disgusted with its deformity, and conceive an abhorrence of vice. Now every emotion of this kind is an exercise of our virtuous dispositions, and dispositions of the mind, like limbs of the body acquire strength by exercise. But exercise produces habit, and in the instance of which we speak the exercise being of the moral feelings produces a habit of thinking and acting virtuously.1

Etymologically, “virtue” is synonymous with “excellence.” Jefferson—like many before and fewer following...

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Liberty UniversityLynchburgUSA

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