Are there any obligations a reader (of any form of text) has to fulfill towards the author?

Which philosophers argue within this context?


Is there anyone arguing, a reader must / should (not) read the end of a thriller at first to see how the plot is ending?

  • Could you unpack this a bit for us? What led you to ask for an explanation about this, what have you found out so far? – Joseph Weissman Oct 8 '11 at 17:43
  • I added an example, I hope that clarifies my question a little bit. – Bob Oct 8 '11 at 18:01
  • Responsibilities beyond all the courtesies to attend to an entertainment or communication? – Mitch Oct 11 '11 at 13:51

Jacques Derrida, in an interview entitled "Afterword: Toward an Ethic of Discussion" suggest that in order to discuss a work, one has a responsibility to actually read it. This might appear to be de minimis, but it is shocking (to Derrida, and also to myself) to see how many statements have been made concerning his work (in journalistic articles, for example) by people who have plainly not read the texts in question-- or read them so poorly as to amount to the same thing.

If we broaden this a bit, I think we can say that while a reader is not morally bound by an author's intentions (to the extent that they are recoverable), at the same time, it is the responsibility of the reader to at least be aware of them (to the extent that they are recoverable).

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By responsibilities, I presume you mean moral responsibilities? I'm not sure I know of anyone who writes about moral responsibilities a reader has towards the author, per se, but there are those who would argue that a reader has moral responsibilities towards society if he or she is reading something that helps him or her make better informed decisions as a member of society. Thus, this primarily involves literature that is non-fiction nature, although fiction books which teach moral lessons would also count. One such example is a famous essay called The Ethics of Belief, by W.K. Clifford. In it he writes when we have a moral obligation to investigate/read more, and when we can trust an authority, etc.

To sum up his ideas, he writes:

  • We may believe what goes beyond our experience, only when it is inferred from that experience by the assumption that what we do not know is like what we know.
  • We may believe the statement of another person, when there is reasonable ground for supposing that he knows the matter of which he speaks, and that he is speaking the truth so far as he knows it.
  • It is wrong in all cases to believe on insufficient evidence; and where it is presumption to doubt and to investigate, there it is worse than presumption to believe.
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Any reading of any text whatsoever demands the most basic 'faith' in the veracity of the author -- you have to believe in good will at some point or the entire discursive chain is undone.

I am tempted to claim there is even an ethical or religious dimension here demanding absolute respect (even love) for the other, including their mode of communication.

At the very least, I might suggest one should enter into a text realizing that it is the voice of another human being with all the ethical baggage that entails, demanding from us our measure of charity and compassion and patience and so forth.

You might be interested in this syllabus for a Literary Theory and Criticism course entitled "The Ethics of Reading".

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I think its the reader decision how he wants to enjoy the book. If he feels reading the end first gives him more joy than reading entire book he may do that. Author can suggest that reading the entire book is recomended.

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