Abstract: Martha Nussbaum’s Poetic Justice undertakes a defense of the novel by showing it to develop the sympathetic imagination. Three parts of her argument come in for criticism, with implications for other such political defenses. Nussbaum sometimes interprets the imagination practically, sometimes theoretically; the two forms have different effects on deliberation. Nussbaum credits the novelistic tradition with fostering the imagination; her example of Hard Times interferes with establishing this general point. Nussbaum suggests an aesthetic element in literature that produces its effect, but does not succeed in identifying that element so as to preserve the consequences of art while avoiding reductionism.