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Keywords:

  • Literature and ethics;
  • theological anthropology;
  • Blake;
  • moral agency;
  • Charles Taylor

Abstract

The connection between ethics and theological vision has become increasingly important for ethics as we better appreciate how the moral agent is embedded in a framework that affectively and intellectually shapes her moral reasoning. Moral reasoning is always reasoning within (that is, within a moral framework, a religious worldview, and/or a set of ideological commitments). A similar framing occurs in literature, which I refer to as its “horizon.” A literary text's horizon comprises the theological and metaphysical commitments that are implied by the text and that the reader relies on to make sense of it. I suggest that there is a parallel between how moral frameworks and literary horizons operate in that both shape moral judgment. I argue that in using literature as a resource for ethics, the same contemporary currents that have led us to appreciate the embeddedness of moral reasoning should also encourage us to give more careful attention to the theological or metaphysical vision implied by a text. Such a “theo-ethical” reading of literature provides a richer understanding of particular moral goods and the interplay between those goods and ethical themes like agency, hope, and redemption. I substantiate this claim with a reading of William Blake's Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion.