When Narrative Fails

Journal of Religious Ethics 21 (1):27 - 67 (1993)
This essay examines the ways narratives succeed or fail to provide a life with structure and direction, as exemplified in Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" and George Eliot's "Middlemarch". Whether a narrative can be a moral compass depends on the presence of what Eliot calls "a coherent social faith." The debate between Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine provides a framework for my analysis of the problematic status of such a social faith in the modern world. This analysis in turn sheds light on contemporary work on narrative, community, and ethics by Hans Frei, Stanley Hauerwas, George Lindbeck, and Alasdair MacIntyre.
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