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A Clouded View: How Language Shapes Moral Perception

Cox, Kathryn Lilla

Flannery O’Connor writes in her novel Wise Blood,

The black sky was underpinned with long silver streaks that looked like scaffolding and depth on depth behind it were thousands of stars that all seemed to be moving very slowly as if they were about some vast construction work that involved the whole order of the universe and would take all time to complete. No one was paying any attention to the sky.

The images in this passage are striking for a number of reasons. First, there is the sense that finding solutions or building new images, structures, and ways of being might not be completed during one’s lifetime. The discipline of patience and long term planning with the sacrifice involved are qualities frequently hard to fathom in an age of almost instantaneous communication. Second, this passage highlights what many of us already know, that the ethical life is complex and actions and decisions build upon each other. Third, we can be forgetful and inattentive to our surroundings, only seeing a fraction of our landscape. Finally, when we do look up at the sky, if we have learned particular constellations, we may find it hard to perceive new patterns or see the stars behind those most visibly present.

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Union Seminary Quarterly Review

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Union Theological Seminary
Published Here
September 10, 2015
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