Thoughts on which to conclude.
Ethicism rests on the claim that actual responses can be had towards fictions: philosophers may debate the reality of fiction induced emotions such as pity or fear, but no one would deny the reality of pleasure or displeasure one feels toward fiction. Appeal to actual responses is important because it allows the ethicist to circumvent the objection that, since a reader cannot actually possess responses he only imagines, he cannot be held morally responsible for them. For the ethicist, this is to be denied for two reasons: first, since imagined responses are expressive of a one’s moral character, a person can be ethically condemned for his imagined responses. Second, since the attitudes manifested by works toward fictional entities implicitly manifest the same attitudes in regards to real entities of that kind, it follows that artworks can be aesthetically flawed due to the morally reprehensible character of emotions implicitly directed at real situations. These reasons force the ethicist into the uncomfortable position of adopting a discourse of moral condemnation, both in regards to works that approve of evil and the people who enjoy them: the reader aroused by scenes of sexual torture in Juliette, or the sexual relationship that transpires between a tortured prisoner and her torturer/lover’s son in La hora azul, is to that extent morally depraved, since his responses are a reflection of a corrupt character; de Sade or Cueto’s work is aesthetically defective to the extent that it fails to condemn its morally reprehensible subject matter. Though I agree that the ethical and aesthetic domains are intertwined, I find these reasons excessively moralistic. The ethicist thesis condemns representations of rape, pedophilia, sexual torture, incest—whether in the mind or in art—at face value, without considering the dark and damaged reaches of the human soul from which they spring. It is my feeling that literature, as form of rationality, is the expression of reason’s darker, subterranean other half. Perhaps the mark of a truly ethical work of fiction is that it brings this darkness to light, fully and without moral condemnation.