Agents and Lives offers a new and important rethinking of the traditional 'humanist' view of literature. That tradition's valuation of literature for its 'moral import' is extended in a wider, more complex, open, and exploratory understanding of those terms. Goldberg demonstrates the way in which literature combines a sense of people as voluntary agents and as moral beings whose lives extend well beyond the voluntary and deliberate, manifesting themselves in feeling and suffering as well as in action. The book argues that this double way of thinking about people corresponds to traditional literary criticism's most vital insights into the way works of literature both depict and themselves manifest modes of human life. Goldberg's argument ranges across literature since the Renaissance, focusing on examples from George Eliot's novels and Pope's poetry. An appendix assesses the relationship of his argument to recent accounts of literature offered by a variety of moral philosophers.