Please Note: The list below is not exhaustive, and contains mostly recent journal articles.
In his influential book After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre identifies Kierkegaard's view of ethics with that of Kant. Both Kant and Kierkegaard, according to MacIntyre, accept the modern paradigm of moral activity for which freedom of the will is the ultimate basis. Ronald M. Green, in Kierkegaard and Kant: The Hidden Debt, accepts and deepens this alignment between the two thinkers. Green argues that Kierkegaard deliberately obscured his debt to Kant by a systematic “misattribution” of his ideas to other thinkers, and to classical philosophy in particular. This essay argues that MacIntyre and Green are mistaken in identifying Kierkegaard with the Kantian tradition of moral autonomy and that they overlook his debt to the classical conception of virtue. In casting Kierkegaard in the role of the quintessential exponent of a modern conception of freedom, they have perhaps overlooked one of the greatest critics of moral autonomy who has ever lived.
This essay addresses recent claims about the compatibility of the sociobiological theory of reciprocal altruism with standard Western formulations of the Golden Rule. Derek Parfit claims that the theory of reciprocal altruism teaches us to be “reciprocal altruists,” who benefit only those people from whom we can reasonably expect benefits in the future. The Golden Rule, on the other hand, teaches us to benefit anyone regardless of their intention or ability to return the favor, or as Parfit puts it, the Golden Rule teaches us to be “suckers.” I argue that this distinction is founded on a misconception of the nature of the theory of reciprocal altruism, which is sociobiological as opposed to moral, and that this distinction accordingly confuses is with ought. Sociobiological theories may explain underlying psychological motivations in individuals (and perhaps even in populations), but these theories do not prescribe any sort of moral behavior. Furthermore, the theory of reciprocal altruism does not imply mental states of which agents are aware. The unconscious motivations assumed by this theory are in fact compatible with certain formulations of the Golden Rule; I will accordingly argue for the view that certain words with moral content related to the Golden Rule—such as “altruism” and “selfishness”—exist only insofar as they are social tools, which can further the self-interests of an individual in any group.
This essay argues that, for Aquinas, grace both intends and makes possible the theological life of charity and that charity reveals the path to beatitude. But it also emphasizes that charity is not a private or purely spiritual relationship with God, but is rather a way of life that continually draws one out of the self in love and service to others. This is most clearly seen in Aquinas’s treatise on love of enemy and the different effects of charity. The essay begins by exploring how Aquinas’s theology of the Trinity informs his account of grace and charity. It then investigates his understanding of the nature and necessity of grace and the form of life that grace makes possible. This is followed by an analysis of Aquinas’s account of charity as friendship with God and its implications for the life of grace. The essay concludes by considering some of the effects of charity and why they make a life of friendship with God a genuinely ecstatic existence.
There are widely differing accounts of Augustine's place in the early history of the notion of conscience. While some regard his contribution as groundbreaking, others consider that he only stressed interiority more than earlier authors. Starting with a contrast with Jerome, the present article aims at clarifying Augustine's specific contribution and the place of conscience in his moral thought.
In the history of ethics, it remains remains unclear how Christians of the Middle Ages came to see God-given virtues as dispositions (habitus) created in the human soul. Patristic works could surely support other conceptions of the virtues given by grace. For example, one might argue that all such virtues are forms of charity, so that they must be affections of the soul, or that they consist in what the soul does, not anything the soul has. Scholars usually assume that the explanation lies in the impact of Aristotle's philosophy on medieval theology. This essay argues that the dispositional account of God-given virtues was already entrenched by the end of the twelfth century and probably owes more to the influence of Augustine's treatise On the Good of Marriage.
In this paper, I explore a new way of understanding Christian ethics by critically interconnecting the theological meanings of the Aqedah (“binding”) narrative of Mt. Moriah and the Passion story of Mt. Golgotha. Through an in-depth critical-theological investigation of the relation between these two biblical events, I argue that Christian ethics is possible not so much as a moralization or as a literalistic divine command theory, but rather as a “covenantal-existential” response to God's will in the impossible love on Mt. Moriah as well as in the Son's willing embrace of God's will on Mt. Golgotha.
Since virtue and the virtues have been important in Reformed theology for most of its history, this essay is devoted to the question of how this tradition may contribute to and interact with contemporary virtue ethics (MacIntyre, Hauerwas). Reformed concepts of sanctification as open to moral growth, covenant as a narrative context of divine commandments, and unio cum Christo as defining human teleology and virtuousness provide valuable contributions to the development of such an ethics. On the other hand, Reformed conceptions of (social) reform, natural law, common grace (Calvin) and christological eschatology (Barth) offer theological arguments for overcoming Hauerwas’s problematic overemphasis on the distinctiveness of the church’s ethic.
Although it is well known that Aquinas holds that infused versions of prudence and the other acquired virtues are bestowed on man along with habitual grace, there is no uniform and widely accepted account of how the infused and acquired virtues are related: some scholars interpret Aquinas to mean that the acquired virtues are ‘taken up’ into the infused virtues, while others credit him with the view that the infused and acquired virtues somehow coexist. This paper explores one common way of maintaining that the Christian’s infused and acquired virtues ‘coexist’. I argue that while such an interpretation is able to accommodate some of Aquinas’s most fundamental claims about the infused and acquired virtues, it is also problematic in important respects.
The article proposes, contrary to much of contemporary Thomistic scholarship, that according to Thomas Aquinas’s categorizations of virtue, the person in a state of grace cannot possess the acquired cardinal virtues. Arguing from Aquinas’s theory of virtue as to why this is the case, the article examines texts that are commonly interpreted to say otherwise, and addresses reasons that prompt contemporary moralists to posit the acquired cardinal virtues in the Christian.
Most offenders, even persistent offenders, eventually desist from crime, and the fastest period of deceleration in the frequency of offending is in the early twenties. This article summarises results from a longitudinal study of desistance from or persistence in crime in this age range, illustrated by three case histories. A key finding is that, because of their deep prior engagement in crime, would-be desisters from repeat offending need to make many adjustments to their patterns of daily life. The authors explain why virtue ethics has been found to be a valuable resource in theorising these results.
One of the central tenets of Christian theology is the denial of self for the benefit of another. However, many views on the evolution of altruism presume that natural selection inevitably leads to a self-seeking human nature and that altruism is merely a façade to cover underlying selfish motives. I argue that human altruism is an emergent characteristic that cannot be reduced to any one particular evolutionary explanation. The evolutionary processes at work in the formation of human nature are not necessarily in conflict with the possibility of altruism; rather, aspects of human nature are uniquely directed toward the care and concern of others. The relationship between altruism, human nature, and evolution can be reimagined by adopting an emergent view of the hierarchy of science and a theological worldview that emphasizes self-renunciation. The investigation of altruism necessitates an approach that analyzes several aspects of altruistic behavior at different levels in the hierarchy of sciences. This research includes the study of evolutionary adaptations, neurological systems, cognitive functions, behavioral traits, and cultural influences. No one level is able to offer a full explanation, but each piece adds a unique dimension to a much larger puzzle.
This essay suggests that while Antony Duff's model of criminal punishment as secular penance is pregnant with possibilities for theological reception and reflection, it proceeds by way of a number of separations that are brought into question by the penitential traditions of Christianity. The first three of these—between justice and mercy, censure and invitation, and state and victim, constrain the true communicative character of his account of punishment. The second set of oppositions, between sacrament and virtue, interior character and external action, and formal and moral reconciliation, subject the model of state punishment as secular penance to problematic liberal and libertarian constraints. A postsecular analogy, outlining a theology of the invitational nature of divine judgment, and drawing on Thomas Aquinas's account of penance as both sacrament and virtue, is proposed.
The contemporary revival of virtue ethics has focused primarily on retrieving central moral commitments of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and the Neoplatonist traditions. Christian virtue ethicists would do well to expand this retrieval further to include the writings of the Roman Stoics. This essay argues that the ethics of Jonathan Edwards exemplifies major Stoic themes and explores three noteworthy points of intersection between Stoic ethics and Edwards’s thought: a conception of virtue as consent to a benevolent providence, the identification of virtue as a singular and transformative good, and an account of moral formation as simultaneously self-directed and received. Common ground between Edwards and the Stoics illustrates the value of recognizing Stoic moral thought as a philosophical framework that can enhance and undergird Christian ethicists’ understandings of moral development and the nature of virtue.
Jennifer Herdt's Putting On Virtue argues for the theological and normative superiority of noncompetitive accounts of divine and human agency. Although such accounts affirm the indispensability and sovereignty of divine grace they also acknowledge human agents as active participants in their own moral change. Indeed, Herdt contends we cannot coherently describe the human telos as entailing a transformation of character without affirming that human agents meaningfully contribute to that change. Nevertheless, a recurrent worry in Putting On Virtue is that persons may view their growth in virtue as a personal achievement and that the pleasure of positive self-regard will displace disinterested—and hence truly virtuous—moral aspiration. This discussion of Herdt's volume sympathetically canvasses her argument. It then looks briefly at the reflexive structure of human agency to consider the relationship between the human telos and the transformation of character, and to encourage a more generous attitude toward positive self-regard.
The theory of embodied cognition makes the claim that our cognitive processes are, at their core, sensorimotor, situated, and action-relevant. Our mental system is built primarily to control action, and so mind is formed by the nature of the body and its interactions with the world. In this paper we will explore the nature of virtue and its formation from the perspective of embodied cognition. We specifically describe exemplars of the virtue of compassion (caregivers of individuals with developmental disabilities in L'Arche communities), speculating as to what might have been the formative influences in their character development. Embodied formation is understood in the context of the openness of human cortical systems to formation by social interactions, and in terms of the openness to reorganization and change of complex dynamical systems. Specific formative influences explored include interpersonal imitation, social attachment, language, and story.
Despite this virtue's history as an instrument of women's oppression, modesty, at its most basic, means voluntary restraint of one's power, undertaken for the sake of others. It is a mechanism that modifies unequal power relationships and encourages greater compassion and fairness. I use a Christian perspective with influences from Jewish and Muslim sources to examine modesty. The modest person, I argue, must be in relationship with others, must be honestly aware of her impacts on others, must be sensitive to those impacts, compassionate toward others, and willing to hold back for others' sakes. Moreover, modesty is not only a virtue that pertains to sexuality and clothing, but it also can promote virtuous environmental behavior, particularly as it leads to awareness of, and sensitivity to, the effects of everyday behaviors on vulnerable others.
Responding to a question of Pope John Paul II on what light evolution can throw on creation in the image of God, this article first considers how the creation of humanity in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-27) has been variously understood. It then examines how sociobiology seeks to explain the origin and role of altruism. Finally it proposes a theology of altruism that originates in God’s interpersonal mutual commitment, is humanly and archetypally expressed by Jesus as “the image of God” (Col 1:15), and invites the human species to pursue mutual concern as created in the image of the divine altruism.
Of the many forgiveness-related questions that she takes up in her novels, the one with which Iris Murdoch wrestles most often is the question, “Is forgiveness possible without God?” The aim of this essay is to show, in the first instance, why the question Murdoch persistently raises is a question worth asking. Alongside this primary aim stands a secondary one, which is to consider how one might glean moral insights from the Christian tradition even if one does not (any longer) endorse its theological commitments.
Thomas Aquinas’s theory of habitual grace rests on a generically metaphysical account of the faculties of the soul and of the natural and supernatural habits that perfect them. Bernard Lonergan opened up fruitful avenues for rethinking nature, grace, and virtue in a developmental perspective. His intentionality analysis transposes the conception of human nature; the dynamic state of being in love transposes sanctifying grace; the development of skills provides an analogue for virtue; and the role of love in the development, orientation, and transformation of skills provides an analogy for grace as habitual.
Despite the fact that Stanley Hauerwas has not taken up many of the topics normally associated with virtue ethics, has explicitly distanced himself from the enterprise known as “virtue ethics,” and throughout his career has preferred other categories of analysis, ranging from character and agency to practices and liturgy, it is nevertheless clear that his work has had a deep and transformative impact on the recovery of virtue within Christian ethics, and that this impact has largely to do with the ways in which his thought resists normalization. This essay traces the evolution of Hauerwas's reflections on virtue and the virtues over the course of his career, with special attention to how this has been bound up with an increasingly emphatic theological particularism that has remained ambivalent between what I term “comprehensive” versus “exclusive” particularism. I argue that it is important to distinguish between these, and suggest that grasping the destructive tendencies of “exclusive” particularism should cement our commitment to shouldering the responsibilities associated with comprehensive particularism.
Are human beings ever blameworthy for the choices they make? This essay offers a comparative analysis of two systems of thought that argue they are not. The first is Manicheanism, which places blame on a depraved nature within the individual and in competition with a good nature residing within the same person. The good nature is not accountable for the actions of the bad one. The second is situationist psychology, which posits that situations influence behavior more than any alleged robust traits inhering within the personality of the individual. We are thus not to blame for our bad actions which are produced not by our own volition, but by situational stimuli that are beyond our control. This essay critiques both of these systems of thought from an Augustinian perspective. I argue that while situationism does have something to commend, Augustine’s views on the constraining force of a sinful secunda natura, which influences but does not determine behavior, is a preferable alternative to both Manicheanism and situationism.
This article first examines pervasive present-day attitudes toward humility (‘The Contemporary Distaste for Humility’) before turning to Thomas Aquinas and Zhu Xi for their more positive treatments of this disposition (‘Thomas Aquinas and Zhu Xi on Humility’). It then considers their ideas about how humility is related to our human limitations (‘Humility Grounded in Our Finite Nature and Knowledge’), before surveying how they think it should be expressed in our relationships with our neighbours (‘Humility in Community’). The article looks at what Thomas and Zhu have to say about excessive pride in rulers (‘Humility and Authority’) before closing in the Conclusion with some thoughts about the viability of humility as a virtue for the strong, and its especial importance in contemporary politics.
This essay examines the significance of John Wesley’s moral pneumatology in relation to virtue. Although recent scholars have identified this connection, the present work offers a more integrated exploration of righteousness, peace, joy, and love—gifts/virtues inseparable from the Holy Spirit’s work in the economy of salvation according to Wesley’s practical theology. We will see that, for Wesley, believers become participants in God’s nature as the conjoined τέλος of happiness and holiness shapes the soul with respect to outward moral expression. Righteousness, peace and joy tempered by love are core spiritual fruits in Wesley’s pneumatology and collectively an elemental feature of his theological ethics.
This essay examines the relationship between virtue and understandings of time through a comparative examination of two medieval Christian writers, Bernard of Clairvaux and Thomas Aquinas. By locating temporal dimensions of virtue primarily in discussions of prudence, this essay compares Thomas's account of the virtue of counsel as preparatory to prudent judgment with Bernard's earlier account of consideration as an integrating virtue that coordinates an examination of physical surroundings and social responsibilities with an examination of one's own inner life and history of moral decisions. The essay argues that accounts of virtue ethics focusing on tradition-specific views of the human good and practical reasoning are insufficient if they do not also examine how practical reasoning interprets and responds to religious interpretations of time that disclose the distinctive kinds of moral problems arising in each historical period.
Sin has infinite variety, but is also a unified phenomenon. As a way of displaying both these aspects, the vice-lists of the New Testament explore patterns by which sin unfolds in a sequence of diverse but connected forms. The eschatological vice-list of 2 Timothy 3 treats this as an unfolding of the sin of pride from an immanent form (love of self) to a socially concrete one (love of pleasure). Exploring this train of thought in further detail, we find room within the progress of pride for the love of money and the love of war.
The ancient Christian liturgies face Godward: their purpose is to worshipfully acknowledge God’s unsurpassable worth. But they also take place in the face and recognition of vast evil. Part of their aim is to help us to live well in the face of this evil, especially when we are more or less powerless to prevent or rectify it. In this article I explore this last idea by examining the Eastern Orthodox eucharistic liturgies, understanding their dynamic of petition and blessing as a way of standing against evil.
Mary Wollstonecraft's account of virtue discourse and formation, which deploys ancient and medieval ethical resources for modern purposes, challenges a prevalent narrative in Christian ethics today. Several prominent Christian virtue ethicists have left the false impression that serious reflection on the virtues depends on pre-modern traditions and the eschewal of modern resources. Troubled by skeptical quandaries and the difficulty of adjudicating conflicting claims about virtue, they are concerned with securing a pre-modern court of appeals. Many feminists worry that these appeals unduly constrain because they naturalize what is contingent and fix what should be open to debate. Wollstonecraft does not share the skeptical concerns and so has no need for metaethical appeals. Adapting Edmund Burke's moral philosophy, her use of virtue discourse deploys his metaphor of “the wardrobe of the moral imagination” to more religious, radical, and democratic ends. This way of proceeding signals the possibility of a rapprochement between feminists of various stripes and those interested in deploying the discourse of the virtues for contemporary Christian ethics.
The most substantial source for thinking about forgiveness is Christian ethics. Some Christians offer forgiveness even for atrocities in the absence of repentance and reparations. The paper critically examines Christian idealism about forgiveness, while looking beyond Christianity toward a humanistic approach that acknowledges the tragic conflict between forgiveness and justice. Christian forgiveness is part of a radical revaluation of values regarding the goods of this world, personal identity, and temporality. Humanistic approaches, as found in Kant and the Greeks, do not embrace this radical revaluation of values. But it remains useful to consider the benefits of forgiveness, even for those who are not willing to commit to such a radical revaluation.
For two centuries Catholic philosophers and theologians have generally treated Immanuel Kant’s critical philosophy as incompatible with principles fundamental to Catholic accounts of the human condition in relation to God. This article argues that contemporary scholarship–particularly about the role of anthropological concerns in the critical project–indicates that Kant’s understanding of finite human freedom provides a basis for Catholic theology to engage his thinking positively in the articulation of a theology of grace for humanity’s postmodern context.
The probing readings of Putting On Virtue offered by Sheryl Overmyer, Darlene Weaver, and James Foster provide a welcome opportunity for further reflection on key questions: Was Aquinas really concerned with the status of pagan virtues? Can we properly understand a thinker whose driving questions are not the same as our own without taking up a stance of pure deference? Can an inquiry into hyper-Augustinian anxiety over acquired virtue assist us in arriving at an account of positive self-regard? Can an account that stresses the graced character of all virtue formation be coherent? And can it do justice to the ways in which Christians reached for accounts of infused virtue precisely in order to affirm how grace overcomes the ways in which fortune hounds acquired virtue? I respond affirmatively to all of the above.
Today's conversations in virtue ethics are enflamed with questions of “pagan virtues,” which often designate non-Christian virtue from a Christian perspective. “Pagan virtues,” “pagan vices,” and their historied interpretations are the subject of Jennifer Herdt's book Putting On Virtue: The Legacy of the Splendid Vices (2008). I argue that the questions and language animating Herdt's book are problematic. I offer an alternative strategy to Herdt's for reading Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae. My results are twofold: (1) a different set of conclusions and questions regarding the moral life that lend a fresh perspective to “pagan virtues” and (2) corresponding methodological suggestions for improving Herdt's project that would, to my mind, reaffirm her normative conclusions regarding the most viable ways forward for contemporary discussions of virtue.
This paper combines the social psychology concept of moral elevation with the evolutionary concept of traditions as descendant-leaving strategies to produce a new explanation of the role of saints in Christianity. Moral elevation refers to the ability of prosocial acts to inspire people to engage in their own acts of charity and kindness. When morally elevating stories and visual depictions become traditional by being passed from one generation to the next, they can produce prosocial behavior advantageous to survival and reproduction among many generations of descendants. Traditions that increase the number of descendants in future generations can be seen as descendant-leaving strategies. Stories and visual depictions of the sacrifices of saints appear to be designed to produce states of moral elevation, and they have been transmitted from one generation to the next for many centuries. We propose that this ability of sacrificing saints to inspire future generations to engage in prosocial acts has contributed to the continuation and spread of Christianity.
Our human condition is often defined in terms of human fallibility; we are human specifically because we fail to live up to our own expectations. This paper explores various conceptions of one form of human fallibility: self-control failure. Self-control failure is examined through two conceptualizations, with each conceptualization observed through a corresponding theological and psychological lens: first, as the result of a divided, conflicted humanity, as understood by the Catholic Doctrine of Original Sin and psychological Dual-Process Theories of Cognition; and second, as the result of limited goal perception, as understood by Islamic conceptions of human memory and psychological Construal Level Theory. A concluding discussion considers two broader implications of the preceding analysis: first, that an appropriate understanding of human fallibility can help us to mitigate its effects, and second, that a conversation regarding overlapping concepts across academic disciplines and religious traditions can enrich understanding of said concepts.
This essay attempts concisely to articulate the necessary role played within moral theology in general—and within the moral theology of grace in particular—by the metaphysics and natural philosophy of human agency.It argues for the priority of the speculative with respect to the practical inasmuch as speculative knowledge precedes desire, and desire precedes intention; for the centrality of unified normative teleology; for the primacy of being over relation; and for the primacy of sound doctrine regarding the divine causal providence for the moral theology of grace and freedom.
Some followers of Christ claim that sports are pointless activities and even spiritually dangerous, given some of the values that are present within them. Other Christians look more favorably upon the value of sports. In this paper, I defend the latter view. I focus on the manner in which sports can provide a context for and be exercises in Christian spiritual formation. I then examine the practical implications this has for Christians who are athletes, coaches, and parents of children who participate in sports, and conclude that sports can offer a unique way for us to glorify God.
In this essay, I describe my Cultural-Developmental Template Approach to moral psychology. This theory draws on my research with the Three Ethics of Autonomy, Community, and Divinity, and the work of many other scholars. The cultural-developmental synthesis suggests that the Ethic of Autonomy emerges early in people’s psychological lives, and continues to hold some importance across the lifespan. But Autonomy is not alone. The Ethic of Community too emerges early and appears to increase in importance across the life course. Then, it also seems that in most places and at most times, the Ethic of Divinity has found a voice—and in some traditions this ethic may become audible in adolescence. Ethics of Autonomy, Community, and Divinity, then, may have universal roots in the human condition. However, they are also clearly culturally and historically situated. Cultural communities—whether defined by religious, national, or other boundaries—vary in how they prioritize the three ethics and the extent to which they reinforce their development.
The starting point for discussion in this paper is a case study, namely that of the controversy surrounding the case of withdrawing feeding from Eluana Englaro who had been in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) for seventeen years. I press the case for a recovery of classical prudence or practical wisdom, as understood by Thomas Aquinas, rather than beginning with deontological or utilitarian arguments. I suggest that prudence has relevance not just for specific issues concerned with cases involving PVS, but also addresses wider problems raised by secular end-of-life ethical discourse, with its emphasis on individual choice on the one hand and concerns about the slippery slope towards more liberal legislation on the other hand. Greater attention to the hospice movement is, I suggest, ambiguous in ethical terms. Finally, I argue that one of the strengths of a Thomistic understanding of prudence is its deep connection with the life of grace as that informed by consideration of the work of the Holy Spirit. This incorporates a theological element without falling into the trap of a deontology that can be dismissed by those outside the household of faith, while allowing a Christian witness to persist in such a contested public arena.
Western theology struggles with the rise of secularism and postmodernism. The Radical Orthodoxy sensibility asserts that the ancient principles of methexis (participation) and theosis (deification) presents an alternative metaphysical narrative to the narrative of secularism and the onto-theological tradition. This article addresses the problems of the onto-theological metaphysical tradition in Western theology by analyzing Radical Orthodoxy’s rediscovery of the philosophical and theological principles of participation and theosis as articulated in the patristic tradition and in the thought of Thomas Aquinas. Using historical and analytical methods, this article will survey the biblical and patristic literature on theosis, as well as John Milbank’s understanding of methexis and theosis in Thomas Aquinas. The result of this study will be to offer theosis, rooted in participation in God, as not only a soteriological model to reclaim for the West, but also a core metaphysical principle for Christian ethics that contravenes both onto-theology and the materialistic reduction of ontology in secularism.
Drawing on the work of Jonathan Edwards, this essay explores two dimensions of Reformed thought central to considering the emotions’ moral significance. First, Reformed theology’s singular understanding of virtue and holiness as love to God and neighbor gives rise to a distinctive account of the emotions’ place in the moral life. Certain emotions are to be embraced insofar as they have the capacity to be sanctified and thereby made compatible with growth in love to God. Second, Reformed theology historically links the emotions with the will, which is subject to moral necessity. Contemporary Reformed reflection on the emotions must therefore grapple with questions about moral agency and accountability that arise from this account of necessity.
Perhaps the best way to challenge anodyne popular conceptions of forgiveness is to highlight the ways in which “forgiveness,” like “justice” and “freedom,” is a rich and deeply contested term that relies for its content on divergent convictions about who we are and who we should seek to be. The essays in this focus issue articulate some of the many possibilities for practicing and thinking about forgiveness.
The central thrust of this article is to prompt new consideration of how faith and reason are understood to be at work in the discipline of theological ethics. To bring into question contemporary assumptions, a close reading of Aristotle is undertaken to illuminate his understanding of phronesis as a uniquely self-involving way of thinking that is transformative of the thinker. Phronesis, which may be translated as mindfulness, is shown to distinguish what is essential to ethical thinking. This philosophical preparation may clear a way for theology likewise to be understood anew. Kierkegaard’s reflection on Abraham’s experience of faith in Fear and Trembling discloses how theology is the working out by means of phronesis of the salvation disclosed to faith in the believer’s soul. In these two phenomena—mindfulness and faith—lies what is essential to the practice of Christian ethics.
This paper presents a critical appraisal of the recent turn in comparative religious ethics to virtue theory; it argues that the specific aspirations of virtue ethicists to make ethics more contextual, interdisciplinary, and practice-centered has in large measure failed to match the rhetoric. I suggest that the focus on the category of the human and practices associated with self-formation along with a methodology grounded in “analogical imagination” has actually poeticized the subject matter into highly abstract textual studies on normative voices within traditions, largely in isolation from considerations of socio-historical context, political and institutional pressures, and the lived ethics of non-elite moral actors. I conclude with some programmatic suggestions for how the field of comparative religious ethics can move forward.
The moral nature of humanity has been debated and discussed by philosophers, theologians, and others for centuries. Only recently have neuroscientists and neuropsychologists joined the conversation by publishing a number of studies using newer brain scanning techniques directed at regions of the brain related to social behavior. Is it possible to relate particular brain structures and functions to the behavior of people, deemed evil, who violate all the tenets of proper behavior laid down by ancient and holy texts, prohibiting lying, cheating, stealing, and murder? Is it possible that the recently discovered “mirror neurons” in the brain are the basis for empathy and that deficits in these brain cells lead to severe difficulty in relating socially to other people, including parents and siblings? What do we make of reports that the fusiform face area in the temporal lobe of the brain is specialized for the perception of faces and that defects in this region are seen regularly in individuals who are psychopathic.
In this essay, I show how the virtues, for Maximus the Confessor, contribute to the formation of a positive orientation toward (a deep and abiding desire for) the relevant epistemic goods (e.g., contemplation of God in and through nature, illumination of divine truths, wisdom, and experiential knowledge of God). The first section offers a brief overview of how three character-based virtue epistemologies envision the role of the intellectual virtues in the cognitive life. The second section draws attention to Maximus’s understanding of the relationship between the virtues and the relevant epistemic goods. The third section argues that a relationship of this sort entails a seamless connection (though without confusion) between the practical and contemplative aspects of deiform existence. The fourth section clarifies how select virtues foster within the self a praiseworthy desire for the relevant epistemic goods.
Since Immanuel Kant, moral reasoning has been divorced from classical theology and reinscribed onto self-contained individuals. Shorn of theological particularities, modern ethics tries to identify behaviours to which every right-thinking person can assent. A basic premise of classical moral philosophy, however, was that if we know who we are and what our telos is, then we can have a good idea of how we ought to act. In his christology, Barth reappropriates this classical view of ethics and situates it christologically. Because Jesus’ human nature finds its being and telos in his divinity, Barth found an ethical pattern in the anhypostasis-enhypostasis doctrine. Restoring people to their proper place as creatures rather than Kantian demi-gods, Jesus shows us what it means to be truly human by being obedient to the Father. We cannot divinise individuals or the church, but the church exists enhypostatically. This anhypostatic-enhypostatic christological pattern orders our activities, making worship the first task of ethics. In prayer and in Sabbath keeping, Jesus shows us his utter dependence on God through supplication and rest. In these acts of worship, Christians act as they were created to act. We respond obediently to our Creator. But we also find an orientation towards other people in christology. Love of enemies has everything to do with the content and shape of God’s command. It is involved in the telos of human life in being Christ-like.
Attention to virtue ethics in Eastern Christianity complicates the dominant narrative within the field by revealing new ways of conceptualizing classical problems in virtue theory, new insights into the dynamics of virtues’ development, as well as new contexts for applied virtue ethics. Human flourishing is understood as the progressive realization of theosis—a godly mode of being cultivated through liturgy and askesis, marked by the embodiment of the full range of virtues, and crowned by a radical love.
Philosophers have paid almost no attention to the baptismal rite. This is puzzling not only because the rite is central to the Christian life but also because the rite itself is very puzzling, making audacious claims about what its performance accomplishes. According to one of these audacious claims, by the performance of the rite the one baptized is transformed, enjoying states such as purification, sanctification, regeneration, and illumination – what I call the regenerate states. But how could this be so? And isn't there good empirical evidence that the imposition of the regenerate states on the one baptized is not accomplished in the vast majority of cases? In this article, I consider an ancient and audacious version of the baptismal rite, namely, that used by Eastern Orthodox Christians. I propose a model for understanding this rite – what I call the process-interpretation – which I believe comes close to being satisfactory, since it implies that the imposition of the regenerate states is not nearly as perplexing as it might seem at first glance.
Confessional Protestant ethics is commonly presented nowadays as opposite to virtue. This article establishes the inaccuracy of this presentation from the centrality of virtue and its compatibility with grace in the ethics of the Protestant Reformer Pietro Martire Vermigli (1499–1562). It argues that the notion of virtue is not only central but also consistent with the notion of grace from the distinction between acquired and infused virtue.
Following the revival of virtue theory, some moral theorists have argued that virtue ethics can provide the basis for a radical politics. Such a politics essentially departs from the liberal model of the moral agent as an autonomous reason-giver. It instead privileges an understanding of the agent as conditioned by her community, and in the case of social oppression and marginalization, communal virtues may become a vehicle for social change. This essay compares political appropriations of virtue theory by Christian theologian Stanley Hauerwas and secular feminist thinkers Lisa Tessman and Margaret Urban Walker. Hauerwas and feminist theorists both embrace a kind of embodied vulnerability as a political virtue, arguing that it enables more genuine social recognition. The virtue feminist critique is more robust than Hauerwas's, however, insofar as it understands mutual recognition to involve acknowledgment of social difference and the concomitant pursuit of justice.
Traditionally Christian ethical reflection has taken the form of what is called nowadays ‘virtue ethics’. This article compares the approach to virtue ethics in the Byzantine thinker, Maximos the Confessor, and the Western thinker, Thomas Aquinas. They both share the heritage of Plato and Aristotle. Maximos develops a concern for the virtues that is practical and ascetic; although he recognizes and uses the traditional classical terminology, he prefers a new Christian terminology, based more directly on the Scriptures. In contrast, Aquinas accepts and uses the classical terminology, adding to it Christian ‘theological’ virtues. His concern is much less directly practical than Maximos, and more directed to the kind of society in which the virtues can flourish. This contrast between the ascetical and political (which should not be overdrawn) is manifest in Dumitru Stăniloae and Josef Pieper, introduced as modern interpreters of Maximos and Thomas respectively.
Roman Catholic theological ethics went through a period of enormous transition in the twentieth century, abandoning its classic textbooks, the so-called ‘moral manuals’, which were centered on sins derived from the Decalogue and developing a more integrated ‘revisionist’ moral theology that depended on both systematic and ascetical theology. In terms of grace and virtue, the former moved from its peripheral connection to the sacraments to becoming the very foundation of the moral life, while the latter went from being the subject matter for yet another list of sins to the personal, embodied way of becoming a true disciple of Christ.
Herdt's Putting On Virtue has two chief aims. The first is to champion the virtue tradition against Christian moral quietism and modern deontological ethics. The second is to facilitate reconciliation between Augustinian and Emersonian virtue. To accomplish these tasks Herdt constructs a counter-narrative to Schneewind's Invention of Autonomy, in which Luther's resignation and Kant's innovation are tragic consequences of “hyper-Augustinianism”—a competitive conception of divine and human agency, which leads to excessive suspicion of acquired virtue. This review argues that Putting On Virtue succeeds in its first aim but leaves its second intriguingly uncompleted. Despite this deficiency, however, this essay also argues that Putting On Virtue makes plausible Herdt's audacious suggestion that Augustinian and Emersonian perfectionism may be reconciled by bringing acquired and infused virtue under a single term.