The Theory and Practice of Virtue

The Theory and Practice of Virtue

The Theory and Practice of Virtue

The Theory and Practice of Virtue

Excerpt

The psalmist says that only those whose hands are clean and whose hearts are pure will ascend the hill of the Lord. A modern philosopher writes that the primary task of morality should be exploration of the means by which we discipline the "fat relentless ego" that is each of us. Simply put, the moral life aims at virtue. An ethic of virtue has characteristic emphases and, at least within the context of Christian theology, characteristic difficulties. In the chapters of this book, in essays that differ greatly and draw from quite different sources, I explore both the emphases and the difficulties involved in the struggle to clean our hands and purify our hearts.

An ethic which focuses on virtue rather than duty will tend to make vision central in the moral life. Indeed, this may be one of the great attractions of such an ethic for religious thinkers. It provides a way to break through -- or bypass -- debates about the relation of religion and morality. If the way we describe our dilemmas and define our obligations depends on how we see the world, if action flows from vision and vision depends upon character, then religious beliefs will inevitably be of great importance in the shaping of an ethic. Religious disciplines -- like confession or prayer -- may affect what we see and do by shaping the persons we are. Perhaps some truths can be seen only by the disciplined ego. These themes are relatively recent in academic religious ethics, but, of course, they have a long history. To explore that received tradition and some of the theological . . .

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