A Survey of Recent Christian Ethics

By Edward Leroy Long Jr. | Go to book overview

7
Attention to Virtue and Character

The concept of moral discernment, which in Chapter 1 was examined in relation to moral reasoning, also refers to a certain quality of character, or personal moral ability, which involves dispositions, traits, and skills of the moral agent rather than the conclusions about normative judgments to which a person comes. When, in discussing moral discernment, James Gustafson writes about the "moral clod" and the "moral virtuoso," he goes beyond the particular moral judgments which individuals make. He is talking about qualities of their being, or character. In Christian terms, he is referring to "fundamental dispositions that are shaped in part by the faith and trust Christians have as they offer themselves up to God." 1 Such language points beyond moral reasoning and its conclusions to affective sensibilities and to qualities of personal being.

There is an increasing interest among Christian ethicists in the significance of the character of the moral agent and in the question as to how the kind of person one is bears upon the kind of decisions one makes. Attention to virtues, certainly not new in Christian ethics, has again become an important focus of attention. Gustafson advances the discussion of these matters in his book, Can Ethics Be Christian? by considering the bearing of "the 'sort

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