God, the Self, and the Ethics of Virtue

Philosophy and Theology 11 (1):47-70 (1998)
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Abstract

One motivation for the recent interest in virtue ethics in contemporary moral thought is the view that deontological or duty-based ethics requires the notion of God as absolute law giver. It has been claimed by Elizabeth Anscombe, for example, that there could be no coherent moral obligation, no moral ought, independent of divine command, and that, in the absence of belief in God, moral philosophy best pursue an ethic of character or virtue over an ethic of obligation or duty. The underlying assumption here is that an ethics of virtue, unlike an ethics of duty, is best developed independently of a conception of God. In this paper I argue that this view is misleading and obscures the need of virtue ethics for the concept of God. In making my philosophical point, I look to the work of Charles Taylor and suggest that any contemporary ethics of virtue, in order to meet its own desired aim of retrieving a viable moral self, requires a “deep” conception of the good, and that the most viable source for this conception is the theistic notion of God. On this account, the ethics of virtue turns out to be no more independent of the concept of God than an ethics of duty or obligation.

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