Naturalism, Formalism, and Supernaturalism: Moral Epistemology and Comparative Ethics

Journal of Religious Ethics 27 (3):477 - 506 (1999)

Abstract

If the much discussed fragmentation of the West means that we can seldom hold constructive moral conversations with our near neighbors, why imagine that comparative ethics is feasible as a critical enterprise with a coherent method? How, more specifically, do we understand the relative merits of naturalism, formalism, and supernaturalism as ethical orientations? The author addresses these questions first by examining the meaning of the quoted terms, then by criticizing the inordinate optimism of most naturalisms and formalisms. The article ends by briefly elaborating and defending a supernaturalist conception of Christian love. As a fruit of the Spirit, agape leaves one neither heteronomous nor autonomous, but holy. Such holiness can move one to appreciate, judiciously, cultures different from one's own

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