How should religion and ethics be studied if we want to understand what people believe and why they act the way they do? An energetic guide to the study of religion and ethics, rejecting theories from postmodernism and cognitive science in favour of a return to pragmatic enquiry.
Jeffrey Stout's "Democracy and Tradition" puts forward a complex argument in favor of American democracy as a healthy and legitimate moral and political tradition in itself. Stout does not dwell on the place of his own work in the "pragmatic" approach to the study of religion in the last thirty years. This paper attempts to situate Stout's work in the approach to religion identified with Mary Douglas and Wayne Proudfoot and to suggest some of the consequences for comparative religious ethics (...) of his making that "pragmatic turn.". (shrink)
Mary Douglas's Purity and Danger and Herbert Fingarette's Confucius: The Secular as Sacred have had a continuous impact on cultural anthropology and the study of ancient Chinese thought, respectively, but neither has typically been read as a contribution to comparative religious ethics. This paper argues that both books developed from profound dissatisfaction with the empiricist presuppositions that dominated their fields into the 1970s and that both should be associated with the revival of American pragmatism that is currently driving a reinterpretation (...) of ethics as a social practice embedded in historically contingent discourse about agency, virtue, and social organization. This pragmatic turn results in a shift of comparative ethics away from issues of methods and metaethics in the direction of history and fieldwork as the preconditions for useful comparison. (shrink)
This response suggests that in writing the history of ethics, it is important to take seriously what the principals wrote and believed, distinguishing it carefully from our own responses to their writings, or from subsequent uses to which their writings may have been put. For example, when reading Thomas Aquinas and Francisco de Vitoria on just war against non‐Christian peoples, forcible conversion and conquest are clearly condemned. Whatever the attitudes of their contemporaries, not to mention later thinkers up to the (...) present, there is no foundation in Aquinas and Vitoria for holy war or “exceptionalism,” American or otherwise. (shrink)
Alain Epp Weaver's analysis of the theological foundations of Augustine's proscription of all lies in all circumstances does more than improve our understanding of Augustine. In drawing a plausible and illuminating parallel between the theological logic of Augustine and the theological logic of John Howard Yoder, Weaver not only succeeds in defending the credibility of Christian pacifism but also provides support for interpreting Yoder as a biblical realist. Moreover, the divergence between Weaver and Christopher Kirwan in their critical assessments of (...) the cogency of Augustine's treatment of lying serves to throw into relief the differences between secular philosophical ethics and theological ethics, incidentally suggesting why it is often difficult for twentieth-century thinkers to understand and evaluate premodern texts. (shrink)
J. B. Schneewind's "The Invention of Autonomy" has been hailed as a major interpretation of modern moral thought. Schneewind's narrative, however, elides several serious interpretive issues, particularly in the transition from late medieval to early modern thought. This results in potentially distorted accounts of Thomas Aquinas, Hugo Grotius, and G. W. Leibniz. Since these thinkers play a crucial role in Schneewind's argument, uncertainty over their work calls into question at least some of Schneewind's larger agenda for the history of ethics.
Some years ago I mentioned to Wayne Proudfoot what a pleasure it was to teach Religious Experience, if only to show a group of students how to develop an argument over the course of an entire book. Proudfoot shook his head and remarked that one reviewer praised the book as a helpful collection of essays. In the remarks that follow, I want to argue three points: 1) that Religious Experience is a remarkably tight argument, from beginning to end; 2) that (...) the argument vindicates a methodological pluralism that was previously undervalued in the philosophical study of religion; and 3) that Religious Experience established a paradigm for the philosophical study of religion that remains the norm.Other than scholars of... (shrink)
Molly Farneth’s Hegel’s Social Ethics hearkens back to the tradition of Josiah Royce, which has continued in the work of Richard Bernstein and Jeffrey Stout. At the same time, it reflects the impact of three decades of interpretive work which has offered an alternative to the 19th and early 20th century reading of Hegel as a metaphysical systematizer. In this new reading he was from the beginning a social critic and political theorist who looked to lay the groundwork for post‐Enlightenment (...) vision of the social world as evolving toward one of social cooperation based on mutual recognition. Farneth has developed this reading of Hegel into one of powerful resources for democratic pluralism. (shrink)
Paul Ricoeur writes of these essays that they “do not properly speaking constitute the chapters of a book.... Yet these texts do not come down simply to being occasional writings for some particular circumstance”. This is too modest. This short volume limns a comprehensive account of ethics, politics, and the law that “one might call neo-Aristotelian”. What makes Ricoeur’s position neo-Aristotelian is the insistence that “the question what ought I to do? is secondary in relation to the more elementary question (...) of knowing how I might wish to live my life”. When legal push comes to philosophical shove we must acknowledge the priority of the good over the right. (shrink)
J. B. Schneewind's The Invention of Autonomy has been hailed as a major interpretation of modern moral thought. Schneewind's narrative, however, elides several serious interpretive issues, particularly in the transition form late medieval to early modern thought. This results in potentially distorted accounts of Thomas Aquinas, Hugo Grotius, and G. W. Leibniz. Since these thinkers play a crucial role in Schneewind's argument, uncertainty over their work calls into question at least some of Schneewind's larger agenda for the history of ethics.