Religious Studies | Religion and Virtue Ethics
R473 | 27364 | Stalnaker

What is the relevance of ancient discussions of character and the
good life to contemporary ethical and political reflection?
Starting approximately 25 years ago with the publication of Alasdair
MacIntyre’s After Virtue, an influential movement in philosophical
and religious ethics has developed that advocates making the study
of character, virtue, culture, and tradition central in ethics, and
arguably politics as well.  While originally focused on “retrieving”
pre-modern notions of virtue from ancient Western philosophy, later
proponents of this movement have attended to similar concerns in
Christian and Confucian traditions, modern Western figures such as
Hume and Dewey, democratic writers such as Walt Whitman, and
contemporary versions of a feminist ethics of care.  Part of what
makes virtue ethics fascinating is the way its champions range
across historical narration, philosophical argument, cultural
criticism, intra- and inter-religious polemic, and political
debate.  This course will attempt to survey this varied landscape,
noting both high and low points, main thoroughfares and intriguing
byways.  Main topics of debate will include: divergent assessments
of the moral resources of the modern West; the relations of “human
nature,” tradition, and ethics; whether or not there might be a
single, universal list of the most important virtues and vices;
advantages and disadvantages for ethics of focusing on character and
virtue rather than rights, duties, and consequences; whether
aristocratic and/or patriarchal accounts of the good life can be
made congruent with modern commitments to democracy and the equal
dignity of women and men.  As a seminar the course will emphasize
discussion.  Writing assignments will range from short response
papers to a final research project on a topic of each student’s