Search Results for: Ken Grasso

On Communitarianism: An Interview with Ken Grasso

Communitarianism often informs much of our Western theologies and philosophies of community, society, and notions of social harmony. How might we understand it as a movement of thought?

In this interview with Ken Grasso, we discuss the various nuances of ‘communitarianism,’ and how a robust anthropology might be a corrective to ‘political communitarianism,’ yet also help to advance a kind of ‘social communitarianism’ that is meaningful for a pluralist theory of society.

Grasso is professor of political science at Texas State University.  He has written extensively on Catholic social thought, the liberal tradition, and democratic theory.

Here are some excerpts from our interview:

As you know, ‘communitarianism’ is a rather heterogeneous movement of associated thinkers that seems united around a common conviction of what they are against: a radical individualism inspired by some variety political liberalism. What’s at the heart of this liberalism?

A vision of human beings as sovereign wills free to make of themselves and the world whatever they choose, unbound by moral ties antecedent to choice save perhaps for the duty to respect the autonomy of others.  This vision of the person issues a thin theory of society in which human social relations are understood as artificial, external, and contractual; and in which human communities are viewed as temporary aggregations of individuals united for reasons of mutual utility. 

So, communitarianism is a ‘reactive’ movement?

Communitarianism must be understood as an effort to address the modern crisis of community, the decline of community that seems to happen as an outgrowth of those socioeconomic changes that together constitute modernization.  The loss of community – and resulting sense of isolation, alienation, etc. — is one of the defining cultural experiences of modernity.  One cannot but think in this context about contemporary concerns about the erosion of our sense of civic solidarity and social connectedness, and decline of the institutions composing civil society.  

What are the historical and contemporary varieties of communitarianism that you have identified in your scholarship?

Obviously, community can mean very different things and there are many types of communitarianism.  I would say that the basic distinction in the modern world is between what might be called “political” and what might be called “social” communitarianism.  The former has historically received expression in the thought of thinkers like Rousseau, Hegel and Marx, and in American context the thought of certain of the progressives such as Herbert Croly.   It receives contemporary expression in the writings of thinkers like Robert Bellah, William Sullivan, Michael Sandel, Amitai Etzoni and Alan Wolfe. 

What defines what I’m calling political communitarianism is a vision of social life which focuses single-mindedly on the individual and the state, and whose effect is to make the state the center of social life, and the political community the locus of community.  Social communitarianism, in contrast, historically finds expression in the writings of thinkers like Althusius, Tocqueville, Durkheim and Burke as well as in modern Catholic and neo-Calvinist social thought (where it finds expression in the social teachings of the modern popes as well as in the thought of such figures as Heinrich Rommen, Jacques Maritain, Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd.  In post-World War II America, it finds expression in the writings of thinkers like Mary Ann Glendon, Robert Nisbet, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Jean Bethke Elshtain. 

What’s important to social communitarians?

For social communitarians, our nature as social beings finds expression in a wide variety of diverse institutions and social groups in society, as to be seen not as an aggregation of individuals united by citizenship in the political community, but as a community of communities.   From this perspective, the state is not the primary institution in which our nature as social beings finds expression, and the polis is not the locus of community.  For it, the institutions of civil society, rather than the state, are the center, as it were, of social gravity. 

Does political communitarianism represent a dead end?

Yes. It is incapable of addressing the modern world’s crisis of community because both its theory and practice are destructive of the small-scale, highly personal, solidaristic institutions which are alone capable of addressing our need for community.  At the same time, its celebration of state power is endangers liberty in its foundations.  Only in social communitarianism can we find the resources to both revitalize community and secure liberty.

  You can read the full text of this interview by clicking here.

On Communitarianism: An Interview with Ken Grasso

Communitarianism often informs much of our Western theologies and philosophies of community, society, and notions of social harmony. How might we understand it as a movement of thought?

In this interview with Ken Grasso, we discuss the various nuances of ‘communitarianism,’ and how a robust anthropology might be a corrective to ‘political communitarianism,’ yet also help to advance a kind of ‘social communitarianism’ that is meaningful for a pluralist theory of society.

You can read the full text of this interview by clicking here.

Web Project: Philosophical Discussions on Marriage and Family Topics

Instructions for Submitting a Paper Proposal

Purpose: For scholars interested in ethics, theology, and philosophy work on ‘marriage and family’ topics, we invite carefully-honed papers that advances discussion of any of the below areas of the Potential Paper Topics.

If you are interested, please contact our project coordinator and editor Michael Austin (info below). Michael is seeking to coordinate all potential contributors and their topics for this endeavor. When you pitch your possible contribution, please provide the following:

  • Your name, institution and contact info.
  • Title and description of your proposal (e.g., 100 words).
  • Reasons for how your contribution will help advance the purpose of this project.

We are looking for papers that a) argue for a perspective on a marriage and family topic, or b) casts a vision for more work to be done in a particular area or c) offers a literature review and assess what seems to be ‘under-developed’ work.

Length: 1,500 to 2,000 total words (minimum). You are welcome to work with the Project Editor on length issues.

Deadline: TBD by the project coordinator

Project Coordinator and Editor
Michael Austin
Eastern Kentucky University
Department of Philosophy

Priority will be given to those papers that offer a perspective on questions and problems that especially hone in on what have been ‘under-represented’ in this theme for Christian philosophers. Please seriously consider developing paper topics with the below examples in mind. We encourage papers that will be of interest not only to the ethics scholar but also to the epistemologist, metaphysician, theologian, etc.


Find this Project interesting? See these other EPS Web Projects

Potential Paper Topics

Developed by Michael Austin (Eastern Kentucky University) & Joe Gorra (Veritas Life Center).

Much has been addressed by Christian philosophers on questions related to bioethics, reproductive technologies, and so on. But some under-represented ‘marriage and family’ topics include the following:

Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Issues in Marriage and Family Studies: If philosophy and theology are understood as ‘second-order’ disciplines, how might they contribute to the work and contributions of ‘first-order’ disciplines like sociology, psychology, economics, cultural studies and their accounts of marriage and family? How might ideas and images shaped by these disciplines enable and clarify the work done by philosophers and theologians? We strongly encourage contributions from Christian philosophers who have understanding of the ‘meta-‘ issues involved with philosophy’s contribution to interdisciplinary discussions. We also encourage Christian non-philosophers to propose papers that are attentive to philosophical issues and concepts that converge with their discipline and areas of expertise. Co-authored proposals from philosophy and non-philosophy scholars are welcomed.

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Ethics of religious upbringing of children: how to share, model, and influence our children for Christ in ways that honor God and respect them as well. Defenses of the morality of a Christian upbringing in the face of challenges at a popular level (e.g. Dawkins and “child abuse” claims) as well as at the scholarly level. How might philosophical accounts of ‘harm’ and ‘interest’ (of children, parents, etc) contribute to clarifying what is often a legally vague idea of ‘Acting in the best interests of the child.’

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Metaphysics of the Family: What is a family? What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a family, on Christian theism? What biblical, theological, and philosophical data are relevant to this question? How important is genetics or biology to this definition? Or what value is there with respect to a biological connection of some sort between parent and child? Who is a father or a mother? How might a vocational account differ from strictly a biological account? How might we reflect upon ‘step-parenting,’ ‘foster-care parenting’ and ‘surrogate parenting’ in light of Christian theological accounts of adoption and hospitality of God? How might we think about the nature of parenting and family in light of the genetic modification of children and the technological possibilities of creating babies from three or more parents? And what implications do our answers to these questions have for the current cultural debates about same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting? From a political philosophy standpoint, what are strong, non-religious arguments for why a ‘secular state’ has an interest in protecting the family?

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Metaphysical and Epistemological issues in Gender, Sexuality and Identity: What are necessary and sufficient conditions for defining ‘gender,’ ‘sexuality’ and ‘human identity’? On what basis are such distinctions drawn? In what sense and on what basis are these terms considered social constructions? ‘Self-identification’ of one’s experience as x, y, or z often populates studies in this area. Is this knowledge from a first-person perspective? Is it simply one’s construal? How might we understand the ‘authority’ of such claims relative to the authority of tradition, history, social institutions, etc.

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Moral-Spiritual Formation of the Family: How does this occur, for both parents and children? What theological and philosophical resources can we bring to bear on this? How can parents be intentional about such formation for themselves and their children in the family? What does the Bible have to say that is relevant to such questions? And what do psychology, sociology, and other disciplines have to contribute to this? Is virtue formation and spiritual maturation in a family interconnected with being the roles of a mother and a father? What is the role of ecclesial communities in such matters of formation? Does the ‘Christian family’ exist primarily for the interests of the ‘household of faith’?

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

  • For ‘ethics and family’ treatments, see Julie Rubio, Family Ethics: Practices for Christians (Georgetown University Press, 2010); Michael W. Austin, Wise Stewards: Philosophical Foundations of Christian Parenting (Kregel Academic, 2009).
  • For some work on the vocation of the family, see Gene Edward Veith and Mary J. Moerbe, Family Vocation (Crossway, 2012).
  • For recent article examples on philosophy and spiritual formation integration, see from the (Fall 2014) Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care, Steve Porter, “A Call to Philosophy and Spiritual Formation” (248-257), and “Philosophy and Spiritual Formation: From Christian Faith to Christian Philosophy” (258-269); and also from JSFSC’s (Spring 2014), see Brian Brock, “Discipleship as Living with God, or Wayfinding and Scripture,” 22-34.

Non-Religious Arguments for Marriage and the Family: What are the opportunities and limitations for using ‘natural moral law arguments’ in public and pluralistic contexts? Are such arguments mostly useful for ‘consoling the faithful’? How are ‘secularists’ compelled by such arguments, if they are compelled at all? How might such arguments be retooled in light of changing plausibility structures in Western societies, which increasingly view Christian accounts of marriage and family to be contestable and not believable? How might sociological, psychological and economic reasons and evidences be more persuasive to most secularists than natural law arguments?

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Moral Vision of Flourishing ‘Families’ in a Pluralistic Society: Culturally speaking, the experience of marriage and family is no longer a homogenous kind of experience in Western societies. Increasingly, we have ‘pluralist’ accounts recognized by law, legitimized by cultural pressures, and encouraged by various social institutions.

Drawing from Christian Social Thought, how might Christians envision a society that attends to our differences, even contradictions, regarding marriage and family flourishing? Is such a society possible? What conditions or values should shape how we are bound together? How might Christians think societally about such issues like ‘gay adoption,’ government assistance for unwed mothers, illegal immigration and deportation of parents, youth incarceration and single-parent homes, etc? What society should be built by Christian thought and leadership influence given the particularities of our cultural moment? We encourage constructive responses that seek to minister to each person made in the image of God, and seeks to uphold the social order.

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

‘Health,’ ‘Well-Being,’ and ‘Holiness’ of Marriage and Family: Innumerable scientific studies have been written about the health and happiness of individuals, their family and affects on society. ‘Health,’ though, is usually given a reductive account: a scientific or medical question about an organism. Similarly, ‘happiness studies’ usually assume a psychological account about someone’s mental outlook on life. Is there a thicker account of ‘health’ and ‘well-being’ that includes but is not reduced to the hard or soft sciences? Moreover, Christians have historically understood marriage and family as sacred or holy, set apart for the glory and purposes of God’s work in the world. Is there ‘health’ and ‘well-being’ entailed by that sacred, perhaps even ‘sacramental vision’ of marriage and family? How might we recapture a more holistic understanding of eudaimonia as a collective, relational phenomenon, in family, church and state.

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

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