Oxford University Press is set to release Humility and Human Flourishingfrom Michael Austin, the newly elected President of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. In the below interview, Michael talks about his latest book and the importance of further philosophical and theological work to be done on humility as a virtue integral for human flourishing.
What is Humility?
In short, humility is “proper self-assessment” and “a self-lowering other-centeredness”. I analyze it in much more detail, of course. To do so, I employ Robert Adams’ notion of the modularity of virtue. So in terms of what will be true of the humble person, I discuss several cognitive, emotive, and active modules of humility, as follows:
(C1) The humble person possesses self-knowledge with respect to his virtues, vices, and limitations, both personal and qua human person. (C2) The humble person knows that God deserves the credit for her salvation, talents, abilities, accomplishments, and virtues. (C3) The humble person believes that he ought to have a prima facie preference for the satisfaction of the interests of others over the satisfaction of his own interests. (C4) The humble person will not conceive of human beings in a hierarchical manner in light of their equal inherent dignity and worth as image-bearers of God. (C5) The humble person is properly concerned with how others perceive her. (E1) The humble person has a prima facie preference for the satisfaction of the interests of others over his own. (E2) The humble person is motivated to act by her love for God and for the sake of his kingdom. (A1) The humble person will be disposed to obey God. (A2) The humble person will be disposed to engage in self-sacrificial actions for the good of others.
There is a lot here, but this is the account of the humble person that I offer as a Christological account of this moral virtue in such a person. The account is grounded in philosophical reflection and analysis, classic and contemporary theology and biblical studies, and some recent empirical work on this virtue. Reading the above, one might wonder about how I individuate humility from other virtues. For that, you’ll have to read the book!
With that account in mind, how is a philosophical-theological account of Humility integral to an account of Human Flourishing?
There are many ways, but one that stands out is that humility is a virtue that is central in and essential for rightly relating us to God, others, and to the good, the true, and the beautiful in creation and God’s kingdom. On a Christian account of human flourishing, humility is rational, benefits its possessor, and is conducive to individual and social flourishing. Given the historical skepticism of thinkers such as Hume and Nietzsche, and contemporary thinkers like Tara Smith, it is important to defend humility’s status as a moral virtue as part of a larger case for the rationality and goodness of the Christian moral life, insofar as humility is an essential aspect of such a life.
How did this project come about for you?
I was reading Erik Wielenberg’s Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe, where he discusses a naturalistic account of the virtue of humility but also some of what C.S. Lewis thought about it. I thought Lewis was partially right, but realized that in both popular and scholarly literature, there are many inaccurate or truncated views about the nature of humility. So that got me into the topic and just 8 short years later my work resulted in this book!
That’s interesting. What did you discover about this topic that most intrigued you?
I constructed my initial account of the virtue, as I noted above, employing philosophy, theology, and biblical studies. I was fascinated to find that the operational definition of this trait that is used by many psychologists corresponds to my account. This helped my work substantially. For example, some of the ways in which I respond to Hume’s criticisms of humility’s status as a virtue make use of this excellent work in psychology on the virtue of humility.
What have you found to be so distinct about a Christian account of humility?
For me what is most distinct from a Christian perspective is that humility is primarily an interpersonal virtue. The current naturalistic versions of humility on offer construe it as a self-regarding virtue, and several Christian accounts follow suit. While humility does have self-regarding elements, including a knowledge of our limits and other kinds of self-knowledge, that is not the heart of the virtue. The picture we get from examining the Scriptures is that it is primarily other-regarding; it is about putting the interests of others ahead of one’s own, as the gospels and Philippians 2:1-11 make clear that Jesus himself habitually did. So my initial concerns about construing humility as merely self-knowledge, a knowledge of one’s limits, turned out to be confirmed by not only an in-depth scriptural analysis of humility, but of what many have thought about this trait over the centuries. This means that humility is a robustly action-guiding virtue, and is relevant to a variety of issues in applied ethics as well as spiritual formation. I discuss how this is so in the book.
Your project is engaged in ‘analytic moral theology.’ What do you find distinct about that approach and why does it matter?
It is distinct insofar as it involves approaching theological topics where moral concerns are central, with the ambitions of an analytic philosopher: prizing particular intellectual virtues, using the analytic style of discourse, seeking clarity, and using the other tools of analytic philosophy. This is not the only method that we should use, but it is one that brings some underutilized tools to bear on Christian moral theology. I discuss this in more detail in the book, and consider several objections to it. One desired result of this kind of work is that it helps us acquire moral knowledge that we can then apply as we see fit. In this sense, it is quite practical. In short, to seek to grow in and exemplify humility, it helps to know what it actually is!
The book ends with a reflection on John 13. How is Jesus brilliant on ‘humility and human flourishing.’
First and foremost, Jesus is brilliant on these topics because both his teaching and his life exemplify humility and human flourishing. In the foot-washing we see his brilliance and humility on display. He offers us a way out of our own crippling egoistic pride, not only by lighting the way, so to speak, but by enabling us to be transformed by his grace into the freedom that humility can deliver.
Given the contours of your book, what do you recommend for further philosophical-theological work to be done by Christians in this area?
I think more work should be done on other virtues and a general Christian account of flourishing, by Christians. Then, we need to translate this scholarly work into more popular forms so that the picture of the good person and the good life that we see in Christ is made concrete, specific, and attainable by those who humbly depend on him for doing seeking to experience and embody God’s goodness. As Dallas Willard argued, we need a curriculum for Christlikeness. My view is that the evangelical segment of the Christian church in the United States is in desperate need of a moral reformation, with the pursuit of knowing and loving God at the center of our lives, in tandem with a true transformation of character. Otherwise, the movement will die out, and rightly so. It is up to Christian scholars to work in moral theology, offering insights related to both theory and practice. I’d like to see what happened with philosophy of religion and apologetics resources in the past 30 years also happen in the moral realm. We need popular-level resources for how to grow that are grounded in excellent scholarship, but also aimed at becoming, as C.S. Lewis said, “little Christs.”
You can learn more about Michael Austin’s work by visiting his personal website. Additionally, the Winter 2018 issue of Philosophia Christiwill feature a symposium discussion on Erik Wielenberg’s “Godless Normative Realism” as an alternative to theistic accounts of moral realism, with responses from William Lane Craig, Tyler D. McNabb, Mark C. Murphy, Adam L. Johnson, and with a final reply by Wielenberg. Subscribe today!
Since July of 2010, you’ve been blogging at the website for Psychology Today. But you are a professor of philosophy. What gives?!? Aren’t professionally-trained philosophers supposed to stay within the corridors of academe and just write for professional and specialized publications? I am kidding, of course. But, seriously, how did this writing opportunity for Psychology Today come about?
This one came out of the blue. I received an email from one of the editors at Psychology Today asking if I would consider becoming a blogger at their site. The invitation was based on my work in popular philosophy. I have another work in the popular philosophy genre that will be published in March, in Wiley-Blackwell’s Philosophy for Everyone series on Fatherhood, which I co-edited with Lon Nease. The publisher had contacted Psychology Today about this book, and from there I received the invitation. I wasn’t aware of it, but the Psychology Today website has quite a few people blogging, including not only psychologists, but also philosophers, other academics, and popular writers on a very wide variety of topics.
Your blog is headlined as “Ethics for Everyone: Moral wisdom for the modern world.” Indeed, you are covering a variety of topics: from the challenges of Facebook too understanding what lust is. I notice that you don’t exclude your topics to just typical (if not, predictable) ethical issues (perhaps, e.g., whether war is just or whether abortion is immoral, etc). Why is that? What might the diversity of topics suggest about how a Christian philosopher can serve in public spaces like your work at your blog?
I made a fairly conscious decision to emphasize topics related to everyday ethics, rather than the standard fare one might find in an applied ethics anthology. While it is very important for Christian philosophers to engage the topics you mention, and I do so occasionally on my blog, I think that many people in our culture are starved for moral wisdom that can be applied to their everyday concerns of work, family, school, and individual character.
While Christianity is not merely an ethical system, it has a significant and essential ethical component. Those who are not believers in Christ can still benefit by what I write, of course, insofar as they can embrace and apply some of the content to their lives without embracing the theological foundation. Moreover, I think that such work in public spaces serves as a unique form of apologetics, insofar as the moral wisdom on offer that is grounded implicitly and sometimes explicitly in the Christian worldview actually works. It leads to a better and more fulfilling life. When this happens, and people are able to connect the dots, the plausibility of Christianity is increased. For some, this might be more significant than the classic arguments of natural theology, because the truth is born out more directly in the experiences of their daily lives.
Which topics have been most commented on? Why? What might it indicate?
What has it been like to write as a Christian in this environment? What does that mean to you? Moreover, what are the top lessons that come to mind (so far) about what it means to be a Christian philosopher in this environment? How are you growing?
It has been a very positive experience for me, trying to take the things I think about as an academic and put them out in a popular form for the general public. I’m taking the skills I’ve developed in my work on the pop philosophy books and transferring them to the blogosphere. One lesson that has been reinforced is that to communicate effectively requires foregoing the use of philosophical jargon without sacrificing depth. This is sometimes a difficult tension, but learning how to do this has helped me to grow as a writer and hopefully been beneficial to readers.
One thing that has become very apparent to me is the prominence among many of the bloggers of both scientism in general and a form of physicalism about the human mind in particular. A recent post by another blogger talked about “competing neurons” as a way to understand the tension many experience between their sexual desires and morality. The claim is that this is not a matter of character, but rather of different parts of the brain in conflict. I’m not even sure what it means for neurons to be in conflict. However, while there are many posts written by others that I disagree with, I am being pretty selective about the posts I respond to by other bloggers on the site. When I do publish a response, I seek to disagree in a charitable way rather than to engage in the abrasive form of dialogue that is so ubiquitous on the web. Many Christians feel the need to respond to everything they disagree with, but sometimes the better approach is not to be reactive in this way in every case. I’m trying, over time, to cultivate and communicate a certain moral view of the world and human nature that I believe is theologically and philosophically sound.
As far as my own personal growth, I’ve written a lot in recent years about the connections between sports and character. Recently I started playing soccer again in a league for old people, and I’ve had opportunities to seek to apply my views to my own life. For example, the past two games I’ve played in have presented opportunities for my growth in humility. This has been a bit painful, but a good reminder that there are so many ways to grow in virtue or descend into vice in sports. This is also true of the rest of our lives. My hope is that my blogging will encourage and equip many to embrace opportunities for moral growth.
Your “Bluegrass Ethics Consulting and Education” (great title, by the way) is, no doubt, another extension of your “ethics for everyone” vision. Let’s talk a little about that. It reminds me of the Morris Institute of Human Values. Why did you start this consultancy? How has it shaped you has a writer and professor? What opportunities has it provided you that writing and teaching have not?
Starting this consultancy was inspired by several things, including the model of the Morris Institute. I also realized that, as far as I can tell, no such thing exists in this region of Kentucky, even though we are only 20 miles south of Lexington where the University of Kentucky is located. Also, when philosophical concepts, especially those related to logic and ethics, are presented to people in a clear and understandable manner, they see the connections with their own lives. I have done a little bit of speaking for the Kentucky Humanities Council around the state on moral issues, and while the turnout has been small, the people eat it up. I wanted to expand the reach of this type of work. So far, I’ve only met with a local physician a couple of times, but I’m working now on a plan to inform businesses and other organizations about this resource, with the hope that some further opportunities will arise. This is just one more way to permeate the culture with goodness, truth, and beauty.
Do you have any models of other philosophers (Christian or otherwise) who wrote or who are writing to serve a non-academic readership with their philosophy expertise and training? If so, what do you find encouraging/compelling about them as a model?
As I mentioned, the work of Tom Morris has been one model that has been influential for me. Many other Christian philosophers, such as J.P. Moreland, Scott Rae, Doug Geivett, Jim Spiegel, and Paul Copan are good models of this sort of work. Also, much (not all, of course) of the work done in the different philosophy and popular culture works that have been edited by William Irwin is quite good insofar as it communicates important ideas in clear, concise, and relevant ways.
There are two extremes to avoid in this type of work. Some philosophers treat a chapter or a book that is intended for a popular audience as if they are writing a journal article, and these are two very different animals. This is not because one is necessarily easier, but rather the aims are different and many people are just unable to get out of the mode of writing for a scholarly audience, perhaps because that is the only type of audience they have ever addressed in their writing. The other danger is trying too hard to be relevant and dumbing down the material you are discussing. The best popular philosophers are able to combine clarity, relevance, wisdom, and creativity in their work.
You have a growing series of books in practical or applied philosophy that you have edited and contributed to (including some like the forthcoming Coffee – Philosophy for Everyone: Grounds for Debate, which looks to be especially delectable!) I can’t help but noticing that the features and phenomena of one’s “ordinary life” are the advantage points from where philosophical reflection is motivated and done in this series. That’s beautiful! To me, it has something of a good-of-creation value to it. So, I got to ask you, what difference does it make to the health of philosophical reflection when our philosophizing is not routinely attentive to ordinary life but mainly or mostly caught-up in a preoccupation with highly specialized, academic topics.
I love the conceptual and analytical bent of much of contemporary philosophy. However, I also think that in order to be a good steward of the education and resources I’ve been blessed to have at my disposal, I ought to take some of the fruit of that scholarly reflection and make it available and accessible to those outside of the academy. In my own life, in order to avoid hypocrisy and seek genuine human flourishing, when possible I try to take the tools of philosophy and put them to work. If we are not at least sometimes philosophizing about ordinary life, especially as Christian philosophers, then we are missing something crucial not only for ourselves, but for those we can serve via our vocation as Christian scholars. And our philosophical reflection will benefit because we won’t be merely solving philosophical puzzles for the sake of puzzle-solving, but rather seeking wisdom and depth of insight.
What does writing for Psychology Today or doing your series of books on “Philosophy and x” suggest to you about how Christian philosophers should be trained, developed and formed?
We must be trained to write well. Those who are educating and mentoring Christian philosophers need to put a premium on this ability. My own professors at Talbot School of Theology did this with excellence. They were demanding, and I still rely on that training as I write for both scholarly and popular audiences today. Learning the craft of philosophical writing has helped my writing in these other venues. We also need to be countercultural in the academic context, insofar as we must resist succumbing to the elitist values that are so prominent. It is of course very valuable to publish a paper in one of the best philosophy journals, but writing for Atlantic Monthly or Christianity Today is no less important from a kingdom perspective. Each kind of work is important, in its own way. It’s too easy to take on by osmosis the disdain for popular-level work that many contemporary philosophers exhibit. So perhaps Christian philosophers should be trained not only to write for other philosophers, but also for a more general readership. Some may do much more of one than the other, but we ought to be able to do both. Finally, I think that we need to take Aristotle’s words to heart, from the Nicomachean Ethics: “Since, then, the present inquiry does not aim at theoretical knowledge like the others; for we are inquiring not in order to know what virtue is, but in order to become good, since otherwise our inquiry would have been of no use.” I would only amend this by saying that we want theoretical knowledge, and we seek it not only for its own sake but also for the sake of becoming good.
Since about 2001, I have been championing among various folks and institutions the idea that while the last few decades has enjoyed “a renaissance in Christian philosophy” what we now need (in addition to that good work) is a “translation revolution.” By that, I mean, we need a fresh generation raised-up of Christian philosophy influencers (among others) who have their ear to the ground in the scholarly discussion but who are listening for the sake of translating to non-academic arenas. What do you think about that? Do you have some encouragement to share for this endeavor?
I wholeheartedly agree, and I like that phrase “translation revolution”. In my position as a professor at a public university, I find that my students who are atheists have been influenced by people like Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris, but there are no Christians with the same sort of prominent influence among Christian students. We have people who are responding to the new atheists, doing the type of translation work you mention, but there are so many other areas in which such work is needed. Most of it, as far as I can tell, is focused around questions of God’s existence and other issues in philosophy of religion, as well as bioethics. This is crucial, but we need people who have scholarly credibility that are doing this sort of translating on a whole range of issues connected with the realm of value, including political, social, and personal ethics. We need the scholarly foundation and the vision and ability to translate it in non-academic venues. I’ve tried to do this by developing a Christian philosophy of the family that I believe is superior to the new ideologies of the family and is also grounded in sound biblical, theological, and philosophical scholarship (see my most recent book with Kregel, Wise Stewards). We need to develop a well-crafted political philosophy and communicate it with excellence. We need more of this kind of thing in business ethics, ethics and technology, and sports ethics, to name just a few areas of inquiry in need of more translation work. There is so much out there that can help people to live better and more fulfilled lives, and so much potential for doing further work with these goals in mind, that it would be a shame if no “translation revolution” occurs. This is a crucial way to continue to build the kingdom of God in ourselves and those whom we serve in our vocation.
Abstract: Compassion is in. It’s the hot virtue to have, the iPhone of the moral virtues. Compassion is widely praised, but not so widely practiced. What is this virtue, and what is its importance for Christian moral and spiritual formation? In this chapter, I will explore the relationship of compassion to a Christian conception of human flourishing. By drawing from a variety of classic and contemporary sources, I will clarify the intellectual, emotional, and active aspects of compassion. There are numerous barriers to compassion, such as insensitivity, self-absorption, and self-deception. Fortunately, there are several practical activities that we can engage in to develop this virtue, including becoming a part of a community of compassion, practicing compassion in small ways in our everyday lives, and using the imagination in order to foster the development of this important moral virtue.
From the publisher’s description of Humility and Human Flourishing:
In many Christian traditions, humility is often thought to play a central role in the moral and spiritual life. In this study of the moral virtue of humility, Michael W. Austin applies the methods of analytic philosophy to the field of moral theology in order analyze this virtue and its connections to human flourishing. The book is therefore best characterized as a work in analytic moral theology, and has two primary aims. First, it articulates and defends a particular Christian conception of the virtue of humility. It offers a Christological account of this trait, one that is grounded in the gospel accounts of the life of Christ as well as other key New Testament passages. The view of humility it offers and defends is biblically grounded, theologically informed, and philosophically sound. Second, the volume describes ways in which humility is constitutive of and conducive to human flourishing, Christianly understood. It argues that humility is rational, benefits its possessor, and contributes to its possessor being good qua human. Austin also examines several issues in applied virtue ethics. He considers some of the ways in which humility is relevant to several of the classic spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, fasting, solitude, silence, and service. He considers humility’s relevance to issues related to religious pluralism and tolerance. Finally, the book concludes with a discussion of the relevance of humility for family life and how it can function as a virtue in the context of sport.
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
Eastern Kentucky University
Department of Philosophy email@example.com
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.
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.
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.’
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:
For exemplary theological and philosophical accounts of love in various dimensions, see Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Nature of Love (St. Augustine Press, 2009)
For philosophical and social science accounts, see the Summer 2014 (vol. 28, no. 3) issue of The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy, especially these articles: Michael Pakaluk, “The Family the Origin of Political Society”; Edwin E. Gantt, Richard N. Williams, and Emily Reynolds, “Meaning and Ontology in Family Science”; Sarah-Vaughan Brakman, “Who is a Parent?”
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.
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’?
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?
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.
‘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.
Please consider becoming a regular annual or monthly financial partner with the Evangelical Philosophical Society in order to expand its reach, support its members, and be a credible presence of Christ-shaped philosophical interests in the academy and into the wider culture!
Abstract: Christian philosophy is a distinctive kind of philosophy owing to the special role it assigns to God in Christ. Much of philosophy focuses on concepts, possibilities, necessities, propositions, and arguments. This may be helpful as far as it goes, but it omits what is the distinctive focus of Christian philosophy: the redemptive power of God in Christ, available in human experience. Such power, of course, is not mere talk or theory. Even Christian philosophers tend to shy away from the role of divine power in their efforts toward Christian philosophy. The power in question goes beyond philosophical wisdom to the causally powerful Spirit of God, who intervenes with divine corrective reciprocity. It yields a distinctive religious epistemology and a special role for Christian spirituality in Christian philosophy. It acknowledges a goal of union with God in Christ that shapes how Christian philosophy is to be done, and the result should reorient such philosophy in various ways. No longer can Christian philosophers do philosophy without being, themselves, under corrective and redemptive inquiry by God in Christ. This paper takes its inspiration from Paul’s profound approach to philosophy in his letter to the Colossians. Oddly, this approach has been largely ignored even by Christian philosophers. We need to correct this neglect.
PROJECT PURPOSE: For philosophers and theologians, we invite you to consider submitting a carefully-honed response to one aspect of Moser’s thesis and argument, whether by critiquing it, advancing it, applying and integrating it to various areas of philosophy, theology and spirituality, or even by articulating some practices conducive toward ‘doing’ Christ-shaped philosophy.
LENGTH: 1500-2000 total words. You are welcome to work with the Project Editor on length issues.
DEADLINE: TBD with editor/coordinator (see below).
Each month, we plan to feature at least one new contribution in this space
Interact with the paper’s thesis on its own merit. Perhaps you might want to discuss an assumption, concept, claim, distinction, methodology, etc., in Paul’s paper.
Do Christ-Shaped Philosophy. Instead of just talking about it, perhaps you would like to model how Christ-Shaped philosophy can be done regarding some carefully-honed topic, whether one that Paul has addressed or something else.
Address how to do Christ-shaped philosophy, whether as a discussion focused on relevant prolegomena issues or concerning the practical processes or practices involved. Here, we welcome even just a proposal for the ‘how to.’
Explain the theological assumptions of Christ-shaped philosophy and show how it contributes to this way of ‘doing’ philosophy.
Contextualize Christ-shaped philosophy in view of other relevant works by Paul Moser. (Paul’s paper is a continuation of his work in earlier publications such as: his Faith and Philosophy paper, “On Jesus and Philosophy”; chapter 4, “Philosophy Revamped,” from his book The Elusive God; his “Introduction” to his edited book, Jesus and Philosophy. A goal here may include drawing an overall general picture of his conception of ‘Christian philosophy’ from his relevant works).
Envision what it might mean to do Christ-shaped philosophy as and for the church. What are the ecclesial factors and significance for Christ-shaped philosophy? What might be the epistemic significance of theological tradition for informing Christ-shaped philosophy?
Develop how Christ-shaped philosophy might affect philosophy practices (e.g., teaching, dialogue/discourse, and writing/publishing in philosophy). If it does (re)shape practices, explain how it does to distinctively?
Compare the approach and benefits of Christ-shaped philosophy with Analytic Theology. Are they interrelated? Are they addressing similar topics yet asking different questions?
Convey what are the implications of Christ-shaped philosophy for philosophy as a professionalized and specialized discipline in the academy, whether of an analytic or continental variety. Does Christ-shaped philosophy defy that categorization?
If Christ-shaped philosophy is not ‘respected’ or ‘taken seriously’ in the academy, should it be attempted in that context?
Envision the vocation, moral-spiritual character development training and skills of a philosopher if Christ-shaped philosophy is true. Consider this especially in the context of the contemporary practice of analytic philosophy in academic environments. How might graduate work look different if Christ-shaped philosophy is a goal? How might the socialization process and factors of becoming a ‘philosopher’ look any different?
Consider the purpose and outcomes of Christ-shaped philosophy for ‘doing’ Christian apologetics and theology. How might apologetics and theology work differ in relationship to ‘Christian philosophy’ work if Christ-shaped philosophy is true and enacted?
Develop the value and development of Christ-shaped philosophy in conversation with ‘contemporary’ and ‘historical’ voices. Which voices might help advance or help assess Christ-shaped philosophy, whether these are theology, philosophy, or spirituality voices.
Consider whether Christ-shaped philosophy can be a ‘synthesis’ posture/framework for doing philosophy as a Christian, whether one is working from Reformed Epistemology, Evidentialism, Post-Foundationalism, Covenant Epistemology, etc.
Envision how the basic contours of Christ-shaped philosophy might be viewed as a model for Christians ‘doing scholarship,’ regardless of their discipline or area of specialization. How might it be address so-called ‘worldview integration’ issues?
Project Coordinator & Editor Tedla G. Woldeyohannes
Department of Philosophy
Saint Louis University
Saint Louis, MO 63108
Using the thought of Thomas Aquinas, this chapter on courage explores similarities and differences between heroic or ‘action-adventure’ models of courage and the virtue of courage as exemplified in the person of Jesus Christ.
Courage is the virtue concerned with standing firm against fear for the sake of some good that we love. When faced with danger, we typically react with a “fight” or “flight” response—reactions Aquinas calls “daring” and “fear.” If we lack sufficient daring and give in to fear, we can fall prey to the vice of cowardice. For example, in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, character Peter Pettigrew is a coward because he betrays his best friends to save his own skin. While it is right and good to value our own lives, the courageous person recognizes that this is neither the greatest nor the only good. Peter’s case shows us that courage is necessary for a flourishing life, even if that life involves risk, difficulty, and self-sacrifice. He stays alive, to be sure, only to live on as a morally deformed person whose relationships of love have been destroyed by fear.
Courage requires training the passions of fear and daring to serve the good. This virtue mobilizes daring to attack what threatens (aggression) and moderates fears that might otherwise prompt us to give way under threat (endurance). Thus it can be expressed in two ways. Courageous aggression is called for when we are strong enough to overcome. Courageous endurance, by contrast, is needed when we stand in a position of weakness: either we cannot overcome the threat with force or our own power, as the aggressive person does, or we cannot escape without betraying the good to which we must remain faithful. In these cases, endurance is the only means of holding firmly to the good we love. To picture the paradigmatic act of endurance, Aquinas offers us the example of the Christian martyr, whose sacrifice imitates (in part) the courageous sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The martyr endures even the greatest threat (death) for the sake of her greatest love (God). Thus her love for God must be stronger even than her fear of death. Her courage is grounded in power of love, not her own physical strength or ability to overcome evil. As Augustine says, “Courage is love enduring all things for the sake of the Beloved.”
Fictional characters illustrate the different expressions of courage and its opposing vices. The heroes of American action-adventure films typically valorize courageous aggression. The independent and self-sufficient protagonist typically relies on his own strength in order to safeguard what’s good. But the shadow side of this model of courage is a temptation to an idolatrous kind of self-confidence, in which we deny our dependence on God’s power and trust our own power instead, and in which we forget that love is the type of power God wielded in the face of ultimate evil. The United States’ unprecedented military, technological, and economic power, and its cultural value of autonomy make us more vulnerable to this temptation than we might suspect. In the Harry Potter books, heroes like James, Sirius, and Harry himself engage in many noble acts of courageous aggression, while Voldemort illustrates the dark side of human power taken to its furthest extreme. Voldemort loves only himself and his own life; therefore he fears death above all else. His resulting prideful quest is to conquer death and become invulnerable by maximizing his own power—in a word, by becoming God-like.
In the climax of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry and his mother Lily show us a contrary picture of Christlikeness, a picture of courageous love for another whose power is even stronger than the fear of death. In a fictional echo of the cross, Harry pursues the way of self-giving love, not the way of selfishly wielded supernatural power: he puts away his wand (symbolizing his own power) and lays down his life for his friends (John 15: 13). His mother’s love sustains him and his friends surround him—a picture of the communion of the saints. His vulnerability stands in stark contrast with Voldemort’s quest for invulnerability; Harry is a mere teenager, and his mother is an unarmed woman. Their courage is born of their love for others; they stand firm even in death, faithful to that good. As such, they offer us a picture of courage as endurance, and a model of Christian love for God.
Rather than unreflectively endorsing a restricted masculine ideal of human physical strength and ingenuity, or encouraging us toward an idolatrous reliance on human power, the Christian conception of courage reminds us of the power of love, a power made possible, even made perfect, in weakness.
Future issues, inquiries, and projects:
How do the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love transform our understanding and practice of the other moral virtues?
How is courageous endurance a more inclusive model than heroic aggression, from a feminist perspective? Are there also dangers here: for example, how should morally appropriate cases of self-sacrifice be distinguished from unhealthy and abusive models, especially within church culture?
Compassion is in. Celebrities champion compassionate causes. Bono, U2’s lead singer, has been instrumental in bringing attention and aid to those in Africa who suffer deeply due to grinding poverty, AIDS, and unfair trade policies. Other celebrities such as Julia Roberts, George Clooney, and Tom Brady have joined in this fight through their involvement with the ONE campaign.
A Christian account of compassion will focus on the sick and the poor. our moral exemplar in this regard is of course Jesus Himself, who was moved with compassion at the suffering of those He encountered in His earthly ministry (Matthew 9:35-37; Mark 6:30-44). However, compassion will also be relevant to our relationships with family, friends, and others who are perhaps suffering in other ways.
Many of us tend to think of compassionate actions as good things to do, but not in the sense that we are morally required to do them. We often think of compassionate acts, especially as they relate to the poor, as supererogatory acts of charity. My claim is that exemplifying the virtue of compassion in our everyday lives is a matter of justice, rather than an optional matter of charity. The basic reason that compassion is an obligatory matter of justice, apart from the biblical injunctions, is that human beings have great value as image-bearers of God. Genesis 1:27 states that humans are created “in the image of God”, but what does this mean? A variety of answers have been given to this question, but for our purposes, it is enough to point out that being made in God’s image means that we are God’s representatives, and that we are representational of who God is. We are free, relational, morally responsible, self-conscious beings. We reflect and represent who God is as human persons made in His image. God is the locus of ultimate value, and we, as human beings created in His image and to reflect His character, share in that value. This has important implications for ethics generally, and the virtue of compassion specifically. Given that all human beings are made in the image of God, all human beings possess a basic dignity, a fundamental value such that they have a conditional right to have their basic needs met. Hence, in some contexts, especially when a person’s basic needs are at stake, showing compassion is an obligatory matter of justice rather than an optional matter of charity. Or so I believe.
Interestingly, the term “compassionate” has a verb form. Bishop Joseph Butler (1692-1752) was an influential British pastor, theologian, and philosopher, and his writings still receive the attention of philosophers today. In a sermon on compassion, Butler observes that when we
“rejoice in the prosperity of others, and compassionate their distresses, we, as it were, substitute them for ourselves, their interest for our own; and have the same kind of pleasure in their prosperity and sorrow in their distress, as we have…upon our own.”
This quotation from Butler is pregnant with meaning and insight, but note how he speaks of compassion. We are to compassionate the distresses of others. True compassion includes assisting others who are in distress. For Butler, as for Christ, compassion necessarily involves action.
As an action that we engage in, compassion often involves sacrifice. Perhaps it requires that we give up some of our comfort, our time, or our talent. As Butler pointed out, it involves taking the distress of others to be as significant as our own distress. As such, it involves a turning away from what philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) called “the dear self”. We often find self-love at the bottom of much of our actions that otherwise appear to be morally right. This can also be true regarding acts of compassion. However, even if this is descriptively true of human beings and our motives, this does not count against the claim that we ought to act out of a genuine and unselfish concern for others. Nor does it entail that we shouldn’t seek to take the flourishing of others to be as or more important than our own. This is demanding, to be sure, but it remains within our reach, not only as we seek to alleviate the distresses of the poor and the sick, but also those closest to us.
Further Work: Questions:
The claim that compassion is in some sense a duty, or that others have a right to our compassion at least sometimes, is controversial. What arguments for and against such a claim are there, expanding on the suggestion above that human dignity as bearers of the image of God justifies such a claim?
How do we engage in self-deception which undermines compassion? What sorts of practices at the individual and community level foster the development of compassion?
In what ways is compassion relevant to the parent-child relationship? Marriage? Friendship? Employer-employee? Teacher-student? Believer in Christ-non-believer?
Many are reluctant to identify zeal as a virtue. This is understandable, as zeal is frequently abused and easily confused. Acts of terrorism and brands of “Crusader zeal” shape our understanding of what it is. As a result, we tend to see zeal as vicious rather than virtuous, and to regard the actions of ‘zealots’ as universally bad. But is there something wrong with zeal as such?
The answer of this chapter is “no.” In fact, we argue, zeal is a good trait of character, a virtue. Certainly, some forms and expressions of zeal are bad and need to be condemned. But Scripture and history indicate that there is far more to the story. Jesus himself is lauded for zealously stewarding the purposes of God, and, in New Testament passages of particular ethical importance, Paul and Peter explicitly commend zeal for Jesus’ followers. Later Christian luminaries like William Wilberforce and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. embodied zeal in working for justice and equality in their day. In these and other cases, zeal plays a crucial role in the morally excellent character and behavior of God’s people.
In this chapter, we develop a conception of zeal as a virtue, both theologically and philosophically, beginning with an account of zeal as reflected in Scripture. In Romans 12, which we examine in particular detail, the ethical framework in which zeal is commended is teleological in the classical sense: an orientation toward the pursuit of good (what is supremely valuable and excellent) as an end (telos) that is “perfective” of the agent. In fact, Paul strikingly casts God’s will in classically teleological terms (v. 2), as the good, pleasing, and perfect object of pursuit. In light of the strenuous difficulty of pursuing this good, a passionateresponse is required: zeal.
Understood within the context of Romans 12 and other passages, however, such a response has clear parameters; it is rationally guided by an accurate, transformed vision of reality, and motivated by and oriented toward love. We define biblical zeal, on this basis, as a disposition to pursue what is good – rationally, fervently, and diligently, motivated by and expressed in love.
We refine this conception by analyzing zeal’s opposing vices. On the one hand, our pursuit of what is good goes bad when it is excessive, to the tune of fanaticism, and/or when it is misdirected – with respect to the end sought, the means employed, or both. These forms of “bad zeal” give zeal its bad reputation; in reality, however, they are competitors to zeal, properly understood. Opposing zeal on the other hand is a disposition where passionate pursuit of what is good is deficient – the vice of sloth, one of the “seven deadly sins.” This latter condition, in our view, is the more common failure among followers of Jesus (like us) these days. To glorify God and grow in Christlikeness, we need zeal.
Like other virtues, zeal needs to be cultivated. In this chapter, we make a number of suggestions for developing zeal, including Sabbath rest, meditation on God’s goodness, community, the Holy Spirit, and practical acts of service.
But there is far more to this underrated and misunderstood virtue than we are able to develop here. For the reader who is properly zealous for zeal, several themes merit yet further exploration. Here are three suggestions, as a start. First, zeal tends to be associated with extraordinary passion and action. But feats that call for such response are rare. We need greater understanding of how zeal may be reflected and developed in the context of ordinary action as well.
Second, as with other considerations of action and virtue, whether ordinary or extraordinary, we need a mature and robust picture of the role of the Holy Spirit in the development and expression of zeal. What does cooperating with the Holy Spirit involve in this case? How do we understand his agency in relation to ours? Where do our actions, such as practicing spiritual disciplines, fit into the process of cultivating zeal? Zeal is an important part of the morally praiseworthy life for followers of Jesus, but the ultimate source of biblical zeal (and other virtues) is God, not us. We err when we try to generate such passion in our own efforts rather than let such passion be fanned into flame by the Spirit (Romans 12:11).
A final area for further consideration concerns how we might ally zeal with the other virtues – particularly courage. Biblical zeal helps renew our mind and align our will to fervently pursue the purposes of God. But hindrances and challenges dot the way; courage is needed to overcome and continue in passionate pursuit. How then do courage and zeal relate to each other – conceptually, biblically, developmentally? There is plenty of room here for fruitful interdisciplinary work between philosophers, theologians, and psychologists.