Receptive Human Virtues

Receptive Human Virtues: A New Reading of Jonathan Edwards's Ethics

ELIZABETH AGNEW COCHRAN
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 216
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/j.ctt7v4xk
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  • Book Info
    Receptive Human Virtues
    Book Description:

    This book offers a new reading of Jonathan Edwards’s virtue ethic that examines a range of qualities Edwards identifies as “virtues” and considers their importance for contemporary ethics. Each of Edwards’s human virtues is “receptive” in nature: humans acquire the virtues through receiving divine grace, and therefore depend utterly on Edwards’s God for virtue’s acquisition. By contending that humans remain authentic moral agents even as they are unable to attain virtue apart from divine assistance, Edwards challenges contemporary conceptions of moral responsibility, which tend to emphasize human autonomy as a central part of accountability.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05531-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 An Ethic of Receptive Human Virtues
    (pp. 1-20)

    Jonathan Edwards’s ethic is fundamentally an ethic of receptive human virtues. These Edwardsean virtues are in some ways continuous with the goals and purposes of twentieth-century virtue ethics, which has tended to focus on recovering Aristotle in philosophical circles and Thomas Aquinas in theological circles. Edwards shares ideas in common with both of these thinkers: like Aristotle and Aquinas, he adopts a teleological account of human nature, and he understands virtue to be a habitual disposition that is necessarily related to this humantelos. But Edwards’s theological commitments lead him to an account of the virtues that is simultaneously distinct...

  6. 2 Love as Necessary and Volitional: Edwards’s Account of True Virtue in God
    (pp. 21-39)

    I suggested in chapter 1 that this study of Edwards’s human virtues complements readings of Edwards that focus on the God-centered character of Edwardsean virtues. Because Edwards’s human virtues are each necessarily tied to divine virtue in some way, it is helpful to consider Edwards’s account of God’s virtue more fully before turning to these human virtues. An exploration of Edwards’s divine virtue points to a significant difference between Edwards’s virtue and Aristotelian and Thomistic virtue theories. Edwards’s account of love is more in keeping with Augustine than with Thomas Aquinas. Both Augustine and Aquinas conceive love as the primary...

  7. 3 Charity as a Human Virtue: The Moral Accountability of a Necessary Nature
    (pp. 40-61)

    It is appropriate for a discussion of Edwards’s human virtues to begin with “true virtue,” or Christian love. Edwards prioritizes this virtue above the others and conceives it as mirroring and participating in the divine virtue that was the subject of the previous chapter. Edwards’s characterization of true virtue as a reflection of God’s perfections underscores the continuity of his thought with the Christian Platonist tradition, and with many ideas particular to the Cambridge Platonists. Reading Edwards alongside the Cambridge Platonists provides a foundation for recognizing ways in which Edwards’s position gives rise to a model of moral accountability in...

  8. 4 Humility as a Human Virtue: Imaging God’s Mercy Through Creaturely Capacities
    (pp. 62-93)

    Chapter 3 describes how Edwards’s truly virtuous human love images and takes part in divine virtue. By characterizing true virtue as an excellence proper to and constitutive of God’s being, Edwards offers an account of Christian love as the fulfillment of the purposes for which humans were created. Humans are able to exercise this virtue in spite of original sin, but they need the assistance of God’s special grace in order to do so. God graciously imparts his nature to the elect, and, in doing so, gives them the capacity to love as God intends for creatures to love. Divine...

  9. 5 Virtuous Repentance: Apprehending and Approving God’s Moral Excellence
    (pp. 94-123)

    Chapters 3 and 4 both considered a type of human virtue with a direct relationship to divine virtue. True virtue in humans images and participates in divine love, and creaturely humility, at least as the incarnate Christ embodies this virtue, is an image or type of divine mercy. In this chapter I turn to virtuous repentance, one of a category of human virtues that God cannot be said to practice because these virtues presuppose sin. In contrast to both true virtue and humility, human repentance has no proper correlate in God’s being. Virtuous repentance is constituted by regret for one’s...

  10. 6 Justice and Partial Loves: The Natural Goodness of Incomplete Virtues
    (pp. 124-166)

    In addition to the attributes that he identifies explicitly as virtues, Edwards characterizes two additional sorts of qualities as in some sense meritorious. The first of these is justice; the second is a set of natural loves that are private or partial, directed toward a subset of creation rather than toward God and the totality of God’s created universe. Edwards resists calling the pursuit of these qualities “virtuous” because their achievement does not require the intervention of God’s special grace; humans can pursue these qualities by cultivating their natural faculties. But Edwards does address these attributes at some length in...

  11. Conclusion Virtues, Accountability, and Dependence: Edwards’s Significance for Contemporary Christian Ethics
    (pp. 167-170)

    Edwards’s ethic of receptive human virtues represents a compelling vision of the human moral life as fundamentally rooted in and dependent upon God. On one level, Edwardsean virtues are qualities proper to God’s being, but inA History of the Work of Redemption, Edwards expands this conception of virtue to accommodate multiple dimensions of human moral experience, including human nature’s finitude and sinfulness. In his implicit and explicit recognition of these features of human existence, Edwards develops an ethic that stands out in singular fashion from other accounts of ethics in the historical Christian tradition, and that speaks uniquely to...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 171-186)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 187-194)
  14. Index
    (pp. 195-204)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 205-205)