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Anger and Forgiveness"Are You There Alone?"10 Good Questions about Life and DeathA Casebook of Ethical Challenges in NeuropsychologyA Companion to BioethicsA Companion to BioethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Companion to Muslim EthicsA Cooperative SpeciesA Critique of the Moral Defense of VegetarianismA Decent LifeA Delicate BalanceA Fragile LifeA Life for a LifeA Life-Centered Approach to BioethicsA Matter of SecurityA Mirror Is for ReflectionA Mirror Is for ReflectionA Natural History of Human MoralityA Philosophical DiseaseA Practical Guide to Clinical Ethics ConsultingA Question of TrustA Sentimentalist Theory of the MindA Short Stay in SwitzerlandA Tapestry of ValuesA Very Bad WizardA World Without ValuesAction and ResponsibilityAction Theory, Rationality and CompulsionActs of ConscienceAddiction and ResponsibilityAddiction NeuroethicsAdvance Directives in Mental HealthAfter HarmAftermathAgainst AutonomyAgainst BioethicsAgainst HealthAgainst MarriageAgainst Moral ResponsibilityAgency and AnswerabilityAgency and ResponsibilityAgency, Freedom, and Moral ResponsibilityAging, Biotechnology, and the FutureAlbert Schweitzer's Reverence for LifeAlphavilleAltruismAltruismAmerican EugenicsAmerican PsychosisAn American SicknessAn Anthology of Psychiatric EthicsAn Introduction to EthicsAn Introduction to Evolutionary EthicsAn Introduction to Kant's Moral Philosophy Ancient Greek and Roman SlaveryAnd a Time to DieAnimal LessonsAnimal RightsAnimal Welfare in a Changing WorldAnimals Like UsApplied Ethics in Mental Health CareAre Women Human?Arguments about AbortionAristotle on Practical WisdomAristotle's Ethics and Moral ResponsibilityAristotle's WayAssisted Suicide and the Right to DieAutonomyAutonomy and the Challenges to LiberalismAutonomy, Consent and the LawBabies by DesignBackslidingBad PharmaBad SoulsBarriers and BelongingBasic Desert, Reactive Attitudes and Free WillBeauty JunkiesBefore ForgivingBeing AmoralBeing YourselfBending Over BackwardsBending ScienceBernard WilliamsBetter Humans?Better Than WellBeyond BioethicsBeyond ChoiceBeyond GeneticsBeyond HatredBeyond Humanity?Beyond LossBeyond LossBeyond Moral JudgmentBeyond SpeechBeyond the DSM StoryBias in Psychiatric DiagnosisBioethicsBioethicsBioethics and the BrainBioethics at the MoviesBioethics Beyond the HeadlinesBioethics Critically ReconsideredBioethics in a Liberal SocietyBioethics in the ClinicBiomedical EthicsBiomedical EthicsBiomedical EthicsBiomedical EthicsBiomedical Research and BeyondBiosBioscience EthicsBipolar ChildrenBluebirdBodies out of BoundsBodies, Commodities, and BiotechnologiesBody BazaarBoundBoundaries and Boundary Violations in PsychoanalysisBraintrustBrandedBreaking the SilenceBuffy the Vampire Slayer and PhilosophyCapital PunishmentCase Studies in Biomedical Research EthicsChallenging the Stigma of Mental IllnessCharacter and Moral Psychology Character as Moral FictionChild Well-BeingChildrenChildren's RightsChimpanzee RightsChoosing 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Controversies in Values and ScienceCutting to the CoreCyborg CitizenDamaged IdentitiesDeaf Identities in the MakingDeath Is That Man Taking NamesDebating ProcreationDebating Same-Sex MarriageDecision Making, Personhood and DementiaDecoding the Ethics CodeDefining DifferenceDefining Right and Wrong in Brain ScienceDefining the Beginning and End of LifeDelusions of GenderDementiaDemocracy in What State?Demons of the Modern WorldDescriptions and PrescriptionsDesert and VirtueDesire, Practical Reason, and the GoodDestructive Trends in Mental HealthDeveloping the VirtuesDid My Neurons Make Me Do It?Difference and IdentityDigital HemlockDigital SoulDignityDignityDisability BioethicsDisability, Difference, DiscriminationDiscrimination against the Mentally IllDisordered Personalities and CrimeDisorders of VolitionDisorientation and Moral LifeDivided Minds and Successive SelvesDoes Feminism Discriminate against Men?Does Torture Work?Doing HarmDouble Standards in Medical Research in Developing CountriesDown GirlDrugs and JusticeDuty and the BeastDworkin and His CriticsDying in the Twenty-First CenturyEarly WarningEconomics and Youth ViolenceEmbodied RhetoricsEmerging Conceptual, Ethical and Policy Issues in BionanotechnologyEmotional ReasonEmotions in the Moral LifeEmotions in the Moral LifeEmpathyEmpathy and Moral DevelopmentEmpathy and MoralityEmpirical Ethics in PsychiatryEncountering NatureEncountering the Sacred in PsychotherapyEngendering International HealthEnhancing EvolutionEnhancing Human CapacitiesEnoughEros and the GoodErotic InnocenceErotic MoralityEssays on Derek Parfit's On What MattersEssays on Free Will and Moral ResponsibilityEthical Choices in Contemporary MedicineEthical Conflicts in PsychologyEthical Dilemmas in PediatricsEthical Issues in Behavioral ResearchEthical Issues in Dementia CareEthical Issues in Forensic Mental Health ResearchEthical Issues in the New GeneticsEthical LifeEthical Reasoning for Mental Health ProfessionalsEthical TheoryEthical WillsEthically Challenged ProfessionsEthicsEthicsEthicsEthics and AnimalsEthics and ScienceEthics and the A PrioriEthics and the Discovery of the UnconsciousEthics and the Metaphysics of MedicineEthics at the CinemaEthics at the End of LifeEthics Beyond the LimitsEthics Case Book of the American Psychoanalytic AssociationEthics Done RightEthics ExpertiseEthics for EveryoneEthics for PsychologistsEthics for the New MillenniumEthics in CyberspaceEthics in Everyday PlacesEthics in Health CareEthics In Health Services ManagementEthics in Mental Health ResearchEthics in PracticeEthics in PsychiatryEthics in PsychologyEthics in Psychotherapy and CounselingEthics of PsychiatryEthics without OntologyEthics, Culture, and PsychiatryEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEvaluating the Science and Ethics of Research on HumansEvilEvilEvil GenesEvil in Modern ThoughtEvil in Modern ThoughtEvolution, Gender, and RapeEvolutionary Ethics and Contemporary BiologyEvolutionary Psychology and ViolenceEvolved MoralityExperiments in EthicsExploding the Gene MythExploiting ChildhoodFacing Human SufferingFact and ValueFacts and ValuesFaking ItFalse-Memory Creation in Children and AdultsFat ShameFatal FreedomFellow CreaturesFellow-Feeling and the Moral LifeFeminism and Its DiscontentsFeminist Ethics and Social and Political PhilosophyFeminist TheoryFinal ExamFirst Do No HarmFirst, Do No HarmFlashpointFlesh WoundsForced to CareForgivenessForgivenessForgiveness and LoveForgiveness and ReconciliationForgiveness and RetributionForgiveness is Really StrangeFoucault and the Government of DisabilityFoundational Issues in Human Brain MappingFoundations of Forensic Mental Health AssessmentFree WillFree Will And Moral ResponsibilityFree Will and Reactive AttitudesFree Will, Agency, and Meaning in LifeFree?Freedom and ValueFreedom vs. InterventionFriendshipFrom Darwin to HitlerFrom Disgust to HumanityFrom Enlightenment to ReceptivityFrom Morality to Mental HealthFrom Silence to VoiceFrom Valuing to ValueFrontiers of JusticeGender in the MirrorGenetic PoliticsGenetic ProspectsGenetic ProspectsGenetics of Original SinGenetics of Original SinGenocide's AftermathGetting RealGluttonyGood WorkGoodness & AdviceGreedGroups in ConflictGrowing Up GirlGut FeminismHabilitation, Health, and AgencyHandbook for Health Care Ethics CommitteesHandbook of BioethicsHandbook of Children's RightsHandbook of PsychopathyHappinessHappiness and the Good LifeHappiness Is OverratedHard FeelingsHard LuckHardwired BehaviorHarmful ThoughtsHeal & ForgiveHealing PsychiatryHealth Care Ethics for PsychologistsHeterosyncraciesHistorical and Philosophical Perspectives on Biomedical EthicsHoly WarHookedHookedHow Can I Be Trusted?How Fascism WorksHow Propaganda WorksHow to Do Things with Pornography How to Make Opportunity EqualHow Universities Can Help Create a Wiser WorldHow We HopeHow We Think About DementiaHuman BondingHuman Dignity and Assisted DeathHuman Dignity and Assisted DeathHuman 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Posthuman FutureOut of EdenOut of Its MindOut of the ShadowsOverdosed AmericaOxford Handbook of Psychiatric EthicsOxford Studies in Normative EthicsOxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Volume 7Oxford Textbook of Philosophy of PsychiatryPassionate DeliberationPatient Autonomy and the Ethics of ResponsibilityPC, M.D.Perfecting VirtuePersonal AutonomyPersonal Autonomy in SocietyPersonal Identity and EthicsPersonalities on the PlatePersonhood and Health CarePersons, Humanity, and the Definition of DeathPerspectives On Health And Human RightsPharmaceutical FreedomPharmacracyPharmageddonPhilosophy and This Actual WorldPhilosophy of BiologyPhilosophy of Technology: The Technological ConditionPhysician-Assisted DyingPicturing DisabilityPilgrim at Tinker CreekPlaying God?Playing God?Political EmotionsPornlandPowerful MedicinesPractical Autonomy and BioethicsPractical EthicsPractical Ethics for PsychologistsPractical RulesPragmatic BioethicsPragmatic BioethicsPragmatic NeuroethicsPraise and 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Troublesome ChildTechnology and the Good Life?TestimonyText and Materials on International Human RightsThe Moral Psychology of AngerThe Age of CulpabilityThe Age of CulpabilityThe Aims of Higher EducationThe Almost MoonThe Altruistic BrainThe American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Forensic PsychiatryThe Animal ManifestoThe Animals' AgendaThe Art of LivingThe Autonomy of MoralityThe Beloved SelfThe Best Things in LifeThe Big FixThe Bioethics ReaderThe Biology and Psychology of Moral AgencyThe Blackwell Guide to Medical EthicsThe Body SilentThe BondThe Book of LifeThe Burden of SympathyThe Cambridge Companion to Virtue EthicsThe Cambridge Companion to Virtue EthicsThe Cambridge Textbook of BioethicsThe Case against Assisted SuicideThe Case Against PerfectionThe Case Against PunishmentThe Case for PerfectionThe Case of Terri SchiavoThe Challenge of Human RightsThe Character GapThe Code for Global EthicsThe Colonization Of Psychic SpaceThe Commercialization of Intimate LifeThe Common 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No less than any other approach to ethics, Christian ethics is best discussed in terms of the tensions that it attempts to reconcile. Jennifer Herdt's book focuses on one of the fundamental tensions within the development of Christian morality: the status of "mimetic" virtue. If morality consists of possessing virtue, and virtue is habituated, how do distinguish between being moral, as opposed to merely "acting out" a moral position? Can we even become virtuous, indeed, "without first acting the part?" (p. 1)
Herdt's book is thus both a history of the formation of "true virtue" as a moral concept, and an exploration of the idea of how ethics is formed itself. As such, while the book is written for an audience at least familiar with the key debates within Christian ethics, it is also an invaluable resource for moral philosophers and theologians alike interested in both conceptual and historical tensions within the moral notion of "virtue".
The book's title refers to Augustine's distinction between Christians and "pagan" moralities (although, as Herdt notes, Augustine never actually referred to splendida vitia (p.45)). The contrast between Aristotelian magnanimity – the awareness of one's worth – and Augustinian humility – one's worth in relation to another – are placed as the fundamental tension between pagan and Christian beliefs (p.40). For Augustine, this produces a somewhat ambiguous difference between the "virtues" of the Christian moralist who acts in relation to God, and on the other hand the "splendid vices" of the pagan who merely acts well for their own benefit. But, as Herdt argues, this categorization is clearly not adequate by itself to constitute a complete boundary between "true" and "false" virtue (p.61). Indeed, despite the systematic development offered by Aquinas, and the more reductionist accounts of pagan virtue by the Reformation thinkers such as Luther, she claims that the "anxiety that the virtues cannot be cleansed from the taint of the splendid vices" remains in within the contemporary revival of virtue ethics and its theological possibilities (p.345).
In terms of both breadth and depth, Herdt's book is a masterful treatise. Its originality and intrigue lies in two areas in particular. The first is her overall project of demonstrating how this tension of mimesis and performance lies at the heart of virtue-based morality, which not only informed the early modern Christian thinkers, but also established the theoretical resources for the modern secular morality of Hume, Kant and Rousseau. These thinkers, Herdt argues, all reflect in different ways "the defining influence of inherited anxieties concerning the authenticity of humanly acquired virtue" (p.342). She thus demonstrates how the idea of true virtue in relation to God becomes, in modern moral language, a quest for individual authenticity. Thus, links are drawn between the turn to the individual, displayed in Bunyan's use of autobiography and Pascal's use of "moral psychology", to the earlier concerns of imitative ethics in Erasmus and Aristotle.
The second area of originality is her specific retrieval of many thinkers who have often been overlooked in terms of what contribution they might make to contemporary discussions of virtue. Each chapter offers broad accounts of the moral foundations of each thinker, but also proposes new and challenging readings of their works. For example, Augustine's critique of habituated virtue is related to his ambivalence towards the theatre. His suspicion, firmly rooted in Plato's thought, is that theatrical mimesis is an embodiment of hypocrisy. This interesting angle of analysis enables Herdt to examine the Jesuit theatrical tradition, and the ways in which it attempts to uphold and justify a conception of mimetic virtue rooted in Erasmus' thought. Consequently, she demonstrates how the Jesuit Gracián nevertheless furthers Augustine's initial critique, despite appearing to adopt a "pagan" model of virtue (p.234). Without shying from ambiguity, Herdt nevertheless draws links and developments which a reinvigorated approach to the history of virtue ethics.
There are, of course, methodological and hermeneutic issues which arise from any study with this kind of scope and scale. Perhaps the most pressing is the relationship between historical and conceptual analysis, which at points affects the consistency with which Herdt's overarching argument is articulated. The book is written in chronological order, from Aristotle through to Kant; yet the contextual history of the ideas is often left unexplained. This is becomes most apparent when Herdt initiates dialogues between thinkers from different times: for example, Augustine's work is presented almost as a direct response to Aristotle, on the basis that Aristotelian virtue is the representative of a systematic pagan virtue ethic. Little is mentioned of Aristotle's disappearance from western thinking until well after Augustine's ideas had taken root. The organising principle of the work thus suggests itself to be more conceptual rather than historical. But the conceptual approach is not wholly unproblematic. Partly to allow for these "dialogues", certain key concepts – in particular, "virtue", "semblance" and "morality" -- are not always articulated or conceptualised as fully as they might be, instead (and necessarily) crossing several perspectives and formulations in order for the project to take place. Herdt notes this, for example, when she argues that her use of "virtue" as a singular entity rather than the "virtues" (more common to contemporary pluralistic discourse) is justified in part because this better reflects early modern discourse (p.10). But this does not stop one wondering whether, for example, the Jesuit notion of the theatre as an imitative tool, and the Rousseau critique of theatre as instigating pathos of distance and passivity between individuals, correlate as straightforwardly to the same concept of semblance. The criteria for attributing these general concepts may well be a pragmatic one, but it is one that could, I think, be brought more to the fore of the discussion itself.
These are, however, discussions which should not diminish the importance, or indeed the academic excellence, of Putting on Virtue. Indeed, the real value of the book is that it provides not only a provocative reading of the history of ethics, but also a rich basis upon which further discussion and exegesis may take place.
© 2009 Tom Grimwood
Tom Grimwood, Lancaster University U.K.