Saints and moral philosophy.




Riley, Sean A.

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Starting with William James’s lectures on saintliness in The Varieties of Religious Experience, twentieth and twenty-first century moral philosophers have attempted to understand the relationship between moral philosophy and Christian saints. James sees the saints as exemplars of creative love, who draw their loving capacity from their relationship to the divine and whose pragmatic value derives from their melioration of the world. James believes that the saints are imitable and that the world would be better if everyone strived to be like them. I argue that though James’s attempt to see the saints as exemplars of demand-satisfaction consequentialism fails, his rich account of saintliness is pregnant with insights that later philosophers develop in service of their own non- consequentialist moral theories. With the exception of J. O. Urmson’s utilization of the saints to argue for supererogation in moral theory, philosophical discussion of saintliness dwindle until Susan Wolf astonishingly argues in her “Moral Saints” that saints (as construed by Utilitarian and Kantian moral theory) are ugly, boring, and unattractive. Robert Adams’s response to Wolf in “Saints” exposes the problem with reducing saintliness to moral exemplarity and neglecting the religious dimension. Adams argues that the saints are good insofar as they faithfully resemble God, display the virtues of the allies of God, and obey God’s callings and commands. Like James, Adams rightly connects the moral goodness of the saints to their relationship with the divine. I endorse Adams’s key insights but also indicate deficiencies in his account. Linda Zagzebski argues that the saints are morally good because they share God’s motives. Though her account of the virtues of the saints improves upon a lacuna in Adams’s account, I argue that it remains deficient in important ways. I then develop my own creative account of saintliness that draws on insights from the role-centered moral theory of J. L. A. Garcia and Sarah Harper and the moral philosophies of Thomas Aquinas and Alasdair MacIntyre. I argue that the saints can best be characterized as the friends of God and that doing so illuminates both the religious and moral aspects of saintliness.



Role-centered moral theory., William James., Saints., Friends of God., Moral philosophy.