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Does the Habit Make the Nun? A Case Study of Heloise's Influence on Abelard's Ethical Philosophy

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A careful reading of Heloise's letters reveals both her contribution to Abelard's ethical thought and the differences between her ethical concerns and his. In her letters, Heloise focuses on the innate moral qualities of the inner person or animus. Hypocrisy—the misrepresentation of the inner person through false outer appearance, exemplified by the potentially deceitful religious habit or habitus—is a matter of great moral concern to her. When Abelard responds to Heloise's ideas, first in his letters to her and later in his Collationes and Scito te ipsum, he turns the discussion away from her original interests. He transforms her metaphor of the habitus as false appearance into a discussion of another type of habitus, the habitual process of acquiring virtue, and integrates her focus on the animus into his developing ideas about sin as intention. Examining the differences between Heloise's ethical thought and Abelard's allows us to appreciate the distinct contributions of both.

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