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Jonathan Edwards, The Ethics of Virtue and Public Theology

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In The Nature of True Virtue, Jonathan Edwards does not deny that common morality is important; benevolence, beauty, conscience, justice, love for family and country are all threads in the fabric of a common morality. Without love for God as their chief end, however, the ‘virtues’ of common morality do not rise to the level of true virtue. This incommensurability can be problematic for Christian ethics in the public square. Edwards understood his project within the horizon of a commonwealth founded on Christian faith, but modern liberal democracies envision a different relationship between religious discourse and public life. In these contexts, so different from Edwards’ setting, pluralism and tolerance are among the keys to a peaceful pursuit of the common good. With these differences in view, then, I explore what contribution Edwards’ work on virtue might make to the practice of public theology in the areas of environmental ethics, bioethics and immigration policy.

Affiliations: 1: Erskine College and Theological Seminary USA

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