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Putting On Virtue

The Legacy of the Splendid Vices

Augustine famously claimed that the virtues of pagan Rome were nothing more than splendid vices. This critique reinvented itself as a suspicion of acquired virtue as such, and true Christian virtue has, ever since, been set against a false, hypocritical virtue alleged merely to conceal pride. Putting On Virtue reveals how a distrust of learned and habituated virtue shaped both early modern Christian moral reflection and secular forms of ethical thought. 
Jennifer Herdt develops her claims through an argument of broad historical sweep, which brings together the Aristotelian tradition as taken up by Thomas Aquinas with the early modern thinkers who shaped modern liberalism. In chapters on Luther, Bunyan, the Jansenists, Mandeville, Hume, Rousseau, and Kant, she argues that efforts to make a radical distinction between true Christian virtue and its tainted imitations actually created an autonomous natural ethics separate from Christianity. This secular value system valorized pride and authenticity, while rendering graced human agency less meaningful. Ultimately, Putting On Virtue traces a path from suspicion of virtue to its secular inversion, from confession of dependence to assertion of independence.

472 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Philosophy: Ethics, Philosophy of Religion

Religion: Philosophy of Religion, Theology, and Ethics


"This first-rate work deserves wide reading, and should be added to most college and all theological libraries. By demonstrating a keen command of theological and philosophical issues, it easily finds a place among the finest works on theological ethics. Essential."—Choice


"Erudite and lucid, Jennifer Herdt’s comprehensive study of theological and secular virtue is exceptionally engaging . . . . A theologically rich, historically grounded, and philosophically challenging book. . . . that resembles the magisterial work of Charles Taylor."—Jonathan Rothchild, Journal of Theological Studies

Jonathan Rothchild | Journal of Theological Studies

"In terms of both breadth and depth, Herdt’s book is a masterful treatise. Its originality and intrigue lie 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. . . . 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."—Tom Grimwood, Metapsychology

Tom Grimwood | Metapsychology

Table of Contents

Part I:  Splendid Vices and Imperfect Virtues
1          Aristotle and the Puzzles of Habituation
2          Augustine: Disordered Loves and the Problem of Pride
3          Aquinas: Making Space for Pagan Virtue
Part II: Mimetic Virtue
4          Erasmus: Putting On Christ
5          The Jesuit Theatrical Tradition: Acting Virtuous
Part III:  The Exodus from Virtue
6          Luther: Saved Hypocrites
7          Bunyan and Puritan Life-Writing: The Virtue of Self-Examination
Part IV: The Anatomy of Virtue
8          Jesuits and Jansenists: Gracián and Pascal
9          Emancipating Worldly Virtue: Nicole, La Rochefoucauld, and Mandeville
Part V: Pagan Virtue and Modern Moral Philosophy
10        Rousseau and the Virtue of Authenticity
11        Hume and the Bourgeois Rehabilitation of Pride
12        Kant and the Pursuit of Noumenal Purity


Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

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