Faith & Virtue Formation: Christian Philosophy in Aid of Becoming Good, edited by Adam C. Pelser and W. Scott Cleveland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021)
ABSTRACT: The Christian tradition offers a robust and compelling vision of what it is for human life to be lived well. Faith and Virtue Formation articulates various aspects of that vision in ways that will deepen understanding of the virtues and virtue formation. The collection considers the value of studying the vices for moral formation; the importance of emotion and agency in virtue formation; the connections between certain disabilities and virtue; the roles of divine grace, liturgy, worship, and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in Christian virtue formation; the formation of infused virtues, including the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love; the roles of friendship and the communal life of the Church in cultivating virtue; and new philosophical and theological reflections on some largely neglected virtues. Offering an interdisciplinary approach, the contributors draw on philosophical, theological, and biblical wisdom, along with insights from contemporary psychology and rich narrative examples, in aid of becoming good. By providing deeply insightful and edifying reflections on the prospects, processes, and practices of moral and spiritual formation, this volume demonstrates that moral philosophy not only illuminates, but it can also guide and inspire the formation of virtue.
Peer-reviewed Articles and Book Chapters:
18. "Fostering Respect in the Military," Journal of Military Ethics 20 (2021), 281-292.
17. "Cultivating Christian Love," in Faith & Virtue Formation, ed. Adam C. Pelser and W. Scott Cleveland (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2021), 191-210.
16. "Emotional Evangelism, Affective Apologetics," in A Charitable Orthopathy: Christian Perspectives on Emotions in Multifaith Engagement, ed. John W. Morehead and Brandon C. Benziger (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2020), 169-182.
15. "Respect as an Intellectual Virtue," with co-author Ryan West, in Virtue and Voice: Habits of Mind for a Return to Civil Discourse, ed. Gregg A. Ten Elshof and Evan Rosas (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2019).
[Prepublication draft PDF]
14. “Temptation, Virtue, and the Character of Christ,” Faith and Philosophy 36, 1 (2019): 81–101.
*Winner of the 2020 Dallas Willard Research Award*
ABSTRACT: The author of Hebrews writes that Jesus Christ was “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Many Christians take the sinlessness of Jesus to imply that he was perfectly virtuous. Yet, susceptibility to the experience of at least some temptations, plausibly including those Jesus experienced, seems incompatible with the possession of perfect virtue. In an attempt to resolve this tension, I argue here that there are good reasons for believing that Jesus, while perfectly sinless, was not fully virtuous at the time of his temptations,but that he grew in virtue through overcoming temptation. If this is right, then Jesus Christ is an exemplar of character formation who is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” in an important way that Christians have largely overlooked.
13. “Emotions, Character, and Associationist Psychology” (with Robert C. Roberts), Journal of Moral Philosophy, special issue, guest ed. Christian Miller (forthcoming).
ABSTRACT: Emotions are pivotal in the manifestation and functioning of character traits. Traits such as virtues and vices involve emotions in diverse but connected ways. Some virtues (justice, generosity, compassion, truthfulness) are exemplified, in important part, by feeling emotions. Others (self-control, perseverance, courage) are exemplified in managing, bypassing, or even eliminating emotions. And one virtue at least (humility) is exemplified in not-feeling a certain range of emotions. Emotions are a kind of perceptual state, namely construal, involving concern or caring (motivation) about something, in which the elements of a situation are organized and understood in terms of their significance or import. Emotional understanding can be morally right or wrong. As such construals, emotions can be morally excellent (the feeling of joy about a rectified injustice) or perverse (envy and contempt of persons). Emotions thus have a logic or grammar that is crucial to their entering into, or being set upon by, or simply not occurring because of, virtues. The virtuous person is attuned, implicitly or reflectively, to this grammar, and that attunement constitutes one of the major dimensions of practical wisdom. An associationist psychology (behaviorist or Humean) attempts to reduce the conceptual and intentional richness of emotions to mere associations or correlations of pleasant or unpleasant “affect” with various things (behaviors, “values”). Such a psychology is fundamentally unfit to represent practical wisdom, and thus the moral life. We sketch an account of the generation and degeneration of character traits using the above conceptual framework and contrasting it with an associationist framework.
[Prepublication draft PDF]
12. “Philosophy in The Abolition of Man,” for Contemporary Perspectives on CS Lewis’ The Abolition of Man: History, Philosophy, Education, and Science, ed. Timothy M. Mosteller and Gayne John Anacker (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017), 5-24.
ABSTRACT: This chapter explores the philosophical themes and influences on C.S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man, with special attention to his critique of moral subjectivism and his alternative epistemology of value. According to Lewis, moral subjectivism is inherently dangerous for human society. Moreover, subjectivists are guilty at best of ignorant inconsistency and at worst of vicious absurdity. Lewis thus argues for an alternative epistemology of emotions, according to which properly formed emotions work together with Reason to help us recognize objective value. I explain this epistemology of emotions and I explore its implications for the process of cultivating virtuous character.
11. “Heavenly Sadness: On the Value of Negative Emotions in Paradise,” in Paradise Understood: New Philosophical Essays about Heaven, ed. T. Ryan Byerly and Eric J. Silverman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 113-135.
ABSTRACT: Many believe that life in heaven will be characterized by perfect joy. One common objection to this view is that if anyone will be suffering in hell, then the inhabitants of heaven either will experience certain negative emotions about those in hell, thus rendering their heavenly joy imperfect, or they won’t, thus revealing them to be unloving or otherwise deficient. Christian philosophers and theologians, represented here by Thomas Aquinas, C. S. Lewis, and N. T. Wright, have traditionally responded to this objection by denying that those in heaven will experience negative emotions and explaining why such emotions would be inappropriate. In light of the epistemic and moral value of affectively negative (painful) emotions, however, it is plausible that the inhabitants of heaven will experience some negative emotions—for example, heavenly sadness—about the suffering of those in hell and about past evils, without such emotions undermining their perfect heavenly joy.
10. “Religious Value and Moral Psychology” (with Robert C. Roberts), in Handbook of Value: Perspectives from Economics, Neuroscience, Philosophy, Psychology, and Sociology, ed. Tobias Brosch and David Sander (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 375–394.
ABSTRACT: “Religious value” can be understood in two ways. Ontological religious value is the excellence of a “transcendent” Ultimate Reality such as God. Psychological religious values are attitudinal or dispositional valuings, informed by one’s religion, that involve taking an object to possess ontological religious value. Religions contribute to the development and internalization of psychological religious values through narratives, embodied rituals, and acts of service, among other means. Recent critics of religion argue that psychological religious values are irrational and socially pernicious. According to Jonathan Haidt’s evolutionary moral psychology, however, religious values arose out of innate, socially valuable emotional-intuitive dispositions. Haidt is correct that emotional intuitions facilitate the formation of religious and moral values, but these emotions can be epistemically, and not merely pragmatically, valuable. They may enable us to experience objective values, thus serving as evidence of the existence of various kinds of value, including ontological religious value.
9. “Respect for Human Dignity as an Emotion and Virtue,” Res Philosophica special issue on Virtue and the Emotions, guest ed. Kevin Timpe, 92, 4 (2015): 743–763.
*2015 Res Philosophica Essay Prize Winner*
ABSTRACT: Though it does not appear on many traditional lists of the virtues, respect for human dignity is an important virtue in its own right that is characterized as much by emotions as by other mental states and actions. The virtue of respect for human dignity essentially involves the dispositions to feel the emotion of respect for the dignity of others as well as an emotional sense of one’s own dignity. As illustrated here through narrative examples from the life of Nelson Mandela, respect for human dignity also involves a keen perceptual sensitivity to humiliating and degrading treatment, along with dispositions to protest, correct, and prevent such treatment. The person with the virtue of respect for human dignity also will be disposed to feel emotions such as indignation toward those who willfully violate the dignity of others and compassion for their victims, as well as positive emotions in response to the successful promotion of human dignity. Although the virtue of respect for human dignity thus bears a close resemblance to other, more traditionally recognized, virtues, such as justice and love, it nevertheless is appropriate to treat respect for human dignity as a distinct virtue, as well as an emotion.
[Prepublication draft PDF]
8. “Perceiving God through Natural Beauty” (with Ryan West, first author), Faith and Philosophy 32, 3 (2015): 293–312.
ABSTRACT: In Perceiving God, William Alston briefly suggests the possibility of perceiving God indirectly through the perception of another object. Following recent work by C. Stephen Evans, we argue that Thomas Reid’s notion of “natural signs” helpfully illuminates how people can perceive God indirectly through natural beauty. First, we explain how some natural signs enable what Alston labels “indirect perception.” Second, we explore how certain emotions make it possible to see beauty and the excellence of the minds behind beauty. Finally, we explain how aesthetic emotions can involve indirect perception of God via the natural sign of natural beauty.
7. “Emotion, Evaluative Perception, and Epistemic Justification,” in Emotion and Value, ed. Sabine Roeser and Cain Todd (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 106–122.
ABSTRACT: We often trust our emotions by forming emotion-based beliefs. The thesis of this chapter is that some emotion-based beliefs are directly and non-inferentially justified by emotions themselves; that is, emotion is a basic source of epistemic justification—call this the justificatory thesis of emotion (or, simply, the justificatory thesis). The justificatory thesis, especially when understood in light of the perceptual character of emotions, plausibly explains the justification we enjoy with respect to many of our ‘thick’ evaluative beliefs. In fact, emotions seem to be necessary for informing and deepening our understanding of the thick evaluative concepts employed in thick evaluative beliefs. Moreover, while the fact that emotions themselves can enjoy a kind of justification—i.e., emotional justification—reveals an epistemologically significant difference between emotion and sense perception, neither this observation nor worries about the unreliability of emotions in generating true beliefs undermines the justificatory thesis.
6. “The Courage of Faith: Kierkegaardian Reflection on the Spiritual Danger of Enjoying Finite Goods,” Philosophia Christi 16, 2 (2014): 377–393.
ABSTRACT: In Fear and Trembling, Søren Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous character, Johannes de Silentio, highlights the spiritual danger inherent in the Christian life of enjoying finite goods (especially our relationships with other people) without giving into the temptation to idolize or become too dependent for our happiness on them. In light of this danger, de Silentio suggests that the life of faith depends on a special kind of courage—“the courage of faith.” Here, I offer an analysis of the courage of faith, underscoring its importance for the Christian life, and I explore the interdependence of courage, faith, and a third virtue—humility.
5. “Foundational Beliefs and Persuading with Humor: Reflections Inspired by Reid and Kierkegaard” (with Daniel M. Johnson), Faith and Philosophy 31, 3 (2014): 267–285.
ABSTRACT: The most important and common solution to the Pyrrhonian skeptic’s regress problem is foundationalism. Reason-giving must stop somewhere, argues the foundationalist, and the fact that it does stop (at foundational, basic, non-inferentially justified beliefs) does not threaten knowledge or justification. The foundationalist has a problem, though; while foundationalism might adequately answer skepticism, it does not allow for a satisfying reply to the skeptic. The feature that makes a belief foundationally justified is not the sort of thing that can be given to another as a reason. Thus, if foundationalism is true, we can only fall silent in the face of a challenge to our epistemically basic beliefs. Call this the practical or existential problem of foundationalism. Thomas Reid offers a rather stunning solution to this problem. Humor (“ridicule”), he thinks, can be used to defend basic beliefs which cannot be defended by argument. We develop and defend an account on which Reid is correct and emotions such as rueful amusement can be invoked to rationally persuade the skeptic to accept foundationally justified beliefs. Then, inspired by Kierkegaard, we extend the account to foundational moral and religious beliefs.
4. “Irrigating Deserts: Thinking with C.S. Lewis about Educating for Emotional Formation,” Christian Scholar’s Review 44, 1 (2014): 27–43.
ABSTRACT: Many liberal arts colleges express a commitment to educate the whole person; yet, educating for emotional formation rarely receives explicit attention. In The Abolition of Man C.S. Lewis argues that proper moral education essentially involves emotional formation informed by an understanding of emotions as recognitions of objective values that function together with reason to yield moral knowledge. Here, I explain Lewis’ view of emotions and its significance for The Abolition of Man, supporting and developing the view with insights drawn from philosophy and psychology. I conclude by suggesting some pedagogical applications of this view of emotions to moral education and spiritual formation in higher education.
3. “Reliabilism,” New Catholic Encyclopedia Supplement 2012-13: Ethics and Philosophy, vol. 4, ed. Robert L. Fastiggi (Detroit: Gale, 2013), 1331–1332.
2. “Against Frankfurt’s Care Ground of Importance,” Southwest Philosophy Review 27, 1 (2011): 101–09.
ABSTRACT: Harry Frankfurt argues that importance is not inherent. He contends that importance is grounded solely in what we care about (or, love). Frankfurt argues that there is no care-independent ground of importance since, he thinks, there can be no care-independent ground of our knowledge of importance. This argument fails on account of its confusing the epistemic ground of our knowledge of importance with the ontological ground of importance. Moreover, Frankfurt’s Care Ground of Importance principle undermines his own treatment of “volitional irrationality” as a morally significant defect of some moral agents. Frankfurt argues that while those who perform even the most “unthinkable” acts are not objectively immoral, they are “volitionally irrational” and “inhuman.” Frankfurt’s Care Ground of Importance, however, undermines any plausible attempt to understand the defect of such agents as a failure of rationality or as a lack of human nature.
[Prepublication draft PDF]
1. “Belief in Reid’s Theory of Perception,” History of Philosophy Quarterly 27, 4 (2010): 359–78.
ABSTRACT: Against external-world skepticism, Thomas Reid famously argued that sense perception involves prima facie justified belief in extra-mental material objects. Similar, though importantly non-Reidian, doxastic analyses of perception have been recommended in the contemporary philosophical literature by D.M. Armstrong and John Heil, among others. Recent work has shown, however, that there appear to be cases of full-fledged perception that do not include belief. Interestingly, Reid seems to have been aware of this problem for his view. In what follows I evaluate Reid’s treatment of this problem, suggesting various replies to the purported counterexamples on behalf of Reid’s theory. I then propose a modification of Reid’s theory in which I replace his belief component with a kind of seeing-as mental state—namely, construal. I argue that this modified Reidian theory of perception has the advantage of better handling the proposed counterexamples without sacrificing any of the anti-skeptical force of Reid’s theory.
[Prepublication draft PDF]
5. Dallas Willard, The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge, edited and completed by Steven L. Porter, Aaron Preston, and Gregg A. Ten Elshof (Routledge, 2018), Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (2019). [available online here]
4. Kevin Timpe and Craig A. Boyd, eds., Virtues and Their Vices (Oxford University Press, 2014), reviewed in Faith and Philosophy 33, 3 (2016): 13–17.
3. Peter Olsthoorn, Honor in Political and Moral Philosophy (SUNY Press, 2014), reviewed in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 06.34 (2015). [available online here]
2. Julien A. Deonna and Fabrice Teroni, The Emotions: A Philosophical Introduction (New York: Routledge, 2012), reviewed in Journal of Moral Philosophy 12, 2 (2015).
1. "Learning to Read the Old Testament from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John," a review of Richard B. Hays, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014), reviewed in Christian Research Journal 38, 2 (2015).
General Audience Essays:
10. “Ethics in a Pandemic Age: Beyond rules, rights, and responsibilities to grace, generosity, and gratitude,” published on my personal blog here and shared as a guest post on Michael Austin’s “Ethics for Everyone” blog at Psychology Today’s website.
9. "Thomas Reid: Minister, Philosopher, and Champion of Common Sense," Christian Research Journal 41, 5 (2018).
8. “The Abolition of Man Today,” Christian Research Journal 40, 2 (2017).
7. “Philosophy, Politics, and the End of Liberal Arts Education,” Christian Research Journal 39, 4 (2016): 25-29.
6. “Developing Discernment in Devotional Reading: A Critical Examination of Jesus Calling and One Thousand Gifts,” Christian Research Journal 38, 4 (2015): 18–25.
5. “Reasons of the Heart: Emotions in Apologetics,” Christian Research Journal 38, 1 (2015): 32–39.
4. “When Love Turns to Anger” (with Daniel M. Johnson), in Anger, Christian Reflection: A series in faith and ethics (Waco, TX: The Institute for Faith and Learning at Baylor University, 2014): 73–80.
3. “Affective Apologetics: Communicating Truth through Humor, Ridicule, and Emotions” (with Daniel M. Johnson), Christian Research Journal 35, 6 (December 2012).
2. “Becoming a Seasoned Apologist,” Christian Research Journal 31, 1 (January 2008).
1. “Genuine Temptation and the Character of Christ,” Christian Research Journal 30, 4 (August 2007).