Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Call for Papers: Thomas Instituut te Utrecht Conference on the Moral Virtues


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From 16 - 19 December 2015 the Thomas Instituut te Utrecht (Tilburg University) will organize its fifth international conference on the subject: “The Virtuous Life, Thomas Aquinas on the theological nature of moral virtues.” At this conference, the Thomas Instituut will celebrate its 25th anniversary. 

The teachings of the moral part of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae continue to inspire and to enlighten theologians and ethicists. Especially for those who are interested in a specifically Christian account of human moral and spiritual life, Aquinas’ ethical investigations in the Summa are an inexhaustible source. In his rich and detailed treatment of both the moral and the theological virtues, however, Aquinas fails to explain unambiguously to what extent the Christian faith determines human moral life. As a result, this topic is the subject of an ongoing debate in the literature. The treatment of human moral life in the second part of the Summa is structured according to the scheme of the four cardinal virtues and the three theological virtues. The cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and courage are the four pillars of the moral practice of man in this life. The theological virtues, in contrast, direct human life towards the ultimate end beyond this world, which consists in the beatifying vision of God. These virtues are not acquired by human acts but are ‘infused’ by God, in such a way that through grace and the consequent virtues of hope, faith, and love the human person is initiated into a relationship with God himself. The division between the four cardinal virtues on the one hand, and the three ‘Christian’ virtues of grace on the other is complicated by the existence of moral virtues which are, together with charity, infused by God rather than acquired by our own efforts. In philosophical-ethical approaches to Aquinas, the existence of ‘infused moral virtues’ is often neglected or dismissed as a minor complication. However, in recent literature, several serious attempts have been made to revalue the infused moral virtues and to highlight the essential role they play, together with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, in Aquinas’ interpretation of the whole of human moral and spiritual life, following Jesus Christ. Some go so far as to contend that the discussion of the cardinal virtues in the second part of the Summa focuses exclusively on the infused virtues, which are an essential part of the Christian life. The interpretation of the infused moral virtues is the acid test of one’s general view on the nature and orientation of Thomas’ moral theory: how theological are the moral virtues?

Questions to be discussed: The general theme of the congress covers a broad range of topics and questions. Some relevant question to be discussed are, for example: do the cardinal virtues come in two versions: a natural version and a Christian version dependent on grace? How should the project of the moral part of the Summa be characterized? Is it a sort of phenomenology of the Christian life? Is it theological ethics in a restrictive sense? Or is it rather an inquiry into the intelligibility of the moral life from a Christian perspective? In what ways do the theological virtues orient human lives towards a transcendent, supernatural goal? What are Aquinas’ views on pagan virtue? Is there authentic virtue in man apart from charity?

Link to Call for Papers.

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