Virtous Liberals: An Essay on Virtue, the Liberal State and the Church as Alternative -- By: Allan R. Bevere

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 25:0 (NA 1993)
Article: Virtous Liberals: An Essay on Virtue, the Liberal State and the Church as Alternative
Author: Allan R. Bevere

Virtous Liberals:
An Essay on Virtue, the Liberal State and the Church as Alternative

Allan R. Bevere

Allan Bevere (MA, MDiv from ATS) is a PhD student in Theology at Durham University, England. He is the Associate Minister at Mentor United Methodist Church in Mentor, Ohio.


Can modern liberalism provide a sufficient account of an ethics of virtue? This is the question to be examined in this essay. The work of Alasdair MacIntyre and Richard Regan will be analyzed as both thinkers have two very different perspectives on the state of modern liberalism. After scrutinizing their work, I will present a critique of the liberal state, drawing substantively on the work of Stanley Hauerwas. In the course of the discussion I hope that my contention will become clear: the liberal state cannot offer an adequate account of an ethics of virtue.1

Alasdair Macintyre: The Moral State of Modernity

In his book After Virtue, Alasdair Macintyre gives his profound impression of the state of moral discourse in modern liberal society. He writes,

[I]n the actual world which we inhabit the language of morality is in the. .. state of grave disorder. .. What we possess. .. are the fragments of a conceptual scheme, parts which now lack those contexts from which their significance derived. We possess indeed simulacra of morality, we continue to use many of the key expressions. But we have — very largely, if not entirely — lost our comprehension, both theoretical and practical, of morality.2

It is MacIntyre’s conviction that before the Enlightenment morality focused upon the virtues of the moral agent, as opposed to the modern understanding of morality that focuses on rules that are cogent for

everyone. The ancients believed that human beings have a telos, that is, they possess a common direction of development toward the fulfillment of life’s end or good. The notion of a telos means that moral statements can be true or false and thus the direction one takes in life can be right or wrong. Within the ancient tradition the language of virtue, therefore, provides the resources to settle moral contentions.

These moral resources, however, do not exist in the Enlightenment understanding of morality. The Enlightenment made it impossible to resolve our fundamental moral disputes when its thinkers abandoned the concept of telos. Fact and value were divorced from one another. MacIntyre states,

To call a particular action just or right is to say that it is what a good man woul...

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