Homo Religiosus: Does Spirituality Have a Place in Neo-Aristotelian Virtue Ethics?

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Is there a place for spirituality in neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics? If one consults the major contemporary works on the subject he or she might conclude that the answer is 'no'. The issue is often either ignored or explicitly excluded from consideration. I will discuss why this is and also why it is problematic. More positively, I will suggest how spirituality can play an important role in a neo-Aristotelian account of 'the good life'. By 'spirituality' I mean a practical life-orientation towards 'transcendence'. Such 'transcendence' might be the divine, or any good that evokes traditionally religious attitudes - e.g., reverence, worship, awe, gratitude, etc. - and inspires self-transcendence.

The issue here turns on how one understands 'ethical naturalism', to which neo-Aristotelians are committed. First, it can mean founding ethics on an account of human nature. Second, it can entail an opposition to 'supernaturalism'. Third, it can be seen as a scientistic or quasi-scientistic approach. All neo-Aristotelians agree to the first understanding, while many also accept the second and third. I argue that the second and third understandings should be rejected. Moreover, I argue that through a deeper exploration of our nature as 'meaning-seeking animals' we can come to better appreciate the importance of spirituality for human beings throughout history and why we might be described as 'homo religiosus'. I also discuss how spiritual practices can contribute to the good life by helping to cultivate the virtues as well as certain rich emotional attitudes towards the world and its inhabitants.


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