Sunday, February 12, 2012

Reading "The Imitation of Christ"

Our Sunday School class paused in its study of John to read Thomas a Kempis' The Imitation of Christ.  One of our number is a Jesuit-educated Roman Catholic engineer from Chile, and whenever we have seen that book cited in our readings, he would light up.  And we kept reading references to this little work in our studies of John and Romans.  Finally, we decided to stop for a few weeks and simply read and discuss it.

There is a very inexpensive paperback addition available, the 1940 translation by Croft and Bolton, published by Dover.  It is only $2.50. (The Kindle version is $.95!) According to the blurb on the back cover, Imitation is "[s]econd only to the Bible as a source of religious instruction and inspiration," a claim echoed by the Wikipedia article on the book.

There are four major divisions or "Books" in my edition, and we are discussing Book One, "Thoughts Helpful in the Life of the Soul" this morning.  The text refers to virtues and virtuous behavior throughout.  I had to stop and try to remember just exactly what are those virtues.  (Plato and Aristotle's "four cardinal virtues:" Prudence, Justice, Restraint or Temperance, and Courage or Fortitude, to which are added the "three theological virtues" of Faith, Hope, and Love.  Thank you, Wiki.)

In the process of that inquiry, I bumped into "Virtue Ethics" and from there I found my way to Alasdair McIntyre's After Virtue.  Here is what the Wikipedia article says about McIntyre and his book:

Probably his most widely read work, After Virtue was written when MacIntyre was already in his fifties. Up until that time MacIntyre had been a relatively influential analytic philosopher of a Marxist bent whose inquiries into moral philosophy had been conducted in a “piecemeal way, focusing first on this problem and then on that, in a mode characteristic of much analytic philosophy.”  However, after reading the works of Thomas Kuhn and Imre Lakatos on philosophy of science and epistemology MacIntyre was inspired to change the entire direction of his thought, tearing up the manuscript he had been working on and deciding to view the problems of modern moral and political philosophy “not from the standpoint of liberal modernity, but instead from the standpoint of ... Aristotelian moral and political practice.”[7]

In general terms the task of After Virtue is to account both for the dysfunctional quality of moral discourse within modern society and rehabilitate what MacIntyre takes to be a forgotten alternative in the teleological rationality of Aristotelian virtue ethics.

Ah! Thomas Kuhn! Macon's hero from Davidson College days.  The circle is complete.

No comments: