Karl Rahner's theology of concupiscence and the role of affect in normative theory: A contemporary dialogue

Kathryn Mary Lilla Cox, Fordham University


Reason, while rightly important to the moral reasoning process, has been overemphasized to the detriment of affectivity. The marginalization of affectivity impoverishes moral theory and the moral life. Therefore, affectivity needs to be positively incorporated into theories of normativity and moral action. Karl Rahner's retrieval of concupiscentia lays the groundwork to reintegrate affectivity with the capacities of reason in order to utilize both as sources of moral knowledge. He asserts that theological concupiscence describes the existential relationship between nature (finitude) and person (freedom). Rahner's perspective on theological concupiscence incorporated into moral theology with the fundamental option theory---which places human action in the context of grace---recast the manner in which moral theologians define and comprehend moral acts. Right action could no longer simply be read from nature, nor was right moral action achieved by simply following the faith community's norms and avoiding proscribed behaviors. Klaus Demmer connects the fundamental option to vocational decisions providing a framework for a transcendental analysis of moral action. In this context, the dialectical relationship between experience and insight comes to the fore. Insights set the stage for new experiences of grace, which in turn lead to nuanced or new insights. The nuanced or new insights should lead to new forms of action in the world. Sidney Callahan, Beverly Harrison, and Margaret Farley deliberately integrate affectivity into their psychological or moral theory, offsetting the split between affectivity and reason. In doing so, they affirm the reality that as humans we are affective-reasoning beings. In addition, Farley uses "embodied spirits" or "inspirited bodies" to discuss human freedom and finitude drawing attention to our embodiment as an aspect of theological concupiscence. Together, they help recast the person-nature relationship (theological concupiscence) in a broader moral theological context allowing for a positive role for affectivity in normative and moral action theories. This re-configured matrix permits a more harmonious and reciprocal relationship between affectivity and reason where both can be utilized as resources for normative and moral action theories, enriching moral theory, our moral reasoning, and our view of the moral life.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Cox, Kathryn Mary Lilla, "Karl Rahner's theology of concupiscence and the role of affect in normative theory: A contemporary dialogue" (2007). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3255040.