"Economic justice" through the eyes of an ethics of virtue

John Joseph Barrett, Fordham University


The application of an ethics of virtue to Catholic social ethics requires several steps. First, there is required a retrieval of virtue theory from its classical sources. Virtue ethics originated in ancient Greek philosophy and continued its development in medieval scholastic thought. The philosopher Aristotle and the theologian Thomas Aquinas are most responsible for its acceptance as a mode of moral reasoning. During the Enlightenment virtue theory was rejected as a basis of ethics and moral philosophers, like Kant, began to evolve a deontological approach to ethics commonly known as duty ethics. Beginning with Elizabeth Anscombe in 1959, moral theorists started to reexamine aspects of virtue theory, such as its emphasis on moral character, as a way to address perceived limitations in deontological thought. During succeeding decades philosophers and theologians have debated the efficacy of virtue thought for moral reasoning in the post-modern age. Although a final form of virtue ethics does not yet exist, the outline of its theory has reached a level of critical acceptance for application in moral philosophy and moral theology. The second step in this study is an examination of the applicability of an ethics of virtue for use in Catholic social ethics. In 1986, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops published the Pastoral Letter on Catholic social teaching and the U.S. Economy entitled, Economic Justice For All. This study analyses the ethical approach of the Pastoral Letter in light of its goals to address both the membership of the Catholic Community as well as the citizen of the United States. The final part of this study makes critical application of certain aspects of virtue theory in an effort to determine the benefit of an ethics of virtue for discussions of justice as directed by the Pastoral Letter and an overall approach to Catholic social ethics.

Subject Area

Theology|Economics|Political science

Recommended Citation

Barrett, John Joseph, ""Economic justice" through the eyes of an ethics of virtue" (1994). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9425186.