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The Science of Modern Virtue

On Descartes, Darwin, and Locke

Peter Augustine Lawler, Marc D. Guerra

Publication Year: 2013

The Science of Modern Virtue examines the influence that the philosopher Rene Descartes, the political theorist John Locke, and the biologist Charles Darwin have had on our modern understanding of human beings and human virtue. Written by leading thinkers from a variety of fields, the volume is a study of the complex relation between modern science and modern virtue, between a kind of modern thought and a kind of modern action. Offering more than a series of substantive introductions to Descartes’, Locke’s, and Darwin’s accounts of who we are and the kind of virtue to which we can aspire, the book invites readers to think about the ways in which the writings of these seminal thinkers shaped the democratic and technological world in which modern human beings live. Thirteen scholars in this volume learnedly explore questions drawn from the diverse disciplines of political science, philosophy, theology, biology, and metaphysics. Let the reader be warned: The authors of these essays are anything but consensual in their analysis. Considered together, the chapters in this volume carry on a lively internal debate that mirrors theoretical modernity’s ongoing discussion about the true nature of human beings and the science of virtue. Some authors powerfully argue that Locke’s and Darwin’s thought is amenable to the claims made about human beings and human virtue by classical philosophers such as Aristotle and classical Christian theologians such as Thomas Aquinas. Others make the opposite case, drawing attention to the ways in which Descartes, Locke, and Darwin knowingly and dialectically depart from central teachings of both classical philosophy and classical Christian theology.

Published by: Northern Illinois University Press

Front Matter

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pp. 1-4


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pp. v-vi

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Preface. Modern Science on Who We Are as Free and/or Relational Beings

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pp. vii-xv

This book examines the influence the philosopher René Descartes, the political theorist John Locke, and the biologist Charles Darwin have had on our modern understanding of human beings and human virtue. Written by leading thinkers from a variety of fields, its thirteen chapters...

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1 - Locke, Darwin, and the Science of Modern Virtue

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pp. 3-23

So I want at least to complicate—or maybe even deconstruct—the narrative about our country that prevails among conservatives today. here’s the narrative: our founding was Lockean or according to a nature made by our Creator and therefore good. It’s threatened...

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2 - The Virtue of Science and the Science of Virtue: DesCartes’ Overcoming of Socrates

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pp. 24-45

The passage does not resolve the famous debate about the relationship between the “provisional morality” of the Discourse and what has come to be called the final or definitive morality, but it does indicate that the provisional morality contains important elements in Descartes’ mature...

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3 - Notes on “The Virtue of Science and the Science of Virtue”

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pp. 46-56

BENE VIXIT, BENE QUI LATUIT. Descartes chose this line from ovid’s Tristia (III.4.25) as a personal motto, which I translate as “he lived well who hid well.”1 It seems, then, that Descartes’ art of living involves hiding and, according to the portrait of Descartes that Thomas Hibbs presents in this...

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4 - More Cartesian than Descartes: Descartes: Reflections on Spinoza in the Spirit of Tocqueville

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pp. 57-80

IN the opening chapters of the Second volume of Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville identifies two ways of thinking that hold special appeal in a democratic age. Both methods of thinking have roots in the radical enlightenment of the seventeenth century, but...

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5 - Locke’s Explanation of How the Science of Civil Society Corrects the Natural Authority of Virtue

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pp. 81-91

Having been assigned the question of how the British enlightenment philosopher John Locke contributes to the science of virtue, I want first to raise the question of the relation of the classical and modern accounts of virtue, society, and politics, and to begin with the classical...

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6 - The Problem of Humane Quality in Locke’s Political Philosophy

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pp. 92-127

Near the BEGINNING of the SECOND TREATISE, John Locke offers a recapitulation of the First Treatise’s political teaching and its primary implication: pace Sir Robert Filmer, God did not “manifest[ly]” “appoin[t]” a ruler over men, who must accordingly institute government...

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7 - Locke, Darwin, and the Social Individualism of Virtue

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pp. 128-142

The STUDIES of HUMAN NATURE and political systems have always been inextricably linked. from Plato’s tripartite soul to Hobbes’ solitary man (with a life poor, nasty, brutish, and short), all political systems start with an account of the nature of the creature for whom we construct political...

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8 - Descartes, Locke, and the Virtue of the Individual

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pp. 143-159

RENÉ DESCARTES IS ROUTINELY CREDITED with being the “founder” of modern philosophy. That noteworthy title is laden with ambiguity. for while it identifies Descartes as the architect of “modern philosophy,” the exact meaning of that ponderous term remains anything...

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9 - Science, Virtue, and the Birth of Modernity: Or, On the Techno-Theo-Logic of Modern Neuroscience

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pp. 160-182

IT SHOULD NOT BE SURPRISING to US that the figures of the early modern period that shaped the new science were also the figures that shaped our political philosophies. Both the rationalists and the empiricists shaped this early modern philosophy of both our political and scientific...

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10 - The Mutual Sacrifice of Science and Virtue

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pp. 183-187

JEFFREY P. BIShOP NVITES US to see, with Heidegger’s help, that modern knowing or technological science is by no means a neutral openness to reality, to the way things are, or to the being of beings. This science, rather, is a “stance,” a particular way of revealing or disclosing...

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11 - The Scientific Life as a Moral Life? Virtue and the Cartesian Scientist

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pp. 188-207

IN JANUARY 1939 LEO SZILARD, a chemist turned physicist who happened also to be a Hungarian Jew, wrote to his friend Lewis Strauss, a former physicist turned wealthy businessman and philanthropist, about the recent publication in the premiere German-language science journal...

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12 - The Darwinian Science of Aristotelian Virtue

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pp. 208-281

ARISTOTELIANS NEED CHARLES DARWIN. They need him because Darwin’s evolutionary science of virtue supports the moral biology of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle was a biologist, and his biological science shapes his empirical science of ethics in the Nicomachean Ethics...

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13 - Logon Didonai the Case of the Darwinian Conservative

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pp. 282-316

WITH DR. LARRY ARNHART, A NEW FORM of thought and, perhaps, of life has emerged among us. As such, it elicits wonder and calls for consideration. As thoughtful life, it possesses more interest for me, a Socratic, than the appearance of a new star. Moreover, as a form...


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pp. 317-334

About the Contributors

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pp. 319-320

E-ISBN-13: 9781609090975
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875804750

Page Count: 340
Publication Year: 2013