The Nature of Temptation and its Role in the Development of Moral Virtue

Dissertation, Middlesex University (2021)
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In the last 70 years there has been an explosion of philosophical and theological work on the nature of virtue and the process of virtue formation. Yet philosophers and theologians have paid little attention to the phenomenon of temptation and its role in developing virtue. Indeed, little analytic work has been done on the nature of temptation. This study aims to fill this gap in moral philosophy and theology by offering an analytic moral conception of temptation and explicating its connection to the development of virtue. This project deploys a new iteration of an older methodology of integrating philosophy and theology that may now appropriately be called “analytic moral theology.” In discerning the nature of temptation and its role in virtue formation, theological sources provide foundational guidance. Analytic moral philosophy provides illumination, coherence, and conceptual robustness to the theological foundation. The argument developed follows in the footsteps of John Hick’s soul-making theodicy by contending that the development of virtue requires a world that permits of experiences of temptation. This conclusion is substantiated by a close moral analysis of the nature of temptation that builds on key works done in philosophical moral psychology, philosophy of action, and philosophical theology. The emerging conceptualization of temptation is then compared and contrasted with the closely related moral phenomenon of akrasia and weakness of will, and finally interfaced with a neo- Aristotelian conception of virtue development. In the end, Thomas Aquinas’s understanding of infused virtue is employed as a theological test of the thesis and conditions the scope of the thesis. In light of this constructive analysis of the nature of temptation and its argument for temptation’s role in acquiring moral virtue, this project makes a contribution to philosophical Christian ethics.

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Kevin Snider
Lee University


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