John Calvin and Virtue Ethics: Augustinian and Aristotelian Themes

Journal of Religious Ethics 48 (3):519-556 (2020)
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Many scholars have argued that the Protestant Reformation generally departed from virtue ethics, and this claim is often accepted by Protestant ethicists. This essay argues against such discontinuity by demonstrating John Calvin’s reception of ethical concepts from Augustine and Aristotle. Calvin drew on Augustine’s concept of eudaimonia and many aspects of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics , including concepts of choice, habit, virtue as a mean, and the specific virtues of justice and prudence. Calvin also evaluated the problem of pagan virtue in light of traditional Augustinian texts discussed in the medieval period. He interpreted the Decalogue as teaching virtue, including the cardinal virtues of justice and temperance. Calvin was not the harbinger of an entirely new ethical paradigm, but rather a participant in the mainstream of Christian thinkers who maintained a dual interest in Aristotelian and Augustinian eudaimonist virtue ethics.

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David S. Sytsma
Tokyo Christian University


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