The first, and most obvious problem in the essay and in my views is that I have a pretty bad grounding for my virtue ethics. It’s hard to explain why exactly it is important that people not desire to harm others rather than we just prevent them from harming others through law or other barriers or coercion. I think this hope is more universal than people admit (would it really be a comfort if your child has intended to murder someone but found it unfeasible? Or would your concern for him/her be the same whether or not they acted?), but most people don’t sign on to it as an ethical telos.
If you recall, this is the same problem I talked about several months ago, when I was explaining how much I had liked Mere Christianity (“Here I Am, Dressing Up as Christ“). Wanting people to be better is a tough sell when that process will be cut off at some arbitrary point by death. It seems more coherent in a Christian framework where death doesn’t necessarily cut off moral improvement. It works better with some source of Grace that can save people whose previous actions have warped their moral sense.Without those additional elements, my system isn’t just unsatisfying in its foundations, but unsatisfying in its conclusions. Plenty of people end up hurt and twisted beyond anyone’s capacity to heal or are cut off from communities that are looking out for them. Christians have an out, since Jesus can save, but I just end up with a bit of a bleak, high-stakes moral philosophy.
That’s the big picture tension, but other parts of my speech and my thought are currently indebted to Christian ideas. I spoke about shame as a way to heal others by using our own pain as a sign of love. As several friends pointed out after the debate, I only would have needed to add a paragraph and tweak a few sentences to have a passable sermon on the transfiguring love of Christ crucified. The idea of manifesting woundedness as the key to redemption tracks very well with the Christian story.
I live in a country and as part of a tradition that has been intensely influenced by Christian ideas, so I can’t tell how Christian dominance of some of my ethical ideas and the language I use to describe it is the result of truth or just prevalence. That’s not helped by the fact that some of my ethical shifts and research efforts occurred around the same time I started reading Christian apologetics. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that my ethical intuitions slot very well into some Christian traditions and don’t fit as well anywhere else. So I’m still looking.