The Desert Fathers as Moral Philosophers

The Desert Fathers as Moral Philosophers October 4, 2012

Philosopher Brandon Watson looks at a group that treated ethics as a matter of practical living rather than as abstract theorizing:

There have been times and places, however, in which ethics was taken seriously as philosophy—indeed, taken seriously as the philosophy, the area of most crucial importance—precisely insofar as it is practical. The era of the Desert Fathers was one of those. We don’t normally think of ethics or moral philosophy as a bunch of hermits praying in the wilderness. But if you had asked them what they were doing, they would have answered without hesitation that they were doing philosophy. Indeed, that’s exactly what they did say they were doing. We get a nice summary of this view in the Life of St. Theodosios the Abbott. In his youth he began to take a passionate interest in the philosophical life, and the philosophical life he was interested in wasn’t debates and lecture hall but practical philosophy, one devoted to the study of the good. And what kinds of life were available for such a philosophical pursuit? The eremitic and coenobitic. Hermit and monk.


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