Perplexity in the Moral Life

Philosophical and Theological Considerations

By Edmund N. Santurri

Perplexity in the Moral Life

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  • ISBN: 9781608994380
  • Pages: 252
  • Publication Date: 6/1/2010
  • Retail Price: $30.00
Web Price: $24.00
Web Price: $24.00

Perplexity in the Moral Life

Philosophical and Theological Considerations

By Edmund N. Santurri

paperback-logo

PAPERBACK

  • ISBN: 9781608994380
  • Pages: 252
  • Publication Date: 6/1/2010
  • Retail Price: $30.00
Web Price: $24.00

About-

Consider the following situation: a mayor is holding captive the leader of a terrorist group that has placed bombs throughout the city. It is determined that the only way to get the terrorist to confess where the bombs are hidden is to torture his child in front of him. Should the mayor torture an innocent child to save the lives of many?

In Perplexity in the Moral Life Santurri discusses how situations of moral perplexity are to be construed and how the interpretation of these situations might be constrained by the presuppositions of Christian ethics. Often in our practical lives we are perplexed about what morality requires of us: any course of action appears as a moral transgression. Santurri examines the thesis that situations of moral perplexity may actually be cases of genuine moral dilemmas in which a moral transgression is unavoidable.

Proponents of the moral dilemmas thesis collide with an established philosophical tradition holding that no adequate ethical theory can countenance the existence of genuine dilemmas. It has been suggested that admitting the existence of dilemmas is tantamount to acknowledging the presence of a debilitating incoherence in one's system of moral reasoning.

Santurri contends that the issue of whether or not genuine moral dilemmas exist cannot be resolved on the basis of philosophical arguments typically advanced either by the traditional or by the revisionist views, and maintains that moral perplexity is a phenomenon which cannot be interpreted apart from answering certain fundamental questions of moral ontology. He then goes on to consider what sort of constraints a Christian view of morality imposes on the interpretation of moral conflict and argues that there are good reasons for Christian ethics to deny the existence of genuine dilemmas. He concludes with a critical discussion of the positions that have been or might be employed in Christian ethical arguments for the reality of irresolvable moral conflict.

Endorsements & Reviews-

Perplexity in the Moral Life is an excellent book. It deals in a lucid and subtle way with an important theological and philosophical issue, and it presents a careful, sustained, and compelling argument that in Christian ethics perplexity is a problem of moral knowledge rather than a problem of real moral dilemmas that cannot be resolved. It deserves the widest possible attention in theological and philosophical ethics.
-- James F. Childress
Kyle Professor of Religious Studies and Professor of Medical Education Chairman, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

One can only say that the argument here is devastating.... [Santurri] calls contemporary theology and a series of contemporary theological ethicists on the carpet. The standard arguments about moral perplexity simply do not work.... What some of us teach is simply wrong.
--Max Stackhouse, Theology Today

Perplexity in the Moral Life is a powerful study of the very idea of "genuine moral dilemmas"--situations in which moral agents are bound to do evil no matter what. Since it appeared in 1987, nobody has surpassed Santurri in offering such a sustained and interdisciplinary account--one that engages both philosophical studies and theological reflections with keen appreciation and sophistication. More generally, anyone interested in learning excellence in the precision of argument, theological or philosophical, should read this book.
-- William Werpehowski, Villanova University

Perplexity in the Moral Life offers one of the most important critiques in modern Christian ethics of philosophical and theological views that affirm the existence of genuine moral dilemmas--namely, situations in which an agent does moral wrong no matter what course of action is taken. Readers will profit not only by engaging this controversial thesis, but by confronting its suggestive claim that any characterization of the issue bears upon fundamental commitments in ethical theory and theology. Renewed debates about "dirty hands" and moral tragedy make its availability in print especially welcome.

Eric Gregory, Princeton University

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