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Adams. Saints

Adams. Saints

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Published by Ernesto Castro

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Published by: Ernesto Castro on Jul 29, 2013
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Journal of Philosophy, Inc.
SaintsAuthor(s): Robert Merrihew AdamsSource:
The Journal of Philosophy,
Vol. 81, No. 7 (Jul., 1984), pp. 392-401Published by:
Stable URL:
Accessed: 29/07/2013 14:53
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NEofthemeritsfSusanWolf's ascinatingnddisturbing
essay on "Moral Saints"t s that tbringsout very harplyfundamentalroblemnmodernmoralphilosophy.Ontheonehand,we want tosay thatmoralitys ofsupremevalue, alwaystaking precedenceover other grounds of choice, and that whatisnormally best must be absolutely best. On the other hand,ifweconsiderwhat t would be like really tolive inaccordancewith thatcomplete priority fthemoral, thedeal of life thatemergessaptto seem dismally grey and unattractive, s Wolfpersuasivelyargues. I want to present diagnosisof theproblemthatdiffersfromWolf's. Replies to Wolfmightbe offered n behalfof the util- itarian and Kantian moral theories hat he discusses,but ofthemshallhave little to say. My concern here is to see thatsainthood,not Kant or utilitarianism, eceives ts due.
The first hing to be said is that there re saints-people likeSt.Francis of Assisi and Gandhi and Mother Teresa-and they arequitedifferent romwhat Wolf thinks moral saintwouldbe. Intheend I will conclude that they re not exactly moral saintsinWolf's sense.But she writes bout some of them asiftheywere,anddiscussions of moral sainthood surely owe tothe real saintsmuchoftheirgrip on our attention.So it will be tothepointto contrast heactuality f sainthood with Wolf's pictureofthe moralsaint.Wolfarguesthatmoral saintswill be"unattractive" 426)be- causetheywill be lacking in individuality nd in the "abilitytoenjoy the enjoyable in life" (424), and will be so "very,verynice"andinoffensive hat they will have to be dull-witted r humorlessorbland"(422). But the real saints are not like that. t is easier tothinkof St. Francis as eccentric han as lacking inindividuality.Andsaints are not bland. Many have been offended t themforbeing very, very truthful nstead of very, very nice. (Think ofGandhi-or Jesus.) Saints may not enjoy all the same things asotherpeople, and perhaps a few of them have beenmelancholy;but an exceptional capacity for oy is more characteristic f them.
*I wish to thank the CenterofTheological Inquiry, forfellowship upport dur-ingthe writing f thispaper; and MarilynMcCord Adams, forhelpfulcomments nanearlierversion.
8 (August 1982):419-439. Three-digitnumbers n paren-theses n the textrefer opages of Wolf's article.0022-362X/84/8107/0392$01.60
1984 TheJournalofPhilosophy, nc.
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(For allhis asceticism,onethinks gain of St. Francis.)Therearejoys (andnot minor ones) thatonlysaints can know.And as fort-tractiveness, he people wethinkof first s saints wereplainly peo-ple whowere ntensely nteresting o almost everyonewho hadany-thing todo with them, ndimmensely ttractive o at leastalargeproportion of those people. They have sometimesbeencontrover-sial, butrarely ull; and theirharisma has inspiredmanytoleaveeverything lse in order tofollow them.Wolfmayhaveset herselfp,to someextent, oruchcontrasts,byconceiving of moralsainthood purely n terms fcommitmentordevotionto moral ends orprinciples.There areother,ess volun-taryvirtues hat are essentialequipment forsaint-humility,forinstance,nd perceptiveness, ourage, and a mindunswayedbythevoices of thecrowd.Thelast of these s part of whatkeepssaintsfrombeing bland or lacking inindividuality.Inorderto understandhow Wolf arrives t herunflattering ic-ture of the moral saint,however,we must examineherstatedon-ceptionof moral sainthood.
Wolfstates three criteriafor moralsainthood;andtheyarenotequivalent.(1)In herthird sentence she says, "BymoralsaintImean aperson whose every ction is as morallygood aspossible."(2)Immediatelysheadds: "aperson,thatis,whois asmorallyworthy s can be" (419). Herwords mply thatthesewo characteri-zationsamount to the samething,butitseems to methatthefirstexpresses t most a veryuestionable testforthe satisfaction fthesecond. Theidea thatonly amorally mperfect ersonwouldspendhalf anhour doingsomething morally indifferent,ike takinganap,when she could havedone something morallypraiseworthyinstead,like spending thetime in moralself-examination, s atodds withour usual judgments nd ought not to beassumed attheoutset.Theassumption thatthe perfection f a person,n at leastthemoral typeof value, depends on themaximizationof that typeofvalueinevery ingle actionof the person liesbehind much thatis unattractiven Wolf'spictureof moral sainthood;but I believe tis afundamental rror.(3)Onthenext page we geta third riterion: Anecessary ondi-tionof moral sainthood wouldbe thatone's life bedominated by acommitmento improving thewelfareof othersor of society s awhole" (420). Here again,while it might be claimedthat this s anecessarycondition of a person's, or her acts',being as morallyworthy s possible, the claimis controversial. t hasbeen held as amoral thesisthat the pursuitof our own perfectionught some-
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