Disguised Vices: Theories of Virtue in Early Modern French Thought

ISBN : 9780199589371

Michael Moriarty
432 Pages
172 x 240 mm
Pub date
Sep 2011
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The notions of virtue and vice are essential components of the Western ethical tradition. But in early modern France they were called into question, as writers, most famously La Rochefoucauld, argued that what appears as virtue is in fact disguised vice: people carry out praiseworthy deeds because they stand to gain in some way; they deserve no credit for their behaviour because they have no control over it; they are governed by feelings and motives of which they may not be aware. Disguised Vices analyses the underlying logic of these arguments, and investigates what is at stake in them. It traces the arguments back to their sources in earlier writers, showing how ancient philosophers, particularly Aristotle and Seneca, formulated the distinction between behaviour that counts as virtuous and behaviour that only seems so. It explains how St Augustine reinterpreted the distinction in the light of the difference between pagans and Christians, and how medieval and early modern theologians strove to reconcile Augustine's position with that of Aristotle. It examines the restatement of Augustine's position by his hard-line early modern followers (especially the Jansenists), and the controversy to which this gave rise. Finally, it examines La Rochefoucauld's critique of virtue and assesses the extent of its links with the Augustinian current of thought.


1. Introduction
2. Ancient Virtue
3. Augustine on Pagan Virtue
4. Aquinas on Pagan Virtue
5. The Reformation
6. Counter-Reformation Theologians
7. Montaigne, Charron, Descartes
8. The Inauthenticity of Pagan Virtue I: Jansenius
9. Defending virtue: Sirmond and La Mothe le Vayer
10. The Inauthenticity of Pagan Virtue II
11. Pierre Nicole: the Psychology of the Virtues
12. Reading La Rochefoucauld
13. From pagan virtue to human virtue: Jacques Esprit
14. La Rochefoucauld: the Reduction of the Virtues
15. La Rochefoucauld: Agents and Patients
16. La Rochefoucauld: problems of interpretation
17. Conclusion

About the author: 

Michael Moriarty read Modern and Medieval Languages at St John's College, Cambridge. He became a Research Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge in 1982, and a College Lecturer in French and Director of Studies in Modern Languages in 1985. He was appointed to an Assistant Lectureship in the Cambridge University Department of French in 1986. In 1990, he became a University Lecturer. In 1995, he was appointed by Queen Mary, University of London, to a Chair in French Literature and Thought (renamed the Centenary Chair in 2005). He is a Fellow of the British Academy and a Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Palmes Academiques.

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