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A Historical Analysis, Critical Interpretation, and Contemporary Application of the Virtue of Temperance

KENNEY, MARIA (2016) A Historical Analysis, Critical Interpretation, and Contemporary Application of the Virtue of Temperance. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 02 September 2019.


The purpose of this thesis is to provide a thorough and relevant account of the virtue of temperance, working from within its status as a cardinal virtue in classical and Christian moral thought. With this objective, it undertakes an historical analysis and interpretation of temperance in the work of seven major philosophers and theologians before applying it to the contemporary issue of consumerism.

Of the four cardinal virtues, only temperance has virtually disappeared from common usage. The ‘temperance movements’ of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries left temperance with a highly restricted definition and scope; at present, its principal definition is either ‘abstinence from drinking’ or ‘everything in moderation’. As a result – and despite the resurgence of interest in virtue ethics – temperance is often forgotten or dismissed, as when Peter Geach called it ‘humdrum’ virtue and ‘nothing to get excited about.’

Yet temperance was once a dynamic component of the moral life. For centuries, within both the classical and Christian traditions, temperance engaged the interest of numerous philosophers and theologians. Through an historical survey and critical analysis, this thesis explores the nuanced history of the virtue of temperance in the work of Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Wesley. Their portrayals of temperance provide an ideal starting point for any retrieval of the virtue. Within this historical analysis, various interpretive threads begin to emerge – self-control, knowledge, mode, humility, and harmonious order. These five components of temperance are the center of this thesis and its interpretation of the virtue of temperance.

The thesis then applies this new understanding of temperance to the modern issue of consumerism, using it as a lens to examine the tenets and ethos of Western consumer culture. Rather than commonplace and irrelevant, the virtue of temperance emerges again as a vibrant component of contemporary moral discussion.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:temperance, virtue ethics, consumerism, moderation
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Theology and Religion, Department of
Thesis Date:2016
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:02 Sep 2016 09:27

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