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Hermeneutics and moral imagination: the implications of Gadamer's truth and method for Christian ethics

Wilson, Ashley Peter (2007) Hermeneutics and moral imagination: the implications of Gadamer's truth and method for Christian ethics. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



This study considers the implications for Christian ethics of the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer (in particular, his hermeneutics as presented in Truth and Method). The adequacy of moral deliberation based on autonomous moral reasoning to complex dynamic situations is challenged, as is the Enlightenment conception of abstract, universal rationality. Two mąjor theses are proposed. First, that ethics (including Christian ethics) should adopt a stance that is properly hermeneutical: taking proper account of ethics' embeddedness in history and tradition; and abandoning hope of a universal or objective standpoint from which to make ethical judgements. Second, that human beings are fundamentally imaginative moral beings: imagination is central to ethics because it is central to language and reason. Legalism and utilitarianism are critiqued as examples of the dependence of ethics on notions of absolute truth and universal method. Gadamer’s Truth and Method is considered, highlighting areas of relevance to ethics. In response to Gadamer’s observations on the centrality of language to hermeneutics, the work of Mark Johnson in cognitive science is explored in detail. The centrality of imagination to moral reasoning and to conscience is noted; and parallels are drawn between conscience and taste. It is proposed that a proper emphasis on the metaphorical nature of moral language, together with a notion of reason (and of moral deliberation) that is essentially imaginative, accord better with the phenomenology of ethical deliberation than the traditional accounts and also allow for more flexible responses. The implications of Gadamer’s hermeneutics and Johnson's moral imagination for Christian ethics are explored in relation to creation, incarnation, revelation and inspiration. The study concludes that a properly hermeneutical Christian ethics would allow a greater role for the imagination in moral deliberation and provide a system which is flexible, creative, and humane, and which properly reflects the goodness and beauty of God.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Date:2007
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:09 Sep 2011 09:57

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