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Responsibility, Passion, and Sin: A Reassessment of Abelard's Ethics

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This article reassesses Peter Abelard's account of moral intention,or, better, consent, in light of recent work on his own thought and on the twelfth-century background of that thought. The author argues (1) that Abelard's focus on consent as the determining factor for morality does not rule out, but, on the contrary, presupposes objective criteria for moral judgment and (2) that Abelard's real innovation does not lie in hisdoctrine of consent as the sole source of merit or guilt, but, rather, in his exploration of the ways in which this doctrine affects our understanding of the objective criteria for moral judgment. In particular, Abelard is led by his doctrine of consent to a thoroughgoing reassessment of the moral significance of the passions, which, in turn, leads him to reject the view that actions should be evaluated in terms of the praiseworthy or vicious character of the passions they express.

Keywords: Abelard; consent; intention; medieval ethics; passions; scholasticism; sin; will

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: September 1, 2000

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