Saving the phainomena: Religion and the Aristotelian moral philosophy of Martha Nussbaum and Alasdair MacIntyre

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Ernest Wallwork


Aristotelian, Phainomena, Religion, Nussbaum, Martha, Macintyre, Alasdair, Moral philosophy

Subject Categories

Philosophy | Religion


This thesis takes as its starting-point G. E. M. Anscombe's argument in her 1958 essay entitled "Modern Moral Philosophy" that contemporary ethics is largely incoherent due to the continuing use of moral concepts of obligation dependent upon a Christian framework which no longer exists. The origin of the current renaissance of Aristotelian ethics is oftentimes traced to Anscombe's recommendation that preChristian Greek ethics might offer resources for the project of revisioning postChristian moral philosophy. This dissertation investigates the contemporary turn to Aristotle, focusing on the Aristotelian-informed moral theory of Martha Nussbaum and Alasdair MacIntyre. It does so in light of the continuous, rather than discontinuous legacy of Christian thought, not just in terms of content and function, but also with respect to the forms, structures, themes, images, narratives, ethical presuppositions, and literary genres employed in each theorist's work. These are the phainomena referred to in the title of this work.

The central argument is that both Nussbaum's and MacIntyre's appropriation and interpretation of Aristotle, are mediated, and to a large extent, shaped by their post Christian location. Moreover, despite the many overlapping areas of concern in their work, e.g. the ethical significance of narrative, practical reasoning, and moral particularism, I argue that the substantial differences in their respective framing of these issues can be explicated by exploring each in relation to religion and religious ethics. This perspective serves to problematize both Nussbaum's project of rehabilitating a preChristian Aristotle and MacIntyre's advocacy of a Christianized-Aristotelian tradition.


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