Gerald P. McKenny

in The Oxford Handbook of Theological Ethics

Published in print August 2007 | ISBN: 9780199227228
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology


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Responsibility is a relatively new concept in ethics, which raises questions about its status in Christian ethics. Did modern moral philosophers and theologians discover in the concept of responsibility something heretofore concealed, a feature of moral life that had eluded the traditional conceptual apparatus of act, will, and conscience? Or did modern morality bring something genuinely new into being, something which these older concepts were inadequate to express? This article argues for the latter view. The entry of the concept of responsibility, and the primacy it assumes in some theories of ethics, signals an expansion or an intensification of the role of the human subject in ethics correlative to the modern withdrawal of God from the world. The very notion of responsibility draws attention to the sense in which a matter of morality or the whole thereof is ‘up to us’. The concept of responsibility embodies a struggle over the status of the human subject in modern moral theories. The article explores that struggle in Christian ethics by tracing it through two kinds of appeal to responsibility. One kind of appeal treats responsibility as a substantive principle, the other kind as a way of characterizing the moral self.

Keywords: Christian ethics; morality; morally theories; human subject; substantive principle; moral self

Article.  8029 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Religious Studies ; Philosophy of Religion

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