The Rhetoric Of Context

Comparative Religious Ethics and the Limits of Virtue


  • Jung H. Lee

Jung H. Lee, Department of Philosophy and Religion, 371 Holmes Hall, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115-5000,


This paper presents a critical appraisal of the recent turn in comparative religious ethics to virtue theory; it argues that the specific aspirations of virtue ethicists to make ethics more contextual, interdisciplinary, and practice-centered has in large measure failed to match the rhetoric. I suggest that the focus on the category of the human and practices associated with self-formation along with a methodology grounded in “analogical imagination” has actually poeticized the subject matter into highly abstract textual studies on normative voices within traditions, largely in isolation from considerations of socio-historical context, political and institutional pressures, and the lived ethics of non-elite moral actors. I conclude with some programmatic suggestions for how the field of comparative religious ethics can move forward.