Saint Thomas Aquinas's Pagan Virtues?

Putting the Question to Jennifer Herdt's Putting On Virtue


  • Sheryl Overmyer

Sheryl Overmyer, Department of Catholic Studies, 2320 N. Kenmore Ave Ste. #578, Chicago, IL 60614,


Today's conversations in virtue ethics are enflamed with questions of “pagan virtues,” which often designate non-Christian virtue from a Christian perspective. “Pagan virtues,” “pagan vices,” and their historied interpretations are the subject of Jennifer Herdt's book Putting On Virtue: The Legacy of the Splendid Vices (2008). I argue that the questions and language animating Herdt's book are problematic. I offer an alternative strategy to Herdt's for reading Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae. My results are twofold: (1) a different set of conclusions and questions regarding the moral life that lend a fresh perspective to “pagan virtues” and (2) corresponding methodological suggestions for improving Herdt's project that would, to my mind, reaffirm her normative conclusions regarding the most viable ways forward for contemporary discussions of virtue.