“Patching up Virtue”

Overcoming the Emersonian/Augustinian Divide in Jennifer Herdt's Putting On Virtue


  • James J. S. Foster

James J. S. Foster, University of Sioux Falls, Department of Theology and Philosophy, Sioux Falls, SD 57105, james.foster@usiouxfalls.edu.


Herdt's Putting OnVirtue has two chief aims. The first is to champion the virtue tradition against Christian moral quietism and modern deontological ethics. The second is to facilitate reconciliation between Augustinian and Emersonian virtue. To accomplish these tasks Herdt constructs a counter-narrative to Schneewind's Invention ofAutonomy, in which Luther's resignation and Kant's innovation are tragic consequences of “hyper-Augustinianism”—a competitive conception of divine and human agency, which leads to excessive suspicion of acquired virtue. This review argues that Putting OnVirtue succeeds in its first aim but leaves its second intriguingly uncompleted. Despite this deficiency, however, this essay also argues that Putting OnVirtue makes plausible Herdt's audacious suggestion that Augustinian and Emersonian perfectionism may be reconciled by bringing acquired and infused virtue under a single term.