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Keywords:

  • Reinhold Niebuhr;
  • feminism;
  • self-restraint;
  • emotion;
  • David Hume

Abstract

In this essay I argue that Reinhold Niebuhr's ethics of self-restraint, though promising, is based on an incomplete and imprecise moral psychology. Although Niebuhr claims that reason cannot provide a sufficient grounding to motivate self-restraint, he does not disclose which human capacity might serve this purpose. I suggest that we can address this oversight by strengthening Niebuhr's tentative embrace of David Hume, and by developing a concept of the emotions in order to explain how human beings can cultivate a stable inclination to self-restraint. This project is informed by and in the service of feminist critiques of Niebuhr and social concerns.