posted August 26, 2003

Book on Ethics and Religion

Dr. Andrew Dell'Olio of the Hope College philosophy faculty sees present-day lessons for understanding ethics in the thinking of St. Thomas Aquinas, the leading Christian philosopher of the Middle Ages.

Dell'Olio is the author of "Foundations of Moral Selfhood: Aquinas on Divine Goodness and the Connection of the Virtues," released this month by the New York office of Peter Lang, the leading Swiss academic publisher. The 203-page book is part of the series "Studies in Theoretical and Applied Ethics."

"Despite his stature as a medieval thinker, Aquinas is an interesting figure for today since he was open to other traditions of thought and piety and attempted to incorporate their insights on virtue and goodness into his own conception of what makes for a good person or well-developed self," said Dell'Olio, an associate professor of philosophy. "In our increasingly pluralistic, global society, I think we stand to learn a great deal from his example."

The book, according to Dell'Olio, addresses the general issue of the relationship between ethics and religion through a detailed consideration of Aquinas's virtue theory. He noted that he seeks to consider Aquinas's thought more fully than often happens.

"Aquinas is often invoked in contemporary philosophical and theological discussions of virtue ethics, the field of ethics that deals with the personal traits or qualities that contribute to good character and well-developed moral selfhood, but the ways he integrates the natural and spiritual dimensions of human flourishing are not always appreciated," he said. "Scholars tend to treat Aquinas as either a slavish follower of the philosophy of Aristotle on the one hand, or as an apologist for medieval Roman Catholic doctrine on the other. In this book, I try to show that his views are much richer than either of these caricatures."

"The book focuses on the connection between those 'natural' virtues Aquinas believes we are able to acquire through our own efforts (courage, temperance, wisdom, justice), and those 'supernatural' or spiritual virtues Aquinas believes we receive through divine grace (faith, hope, charity)," he said. "Aquinas is seen as presenting a theory of self-perfection that requires both self-development and self-denial, depicting each as ways the human being participates in divine goodness.

Dell'Olio joined the Hope faculty in 1993 after two years at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. He is a graduate of Rutgers College and received his M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees from Columbia University.

He is the author of a number of scholarly papers in ethics and the philosophy of religion. His wife, Jeanine Marquart Dell'Olio, teaches in the department of education at Hope.