Richard Hooker and Anglican Moral Theology Review, Pt. 6: Moral Theology Applied

In this sixth and final installment of my review of A.J. Joyce’s Richard Hooker and Anglican Moral Theology (I salute you faithful few who have followed me all the way through this hopefully engaging but occasionally exhausting exercise), I shall look at her last two chapters, which are both quite brief and have to do, essentially, with the concrete application of Hooker’s moral theology.  Chapter Seven considers the relationship of the “exceptional case” to moral norms, the all-important balance between unchanging general norms and the demands of particular circumstances.  Chapter Eight seeks to bring together, or rather to illustrate, the themes outlined in all the previous chapters by consideration of one particular example, the understanding of marriage in Hooker’s thought.

Both are on the whole helpful chapters, though the first suffers from a frustrating vagueness as to which moral norms are exceptionable and which are not, and the difference between particular injunctions that specify general principles and those that contradict them; the second, perhaps more seriously, suffers from Joyce’s very un-Hookerian determination to try and drive a wedge between reason and Scripture.

Chapter 7 begins with an extended consideration of the Aristotelian ethical tradition, and its understanding that it was the nature of the moral life to be concerned with particulars, and general principles cannot adequately describe moral duties without exception: “for Arristotle, whatever is promulgated by the moral philosopher, political scientist, or lawgiver will only ever take into consideration the majority of cases.  It takes a wise man, whose perception has been developed through experience, to discern what it is that constitutes right action in a concrete situation.” (197-98) Read More