Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Philosophy (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Michael Slote

Second Committee Member

Risto Hilpinen

Third Committee Member

Brad Cokelet

Fourth Committee Member

Noel Leo Erskine


The concept of Jesus as a virtue ethicist is not a new one. Most philosophical thinkers in the ancient world were virtue theorist in one way or another, even the Buddha and Confucius were not inconsistent with the belief that character was central to ethos (or ethikos). Among the philosophers, and primarily through reason, Aristotle is the philosopher with the greatest contribution to virtue theory. Jesus’ agape-love doctrine, was quite thoroughly an other-regarding, universal benevolence. Although the love-of-neighbor language was in the Hebrew Bible, and the agape vernacular was in Homerian thought, Jesus was the first philosopher to wrestle the term from Homer, connect it to his Jewish heritage, and utilize it in virtue theory to signify something other-worldly (prevenient grace) and this-worldly (love of all neighbor, including enemies). I argue that agape-love qua Jesus-love was central to the Christian moral theory as it moved through the Middle Ages and up to the Enlightenment and the Romantic period. Moral sentimentalists like David Hume, Adam Smith, Bishop Butler,, grounded morality in sentiments rather than reason, as say, Immanuel Kant’s absolutist deontology. I further argue that the phenomenology of the Hebrew Bible seems rather absolutist deontological, particularly due to the Decalogue, and the phenomenology of the Christian Testament is virtue ethical, driven by the agape-love character trait. On a first read it appears that there exists a massive contradiction since absolutist deontology, and its rejection of motives, and virtue ethics, with its necessity of motives, are quite incongruous to each other. On a second read I make clear that the Hebrew Bible, Christian ethically conjoined with the Christian Testament, can be viewed as less absolutist deontological and more prima facie deontological, which a la W.D. Ross, is motives inclusive. I also make clear that if we take the position that the virtue ethics of the Christian Testament is agent-based virtue ethics, following Michael Slote, and is sufficiently prone to empathy following David Hume (and to a larger extent, Slote) and Care, following the relational ethics of Nel Noddings, a new picture of how to treat (and include) Jesus as a moral theorist arises. This renewed concept gives moral theorists (including Christian ethicists) a different angle of analysis, particularly in the triangulation of love-empathy-care, for issues like abortion, justice, just war theory and so on. Christian ethics thus conceived doesn’t perpetuate a bifurcation between mother and un-born child; it puts forth a moral education that emphasizes the triangulation in both lives.


Jesus; virtue ethics; empathy; care; moral sentimentalism; Christian ethics