Christian Anthropology and Ethics

The “turn to man” is a peculiarity of the philosophy of the 20th century. In the light of the nominalistic thesis that “the type ‘man’ is melting” (Wilhelm Dilthey), Christian anthropology holds fast to the possibility of determining human nature. This must be accounted for philosophically through a specific concept of the world and oneself vis-à-vis skeptical-nominalistic and reductionist theories.


The question about man in the sense of a philosophical question cannot be separated from the question about the ultimate meaning of being. This question can only be answered if one simultaneously provides information on what can be known, what is to be done and what can be hoped for (Kant). For man, as a creature of hope, is distinguished from all other creatures by inquiring about truth. He answers this question in the same way as he lives his life. This exposes a first interconnection between religion, ethics and anthropology that must be determined more concretely.


A Christian answer to the question about man can be subsumed under the doctrine that man is God’s own likeness. This likeness lies in his intellectual nature, through which he is by nature disposed and able to relate to reality in its whole and to his origin in God by knowledge and love. A Christian anthropology can tie in philosophically with man’s natural being. In respect of action theory, man’s natural being must be determined through his inner conditions of actualization. In respect of legal philosophy, it must be determined through his outer conditions of actualization. Everything that ought to be done and must not be done on the basis of a moral justification has its foundation in the being and nature of the human person.


The interconnection between being and action, insofar as the development of the possibilities of human being depend on the right use of freedom, became a feature element of virtue ethics formulated in pre-Christian anthropology. The four cardinal virtues prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance have been the basic form of a doctrine on what is and what ought to be done by man since antiquity. The primary focus of this doctrine is the actual capability to act. Its contemporaneity was rediscovered not before the last century, and more deeply examined as the natural basis for the divine virtues faith, hope and love (Josef Pieper). Where the interconnection of what is and what ought to be done is utilized for the justification of norms of behavior from the perspective of legal philosophy, the idea of the inviolability of human dignity and the pre-governmental bindingness of man’s basic rights—both explicated by Christianity—can only be separated from the idea that man is God’s own likeness through a loss of its theoretical and practical consistence.

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About Pieper:

Josef Pieper (1904-1997) was professor of philosophical anthropology at the University of Münster/Germany; he was a member of several academies and received numerous awards and distinctions, among them the International Balzan Prize for outstanding achievements in the field of humanities. [more...]


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Philosophical studies are among the main institutional focuses of the Faculty of Theology in Paderborn in cooperation with the University of Paderborn. [more...]