Hip to Be Square: Moral Saints Revisited





Moral saints, moral visionaries, exemplars, non-moral values, moral motivation


I defend the continuing importance, and attraction of, moral saints. The objective of this paper is twofold; firstly, to critique Wolf’s definition of sainthood, and secondly, to argue against her view that one should not desire to be a moral saint, nor emulate them. In section 1, I argue that moral saints are highly complex moral agents, and that Wolf’s definition does not capture this complexity. My second argument is that Wolf’s account that there are two kinds of saints, loving and rational, leads to a tension. Either: (1) the distinction between loving and rational saints is justifiable; but then arguments against the benefits of sainthood ought to be directed independently against each kind of saint which, Wolf does not do; or (2) the distinction is not justifiable, in which case the division is explanatorily impotent. In section 2, I will present Wolf’s argument for why one should not want to be a moral saint, nor even know one. I counter that Wolf over-emphasises non-moral values, to the point that these values have a monopoly on what constitutes a well-rounded life. Wolf must provide a more definitive scope for non-moral values, as the distinction between moral and non-moral values is ambiguous. Finally, I argue that moral saints can serve as moral exemplars and visionaries. By admiring and emulating them, we can adapt our own moral behavior, and by example, moral saints can discover new and better ways of pursuing moral goods.


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How to Cite

Ryan, L. D. (2023). Hip to Be Square: Moral Saints Revisited. Ethics, Politics & Society, 6(1), 1–25. https://doi.org/10.21814/eps.6.1.5235



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