Northern Illinois University Press

The Science of Modern Virtue

On Descartes, Darwin, and Locke

Peter Augustine Lawler Marc D. Guerra

A Science of modern virtue should acknowledge what is true about Cartesian, Lockean, and Darwinian science even as it goes on to show why none of these sciences can begin to explain the potential joy of communicating the truth about our world. This timely book examines the influence that the philosopher Rene Descartes, the political theorist John Locke, and the biologist Charles Darwin have had on our modern understanding of human beings and human virtue. Written by leading thinkers from a variety of fields, the volume reflects on the complex relation between modern science and modern virtue, in other words, between modern thought and action.

Peter Lawler and Marc Guerra offer more than a series of substantive introductions to Descartes', Locke's, and Darwin's respective accounts of who we are and the kind of virtue to which we can aspire. Ultimately, they invite the reader to think about the ways in which the writings of these three seminal thinkers shaped the democratic and technological world in which we modern human beings live. The thirteen scholars in this volume cover a great deal of ground. Each learnedly addresses questions drawn from the diverse disciplines of political science, philosophy, theology, biology, and metaphysics.

Let the reader be warned: the authors of these chapters are anything but consensual in their analysis. Together they carry on a lively internal debate that mirrors theoretical modernity's ongoing discussion about the true nature of human beings and the science of virtue. Some of the scholars powerfully argue that Locke's and Darwin's thought is amenable to the claims made about human beings and human virtue by classical philosophers such as Aristotle and classical Christian theologians such as Thomas Aquinas. Others make the opposite case, drawing attention to the ways in which Descartes, Locke, and Darwin knowingly and dialectically depart from central teachings of both classical philosophy and classical Christian theology.

Whatever differences they had, Descartes, Locke, and Darwin all agreed that “ideas have consequences,” and they intended their ideas to have real, world-changing results. With The Science of Modern Virtue, Lawler and Guerra reveal a dimension of an important debate that many will have not encountered before. The reader can judge which side is the most persuasive.

Peter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the journal, Perspectives on Political Science and the author of numerous books, most recently Modern and American Dignity: Who We Are as Persons, and What That Means for Our Future and Homeless and at Home in America: Evidence for the Dignity of the Human Soul in Our Time and Place. He is the author of the blog Rightly Understood on and contributes to the blog Postmodern Conservative on He served on President Bush's Council on Bioethics.

Nov. (2013) 340pp.,
cloth $33.00 s

Marc D. Guerra, Ph.D., is Associate Professor and Chair of the Theology Department at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is the author, most recently, of Christians as Political Animals: Taking the Measure of Modernity and Modern Democracy, and the editor of Pope Benedict XVI and the Politics of Modernity.

Table of Contents

Preface: Modern Science on Who We Are as Free and/or Relational Beings
1—Locke, Darwin, and the Science of Modern Virtue
Peter Augustine Lawler
2—The Virtue of Science and the Science of Virtue: Descartes' Overcoming of Socrates
Thomas Hibbs
3—Notes on “The Virtue of Science and the Science of Virtue”
Daniel P. Maher
4—More Cartesian than Descartes: Reflections on Spinoza in the Spirit of Tocqueville
Samuel Goldman
5—Locke's Explanation of How the Science of Civil Society Corrects the Natural Authority of Virtue
James R. Stoner, Jr.
6—The Problem of Human Equality in Locke's Political Philosophy
Sara M. Henary
7—Locke, Darwin, and the Social Individualism of Virtue
Lauren K. Hall
8—Descartes, Locke, and the Virtue of the Individual
Marc D. Guerra
9—Science, Virtue, and the Birth of Modernity; Or, On the Techno-Theo-Logic of Modern Neuroscience
Jeffrey P. Bishop
10—The Mutual Sacrifice of Science and Virtue
Ralph Hancock
11—The Scientific Life as a Moral Life? Virtue and the Cartesian Scientist
Tobin L. Craig
12—The Darwinian Science of Aristotelian Virtue
Larry Arnhart
13—Logon Didonai: The Case of the Darwinian Conservative
Paul Seaton
About the Contributors

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-475-0
cloth $33.00