A Three-cornered Struggle

Redeeming the Enlightenment
Christianity and the Liberal Virtues
Bruce K. Ward
Eerdmans, $26, 264 pp.

At the end of Sources of the Self (1990), Charles Taylor argues that the modern West lacks the moral resources it needs to realize its own ideals of universal justice and benevolence. And so, in pursuit of those ideals, it often violates them. He called the latter the “dilemma of mutilation.” Redeeming the Enlightenment is Bruce Ward’s philosophical-theological reflection on that dilemma. Ward gives a nod to those who would pluralize the term “Enlightenment,” but he himself prefers to concentrate on a relatively unified modern project of critique aimed primarily at Western Christianity and extending well beyond the eighteenth century. Underlying various forms of Enlightenment is a moral orientation, a set of imperatives that include equality of dignity, the quest for authenticity, tolerance of difference, and compassion for victims. These are the “liberal virtues” of the subtitle. Ward sees an internal crisis in this Enlightenment orientation; he argues that its champions have offered no theoretical account of equality that responds to neo-Nietzschean critiques.

Ward, who teaches in the department of religious studies at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, reads the intellectual map of modern culture as a “three-cornered struggle.” In one corner is Jean Jacques Rousseau, “the personification of the Enlightenment” and the primordial “liberal humanist.” In another corner is Friedrich Nietzsche, whose taunt stalks liberal humanists through...

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About the Author

William L. Portier is the Mary Ann Spearin Chair of Catholic Theology at the University of Dayton.