Moralism and Anti-moralism: Aspects of Bonhoeffer’s Christian Ethic

  • C. A. J. CoadyEmail author
Part of the Sophia Studies in Cross-cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures book series (SCPT, volume 30)


Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s thinking about ethics and Christianity in his famous book Ethics, an unfinished and posthumously published work representing his most mature thought on the subject, is a fascinating attempt to combine different, and often conflicting, strands in the Christian intellectual tradition. In this article, I outline his thinking therein, analyse the advantages and disadvantages in his approach, and relate it to developments in contemporary philosophy. His critique of an excessive stress upon principles and abstraction in opposition to a concern for concrete circumstances is, I argue, best seen as a necessary critique of what I call moralism rather than morality. It is also related to recent philosophical theories of particularism and the debates about ‘emergency ethics’ in current philosophy. On the negative side, Bonhoeffer has a tendency to treat non-Christian ethics as necessarily relativist and at times is excessively influenced by the elements in Christian theological tradition that are hostile to the natural and to non-Christian philosophy. In addition, his invocation of ‘the Divine mandates’ seems to have undesirable implications for some genuine values in liberal democratic theory and practice.


Moralism Ethics Christian ethics Divine mandates Relativism Dirty hands 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia

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