Moral Agency within Social Structures and Culture

cover art
136 pp., 6 x 9
ISBN: 9781626168008 (1626168008)

136 pp., 6 x 9
ISBN: 9781626168015 (1626168016)

ISBN: 9781626168022

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May 2020
LC: 2019035466


Table of Contents

Moral Agency within Social Structures and Culture
A Primer on Critical Realism for Christian Ethics
Edited by Daniel K. Finn
Foreword by Margaret S. Archer
Afterword by Lisa Sowle Cahill

Christian ethics has addressed moral agency and culture from the start, and Christian social ethics increasingly acknowledges the power of social structures. However, neither has made sufficient use of the discipline that specializes in understanding structures and culture: sociology. In Moral Agency within Social Structures and Culture, editor and contributor Daniel K. Finn proposes a field-changing critical realist sociology that puts Christian ethics into conversation with modern discourses on human agency and social transformation.

Catholic social teaching mischaracterizes social evil as being little more than the sum of individual choices, remedied through individual conversion. Liberation theology points to the power of social structures but without specifying how structures affect moral agency. Critical realist sociology provides a solution to both shortcomings. This collection shows how sociological insights can deepen and extend Catholic social thought by enabling ethicists to analyze more precisely how structures and culture impact human decisions. The book demonstrates how this sociological framework has applications for the study of the ecological crisis, economic life, and virtue ethics.

Moral Agency within Social Structures and Culture is a valuable tool for Christian ethicists who seek systemic change in accord with the Gospel.

Daniel K. Finn is a professor of theology and the William E. and Virginia Clemens Professor in Economics and the Liberal Arts at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University. His books include Consumer Ethics in a Global Economy: How Buying Here Causes Injustice There (Georgetown University Press, 2019), Christian Economic Ethics: History and Implications, and The Moral Ecology of Markets: Assessing Claims about Markets and Justice.

"Faced with a world of dizzying complexity, even the most thoughtful participants in social decision making rely on unchallenged assumptions and implicit biases. We all stand to benefit from adopting an explicit meta-ethical approach to life in society. By providing a primer on the methodology of critical realism with such remarkable clarity, this ground-breaking volume supplies a much-needed foundation for constructive ethical reflection and responsible moral agency. Each chapter contains rich insight and vivid illustrations that will lead the reader reliably through the many thickets of the heavily contested ethical terrain we all face today."—Thomas Massaro, SJ, Professor of Moral Theology, Fordham University

"This is a primer in the best sense. It is an easy-to-read introduction to an important social theory that holds significant promise for Christian social ethics. In clear prose, the authors explain the basics of critical realism and illustrate in a variety of ways why it is relevant to Christian ethics. Finn and his colleagues are to be commended for advancing the conversation between theologians and social scientists in such an informed and helpful manner."—Kenneth R. Himes, OFM, Professor of Theological Ethics, Boston College

"Moral Agency Within Social Structures and Culture: A Primer on Critical Realism for Christian Ethics, edited by Daniel Finn, is a splendid and foundational work on critical realism. . . as a sociological analysis of the role of social structure and culture [and] their impact on human agency, including moral agency . . . . This is an important and foundational work which sociologists and ethicists will find truly enlightening, provocative, and helpful. I very highly recommend it."—John Coleman, SJ, Casassa Professor of Social Values, Emeritus, Loyola Marymount University

"This thorough but accessible introduction to critical realism is rich with concrete illustrations that offer the reader a good sense of how its theoretical perspective stands to deepen and refine social analysis in Christian ethics. A must read for scholars interested in questions about agency and structure."—Christina McRorie, assistant professor of theology, Creighton University

"[A] brief, accessible and enthusiastic introduction to a method that will surely be of benefit to many."—Studies in Christian Ethics

Table of Contents

Margaret S. Archer

Chapter 1: How Critical Realism Can Help Christian Social Ethics

David Cloutier

Chapter 2: How Critical Realism Can Help Catholic Social Teaching

Theodora Hawksley

Chapter 3: What Is Critical Realism?

Daniel K. Finn

Chapter 4: Social Structures

Daniel K. Finn

Chapter 5: Culture

Matthew Shadle

Chapter 6: Critical Realism and Climate Change

David Cloutier

Chapter 7: Critical Realism and the Economy

Matthew Shadle

Chapter 8: Critical Realism, Virtue Ethics, and Moral Agency

Daniel Daly


Lisa Sowle Cahill

Further Reading


About the Contributors

Margaret S. Archer Lisa Sowle Cahill David Cloutier Daniel J. Daly Daniel K. Finn Theodora Hawksley Matthew A. Shadle