The Structures of Virtue and Vice

Daniel J. Daly

"Daly's deep engagement with the field of sociology to develop an account of structures and moral agency through the lens of virtue ethics is substantive and much needed."
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Winner of the 2022 Catholic Media Association Award in Theology

A new ethics for understanding the social forces that shape moral character.

It is easy to be vicious and difficult to be virtuous in today’s world, especially given that many of the social structures that connect and sustain us enable exploitation and disincentivize justice. There are others, though, that encourage virtue.

In his book Daniel J. Daly uses the lens of virtue and vice to reimagine from the ground up a Catholic ethics that can better scrutinize the social forces that both affect our moral character and contribute to human well-being or human suffering.

Daly’s approach uses both traditional and contemporary sources, drawing on the works of Thomas Aquinas as well as incorporating theories such as critical realist social theory, to illustrate the nature and function of social structures and the factors that transform them. Daly’s ethics focus on the relationship between structure and agency and the different structures that enable and constrain an individual’s pursuit of the virtuous life. His approach defines with unique clarity the virtuous structures that facilitate a love of God, self, neighbor, and creation, and the vicious structures that cultivate hatred, intemperance, and indifference to suffering. In doing so, Daly creates a Catholic ethical framework for responding virtuously to the problems caused by global social systems, from poverty to climate change.

Table of Contents


Part I: Diagnosis

1. Catholic Ethics in the Twenty-First Century

2. The Structure-Agency Problem in Catholic Ethics

Part II: Resources

3. The Critical Realist Solution to the Structure-Agency Problem

4. The Growing Ends of Catholic Theological and Ethical Traditions in the Age of Pope Francis

5. A Theocentric, Personalist Virtue Ethics

Part III: Synthesis and Application

6. Structures of Virtue and Vice

7. The Output Power of the Structures of Virtue and Vice



About the Author


"Daly's deep engagement with the field of sociology to develop an account of structures and moral agency through the lens of virtue ethics is substantive and much needed."—Margaret Pfeil, associate teaching professor, Department of Theology and the Center for Social Concerns, University of Notre Dame

"Daly focuses not only on readability but also on depth. His detailed yet concise historical account of the shift from the casuistry between the 13th to 18th centuries, to the manualism of the 18th century up to Vatican II, emphasizes the growing end of Catholic theology since. In engaging ways, the book presents thorough examples of real-world sociostructural quandaries, such as sweatshop labor, university dynamics, and global warming."—Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Daniel Daly is an associate professor of moral theology in the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College. Daly has published widely on virtue ethics, ethics and social structures, and medical ethics.

288 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-64712-038-2
Feb 2021

288 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-64712-039-9
Feb 2021

288 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-64712-040-5
Feb 2021

Moral Traditions series
David Cloutier, Darlene Weaver, and Andrea Vicini, SJ

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