Paul Griffiths Interview

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Dr. Paul J. Griffiths

The following is an interview with Dr. Paul J. Griffiths, Warren Professor of Catholic Theology at Duke Divinity School. His main intellectual interests and topics of publication include: post-1950 Catholic philosophical theology; the philosophical and political questions arising from religious diversity; fourth- and fifth-century African Christian thought (especially Augustine); and Gupta-period Indian Buddhist thought (especially Yogacara). He has published nine books as sole author, including Intellectual Appetite: A Theological Grammar and Lying: An Augustinian Theology of Duplicity, and seven more as co-author or editor. The most recent is Song of Songs: A Commentary. He has published over thirty articles in such journals as Theological Studies, Faith and Philosophy, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Journal of Religion, and Philosophy East & West, among many others.

Can you give us a very brief overview of your own work on character and/or virtue in recent years?

‘Character’ isn’t an important term of art for me; ‘virtue’ is. In that area, I’ve worked principally on the topic of lying and truth-telling (see, e.g., Lying: An Augustinian Theology of Duplicity, 2004), and tried in so doing to show that understanding lying as a vice requires commitments to a fairly complex set of understandings of the nature of human persons and of the world we find ourselves in. I’ve also worked on the idea that curiosity might be considered a vice (see, e.g., Intellectual Appetite: A Theological Grammar, 2009), in the same vein.

How did you get interested in issues related to character and virtue?

First, through frustration with the dominant paradigms in philosophical ethics (consequentialism, deontologism), and an associated desire to resist their presence in theology. Second, through a sense that some of the understandings of particular vices and virtues in the broadly Christian tradition have been obscured by those dominant paradigms — vide the examples mentioned under (1) above.

What do you see as areas of research where further work needs to be done on character or virtue?

It seems to me that the vocabulary of character and that of virtue are to some degree in tension one with another. I’d like to see that clarified, historically and systematically.

What book(s) or philosopher(s)/theologian(s) has/have been most influential on you in general?

Augustine. Pascal. Newman. Wittgenstein. MacIntyre.