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Edward J. Peck III

Foundational Elements For Christian Sexual Ethics: A Methodological Study Using Bernard Lonergan's Horizon Analysis of the writngs of Lisa Sowle Cahill, Beverly Wildung Harrison, and William E. May


Please feel free to forward comments, questions, and insights to Edward Peck. My e-mail address is: [pecke@smtpgate.neumann.edu].

Edward J. Peck III (Successfully Defended May, 1997) Loyola University of Chicago


In this dissertation, I apply Bernard Lonergan's horizon analysis to the writings of three contemporary Christian ethicists to identify a working set of foundational elements for Christian sexual ethics. These elements, if incorporated into the "horizons" or contexts of knowledge of contemporary Christian ethicists, can help reduce the amount of radical conflict that results in the kind of moral relativism that undermines the basic moral coherency upon which ethicists rely to provide moral guidance within and beyond their respective communities. By employing Lonergan's theory of human understanding and theological method in its functional specialties of Dialectic and Foundations to describe, analyze, and evaluate the horizons of Lisa Sowle Cahill, Beverly Wildung Harrison, and William E. May, I am able to recommend characteristic features that ought to be a constitutive part of all horizons that are sufficiently comprehensive, appropriate to the Christian faith, and adequate to the fullest possible range of human experience. As shared formal (rather than substantive) features of horizons, the recommended elements can help structure the subjective particularities of authentic Christian ethicists and lead them toward more genuine objectivity.

To engage the authors dialectically, I investigate two horizon-revealing issues as they are manifest in each author's evaluation of homosexual activity, which serves as a representative test-case for this study. Because of their importance in the area of sexual ethics, I analyze the anthropological issue of embodiment and the methodological issue of the understanding and use of the sources of moral wisdom. After providing a project layout in Chapter One and describing and analyzing the horizon of each author in Chapters Two through Four, I compare, contrast and evaluate the three horizons and identify foundational elements in Chapter Five. The nine elements that ought to be part of the horizon of an authentic ethicist may be summarized as follows.

A horizon that is comprehensive, adequate, and appropriate must be open to preserving and discovering wisdom from each of the four sources of moral wisdom (scripture, tradition, and normative and descriptive accounts of humanity). Additionally, the horizon must be critical in an open-ended and circular manner. In this way, the biases, blind spots, oversights, and myths that are inevitably part of each source will be subjected to correction by insights that emerge from each of the other sources. Furthermore, without ultimately biasing the critical insights of one source over all others, the authentically critical Christian ethicist must attend closely to and engage the corrective insights from outside his or her own particular horizon. Of particular disclosive significance are the insights that emerge from the horizons of the oppressed and marginalized. Finally, based upon Lonergan's understanding of the necessary role beliefs play in human knowing, I suggest that an appropriate Christian horizon is one in which inherited wisdom is to be presumed true until bias, errors, or oversights are discovered through critical dialogue among the four sources.


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