Augustine famously claimed that the virtues of pagan Rome were nothing more than splendid vices. This critique has reinvented itself as a suspicion of acquired virtue as such, and true Christian virtue has, ever since, been set against a false, hypocritical virtue alleged merely to conceal pride. "Putting On Virtue" reveals how a distrust of learned and habituated virtue shaped both early modern Christian moral reflection and secular forms of ethical thought.Jennifer A. Herdt develops her claims through an argument of broad historical sweep, which brings together the Aristotelian tradition as taken up by Thomas Aquinas with the early modern thinkers who shaped modern liberalism. In chapters on Luther, Bunyan, the Jansenists, Mandeville, Hume, Rousseau, and Kant, she argues that efforts to guard a radical distinction between true Christian virtue and its tainted imitations, ironically, fostered the emergence of an autonomous natural ethics that valorized pride and authenticity, while rendering graced human agency increasingly unintelligible.
Ultimately, "Putting On Virtue" traces a path from suspicion of virtue to its secular inversion, from confession of dependence to assertion of independence.