Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2013

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Religious Studies

First Advisor

Cates, Diana F

First Committee Member

Keen, Ralph

Second Committee Member

Pesantubbee, Michelene

Third Committee Member

Durham, Meenakshi

Fourth Committee Member

Curley, Melissa


The central aim of this dissertation is to provide a conceptual framework for people wishing to consider how their desires are shaped by forces often unnoticed by them and how they can regain some degree of control over those desires. To this end, it offers a model for desire that acknowledges the importance of social forces in shaping a person's desire, and consequently moral character. It examines the specific social context of American capitalism, and American consumption, in order to understand how it is that many Americans seem to desire and act in ways that appear contrary to their well-being.

This dissertation is a work of descriptive Christian virtue ethics, meaning that it considers the desire for and consumption of material goods in light of a person's commitment to a greater system of beliefs and values. Taking the approach of virtue ethics, it considers how a person's desires are shaped by what she takes to be constitutive of her well-being, or her telos. It argues that many Americans participate in practices that dispose them to acquire habits of desiring, consuming, and enjoying material goods in ways that tend over time to distort participants' abilities to judge and reason well about the ends that are really worth pursuing, both on the part of individuals and on the part of societies.

When a person participates in a practice she acquires habits of thinking, feeling, and acting that enable her to engage in such practices effortlessly. A practice is often oriented by certain rules and standards of excellence that orient the practitioners to certain ways of thinking, feeling, and acting over others. Taking advertising as a key example, participants often acquire habits that lead them to accept a conception of well-being that is based on the ideas that growth is always to be pursued and more of a good thing is always better. Such an orientation, in turn, can direct a person's desires so that she becomes disposed to satisfy her immediate desires without seriously considering whether those desires will contribute to her well-being and, more broadly, whether the vision of the good life she has in mind is truly worth pursuing.

This dissertation offers a way of engaging in critical reflection that can enable a person to bring to awareness many of these unseen social forces, and consider the ways in which participation in her many practices does or does not contribute to her well-being. It suggests that, for Christians in particular, a vision of the good life might focus on the cultivation of virtue--especially the virtues of temperance and justice. Considering a person's practices in light of virtue can be helpful for articulating clearly and strategizing effectively about how to engage in consumer activity in ways that contribute to her well-being.


Alastair MacIntyre, consumerism, Pierre Bourdieu, practice, Thomas Aquinas, virtue


iv, 159 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 151-159).


Copyright 2013 Christine Darr

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Religion Commons