Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2012

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Religious Studies

First Advisor

Cates, Diana Fritz

First Committee Member

Keen, Ralph

Second Committee Member

Turner, Richard Brent

Third Committee Member

Stromquist, H Shelton

Fourth Committee Member

Soneson, Jerome P


I offer an interpretation of John Dewey and Reinhold Niebuhr that highlights the role of virtue in the visions of democracy that both writers articulated. Based on this interpretation, I argue that Dewey and Niebuhr both implied that virtue is necessary for democracy to thrive, despite the fact that they spent much of their careers in intellectual conflict with each other. Specifically, I claim that they were both committed to the value of humility and mutuality for democratic society. Humility and mutuality are virtues with profound importance for democracy that logically flow from Dewey's framework of American pragmatism and Niebuhr's Augustinian Christian theology. I argue that their ironic and unnoticed commitment to humility and mutuality as democratic virtues helps us to understand their shared critique of capitalism. For Niebuhr and Dewey, the democratic self stands in contrast with the capitalist self: the moral agent required and rewarded by capitalism is one who is severely deficient in humility and mutuality. I contend that the conception of democratic virtue that Dewey and Niebuhr shared, which informed their common critique of capitalism, led them to revise socially-inherited notions of property ownership, enact political solidarity with the working class, and support the struggles of labor unions. This virtue-ethical interpretation demonstrates that two writers with deeply conflicting worldviews can both hold that democracy and capitalism are irreconcilable at the level of the moral agent.


Capitalism, Democracy, John Dewey, Reinhold Niebuhr, Virtue


v, 303 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 294-303).


Copyright © 2012 Daniel A. Morris

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