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October 14 , 2008

Thomas Jefferson's Ethics and the Politics of Human Progress

The Morality of a Slaveholder


Could Jefferson claim any consistency in his advocacy of democracy and the rights of man while remaining one of the largest slaveholders in Virginia? This extensive study of Jefferson's intellectual outlook suggests that, once we fully acknowledge the premises of his ethical thought and his now outdated scientific views, he could. Jefferson famously thought the human mind to be 'susceptible of much improvement … most of all, in matters of government and religion'. Ari Helo's thorough analysis of Jefferson's understanding of Christian morality, atheism, contemporary theories of moral sentiments, ancient virtue ethics, natural rights, and the principles of justice and benevolence suggests that Jefferson refused to be a philosopher, and did so for moral reasons. This book finds Jefferson profoundly political in his understanding of individual moral responsibility and human progress.

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