Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association

Volume 95, 2021

The Diakonia of Truth

Daniel Patrick Moloney
Pages 165-180

Moralistic Therapeutic Holiness
A Catholic Defense of Philosophy as Therapy for the Soul

Christian Smith has described the religious attitudes of American youth and many adults as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. In this formulation the word “therapeutic” does much work, and is meant to indicate that the goal of life is to be happy, to which end religion is instrumental. Martha Nussbaum has argued that Hellenistic schools of philosophy were therapeutic and instrumental in much the same way, and that this is a possible mode of philosophy even today. Appealing to the historical investigations of Pierre Hadot and Giovanni Reale, this paper shows that Neoplatonism was an even more successful form of therapeutic philosophy, a fact which Augustine recognized and to which he responded in his therapeutic masterpiece Confessions, through his depiction of his mother as a sage. This suggests that Catholicism can be powerful when presented therapeutically, which might be a more appropriate mode for evangelism in our therapeutic age.