Charity in Interpretation: Principle or Virtue? A Return to Gregory the Great

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2021


Philosophy Documentation Center

Source Publication

American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

Source ISSN



I defend the view that charity in interpretation is both an epistemic and a moral virtue. In the first part, I examine Donald Davidson’s version of his principle of charity and question his ascription of beliefs by raising a phenomenological objection: beliefs themselves, before being ascribed, need to be interpreted when interpreters and the subjects they try to understand do not share the same cultural and historical background. In the second section, I examine the notion of epistemic virtue as discussed in virtue epistemology and question whether an epistemic virtue can be completely separated from a moral virtue. In the third section, I show how Gregory the Great, Father of the Church and Pope in the 6th century, understands the virtue of charity in interpretation not as a motivation (in a causal process of interpretation, as in virtue epistemology) but as an attraction to the good (in a teleological process) so that the interpreter is not only a technician producing an interpretation (following a “principle” of charity, as in Davidson) but a moral agent acting in a community.


American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 95, No. 3 (Summer 2021): 505-526. DOI.