Luther’s denials (in his Commentary on Romans) of the natural capacity to acquire moral virtues rest on three assumptions. (1) Virtue requires the pursuit of virtuous action for its own sake. (2) In the state of sin, human aims and motives are all controlled by self-love. (3) Insofar as aims and motives are controlled by self-love, they are sinful and contrary to the demands of morality. Any aspiration to virtue of character, therefore, is misguided, given the dominance of self-love in the state of sin. This selective endorsement of some eudaemonist and some anti-eudaemonist claims about virtue and motivation results in an unstable position. Luther does not vindicate his claim that everyone is naturally incapable of moral virtue, because everyone is naturally dominated by self-love.
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Terence Irwin; Luther’s Attack on Self-Love: The Failure of Pagan Virtue. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 January 2012; 42 (1): 131–155. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-1473127
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