cover image Sin


Gregory Mellema. Univ. of Notre Dame, $30 (130p) ISBN 978-0-268-20133-3

Philosopher Mellema (Complicity and Moral Accountability) delivers a wide-ranging and detailed exploration of how philosophy understands and explains sin. Relying on sources from the last 2,000 years up through contemporary debates, Mellema covers common topics—original sin, individual and collective sin, and distinctions between mortal and venial sin—and moves into specialized discussions of accessory sins (“contributing actions” that bring about an evil result) and supererogation (a good action that is beyond what is required). Mellema is mostly concerned with Catholic categories of sin, but he also uses Julia Driver’s categorization of Islamic sins and Robert Nozick’s view of sin having a symbolic value to move beyond specific traditions. A useful summary of Alvin Plantiga’s complex “free will defense” grounds his unpacking of the problem of evil, in which he uses J.L. Mackie’s “deductive problem of evil” to explain moral evils as those “resulting from sinful action.” Examples from the minor (how littering connects to a “vicious pattern of behavior”) to the severe (how racism and the Holocaust form society-wide sins that create “collective guilt”) help illustrate his points. Mellema’s intricate analysis will be best suited to those with some grounding in the topic. (Aug.)