We live in a society surrounded by stuff and bombarded with advertisements that try to convince us that shopping will improve our lives. Sometimes our lives do improve, yet our purchases are more often motivated by an impulse to satisfy immediate desires rather than reflective deliberation about how our purchasing choices enable us to live the lives we want. Christian moral reflection often criticizes this conundrum as “mindless consumerism,” arguing that it pulls Christians away from loving God above all things. While such critiques often encourage Christians to focus their desire on God rather than material goods, we might still wonder how we can exercise such control over our desires. By attending to desire itself ─ how it arises, how it is shaped by social context, and its role in cultivating a virtuous life ─ we can learn how to desire and then act in ways that are more consonant with our conception of what it means to live well. Within the Christian tradition, Thomas Aquinas offers a compelling model of human desire that, when juxtaposed with Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of social practices, can help us make more considered judgments about how to navigate the consumer society in which we live.
Christine Darr is associate professor of philosophy at the University of Dubuque.
1. Recent Christian Ethical Reflection on “Consumerism”
2. Human Desire in a Consumerist Culture
3. Practice, Advertising, and the American Dream
4. Cultivating Virtue within American Capitalism
5. Consumer Practice as a Possible School for Virtue
For those rightly concerned with the ways consumerism deforms desire, Christine Darr gives us something worth consuming – a wonderful treatment of the habits of consumption and how they interact with habits of character. However, much more than and certainly far more helpful than a simple diatribe, Darr’s excavation of how desire is formed and shaped in pursuit of the American Dream – in conversation with the likes of Aquinas, Bourdieu and MacIntyre – gives the reader important tools for becoming a more reflective, and one hopes, freer and more responsible consumer. In this regard, the treatments of the virtue temperance and the practice of cooking are gems.