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Title: On Gifting, Receiving, and the Concept of Complementary Virtues
Subtitle: A Hermeneutic Key for Relational Ethics
Author(s): HÖLLINGER, Stephanie
Journal: Marriage, Families & Spirituality
Volume: 27    Issue: 1   Date: 2021   
Pages: 92-111
DOI: 10.2143/INT.27.1.3289477

Abstract :
This article explores the potential contribution of the concept of complementary virtues in the area of relational ethics and focuses especially on the magisterial notion of love as '(total) self-giving'. Although the notion of love had an important influence on the personalist shift during and after the Second Vatican Council, attention needs to be drawn to serious limitations of its understanding as 'total self-giving' in terms of its 'totality' and 'one-directionality'. In order to understand these limitations and their potential risk for couples and families, the author pursues the idea of complementary virtues and applies it to the notion of self-giving. First developed as a structural principle for understanding the relation between virtues and vices by Radulfus Ardens in the 12th century, the concept reappears in the thought of Peter Knauer during the 1960s and is deepened in the current work of Joseph A. Selling. Since this approach proves to be highly sensitive in countering the risk of one-sidedness when focusing on an isolated disposition, the article tries to unfold the implications of this approach for the virtue of self-giving by highlighting the importance of its complementary virtue as well as its two-directedness. Consequently, two considerations have to be integrated when trying to develop a more constructive approach to this virtue. First, total self-giving emphasizes the importance of committing to and actively engaging with one’s partner. Nevertheless, this disposition becomes an extreme when it denies the reality of differences, tensions, and conflicts within an intimate relationship. Therefore, self-giving or gifting has to be balanced by a complementary virtue such as accepting or receiving, insofar as this virtue raises awareness of potential limitations and challenges and suggests how to integrate them into virtuous living. Only if these two virtues of self-giving and accepting, or gifting and receiving, complement and, thus, balance each other, extremes of blind activism and total passivism within one’s relationship can be avoided. Second, total self-giving is usually understood as one-directional, insofar as it seems to be always oriented towards the other. In order to correct this, the author proposes envisioning the virtues of gifting and receiving as being able to be directed towards oneself as well as the other, which would prove beneficial for avoiding extreme forms of altruism and egoism. The example of self-giving is instructive insofar as it demonstrates that the concept of complementary virtues can be an important hermeneutic key for a relational ethics that acknowledges the complexity of reality and avoids simplistic answers in the area of intimate relationships.

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