Preconference on Rebuke, Tragedy, Hellfire, and Other Happy Themes in Philosophical Theology

Please note: even if you are registered for the main conference, please register separately for the pre-conference as well.

The preconference event will take place on Thursday, April 20 in the YDS Old Common Room at 409 Prospect Street, New Haven. Please RSVP at link above for the preconference.

Contact: Justin Hawkins


This pre-conference features work by recent students of John Hare and is aimed in particular toward current graduate students and junior scholars. While senior scholars are welcome and encouraged to be in attendance, graduate students and junior scholars will receive preference during the discussion of the papers. The conference is open to the public, but registration is required and is capped at 65 participants. Registered participants will receive access to the papers roughly two weeks in advance. They will not be read aloud at the conference but will be summarized and then discussed by those in attendance. A respondent will briefly frame the paper and begin the discussion for each paper. Breakfast is provided.

Registered participants will receive access to the papers in advance. They will not be read aloud at the conference but will be summarized and then discussed by those in attendance.


  • 8:30 - 9:15 AM/ breakfast with John Hare
  • 9:15 - 9:55 AM/ discussion of paper by Toni Alimi
  • 10:10 - 10:50 AM/ discussion of paper by Sarah Zager
  • 11:05 - 11:45 AM/ discussion of paper by Layne Hancock
  • 11:45 AM - 2:00 PM/ lunch on your own
  • 2:00 PM/ Moral Theory and the Trinity conference begins


Toni Alimi
Klarman Postdoctoral Fellow in Classics and Philosophy
Cornell University

Janna Gonwa
Assistant Professor, Theology Department
Gannon University

Layne Hancock
Graduate Student, Theology
University of Notre Dame

Alex Ozar
Co-Director and Educator, OU-Jewish Learning Initiative
Yale University

Matt Vermaire
Ph.D. program
University of Texas, Austin

Sarah Zager
Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Jewish Studies
University of Pennsylvania

Paper Abstracts

Tony Alimi: “Divine Commands and Moral Tragedy”

It’s natural to think that no act can be both obligatory and impermissible. Call a deontic landscape in which all acts conform to this natural thought clean. If Divine Command Theory (DCT) is true, then the deontic landscape is clean. This is in many ways a virtue of DCT; it never results in the paradoxical conclusion that the same act could be both right and wrong. Moral tragedies, I contend, are messy; a moral tragedy occurs when the same act is both obligatory and impermissible. DCT therefore rules out the possibility of moral tragedies, understood in this way. I argue that this is a problem for DCT.

Sarah Zager: “‘Make For Yourself a Teacher and Acquire for Yourself a Friend’: Rebuke and Moral Plasticity in Maimonides’s Hilkhot Teshuvah

This paper uses a close reading of Maimonides’s Hilkhot Teshuvah (Laws of Repentance) to argue that Maimonides’s account of communally-witnessed rebuke allows deontic norms to substantively shape a person’s character. Both the content and structure of this process are described in terms of deontic norms. The rebukes themselves often refer to the ways that a person has violated deontic norms that regulate interpersonal conduct, and the process through which the rebukes happen, and through which sinners respond to this through teshuvah is also structured in halakhic terms. Reading Maimonides against Aristotle, I then argue that rebuke, mediated through the deontological discourse of halakhah, can be a central feature of a kind of friendship which shapes and reshapes moral subjects.

C. Layne Hancock: “Jonathan Edwards: Not a Voluntarist”

This essay is one chapter taken from my dissertation entitled “Saving Jonathan Edwards’ Ethics.” The overall aim of the dissertation is to respond to three longstanding objections against Edwards’ ethics. I do this by offering better rebuttals through a new, recontextualized reading of his later writings. Jonathan Edwards is considered by some to be the archetype of theological voluntarism. He is frequently cited as exhibiting the worst attributes of an arbitrary Deity and sermons like “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” play a considerable role in this view. In this essay I aim to “save” Edwards’ ethics from objectionable facets of voluntarism. This goal is obtained in two steps. First, I distinguish between five kinds of voluntarism Edwards inherited from the scholastics. Second, I then evaluate the defensibility of each type, showing that contrary to prevailing interpretations, Edwards incurs far different problems than the stereotypes associated with his hellfire sermons.