ABSTRACT

In his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul famously wrote: ‘But by the grace of God I am what I am’ (15:10). Johan Bradford (1510-55), the man in charge of St Paul’s Cathedral, capitalized on Paul’s saying in what turned into a proverb: ‘There, but for the grace of God, go I.’ Raimond Gaita does not seem to me to be wedded to the Pauline idea of

grace. He is, however, strongly wedded to the attractive idea that to grasp our shared humanity calls for an ability to think that the misfortunes of others could have happened to us. Put differently, shared humanity hinges in part on our ability to grasp that bad moral luck – being judged in situations which to a large extent are not in your control – can be the fate of each and every one of us. Gaita does not suggest that bad moral luck should serve as justification for what we do but it should serve as a plea for deeper understanding. Gaita is also extremely wary of moral pomposity. In seeing Stafford Cripps,

Churchill is reported to have said: ‘There, but for the grace of God goes God.’ Churchill viewed Cripps much as he viewed his aunt Beatrice Webb, as an extremely judgmental and too high high-minded moralist; this for Churchill amounted to moral pomposity. Be this as it may, lots of people with serious moral concerns are wary of

moral talk when it involves finger-pointing. They find it self-righteous. For Gaita this is a healthy reaction to pompous morality. God and grace are not necessary for making the point made by the proverb

‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ Other g-words like geography can do just as well. Gaita does not shy away from using another crucial term of St Paul’s as a

crucial term in his moral reflections and that is love. Love brings with it another danger for serious moral talk – the danger of sentimental kitsch. Gaita thinks that love is hard as nails, ‘Real love is hard in the sense of hardheaded and unsentimental. In ridding oneself of sentimentality, pathos and similar afflictions, one is allowing justice, love and pity to do their cognitive work, their work of disclosing the world’ (Gaita 2004: xxxvii).