Ethical Writings: 'Ethics' and 'Dialogue Between a Philosopher, a Jew and a Christian' by Peter Abelard, Translated by Paul Vincent Spade, Introduced by Marilyn McCord Adams.
Most major theologeans have written on ethics, but Abelard's works are more important to his corpus of work than with most others. The simple reason is that so few of his works are available to us in English, and many that are were left incomplete by Abelard. The more complex reason is that Abelard's signature doctrine of atonement, which he posed as an alternative to the equally famous doctrine by Anselm of Canterbury, is based primarily on the nature of virtue ethics. What makes it even more modern sounding is that it is based on a theory of philosophical psychology and intention which is as modern as tomoorrow.
Both works in this volume were left incomplete by Abelard, but the volume contains all we have. The heart of Abelard's theory of intention in 'Ethics' is that sin is based on intention, not on the act, or even on the dispostion to do the act. An inference he makes from this is that the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus were not acting sinfully by that act. They were acting lawfully. One wonders what Abelard would have thought of the thousands of Nazis who professed that they were 'just following orders' before WW II, in persecuting the Jews and others. But this position is a lynchpin to Abelard's doctrine of atonement, whereby one is changed by the love of God to intend to do his will.
In his 'Dialogue', the author, Abelard does not play the Philosopher. Rather, he plays the mediator in the conversation about ethics. It should be no surprise that the Christian comes out of the dialogue with the advantage. Unfortunately for those who are fond of Plato's dialogues, Abelard is far more rigid and less conversational. Most of the speeches are very long, and there is relatively little drama or strong words, as there are in Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.
This appears to be the least expensive option for purchasing these two works on Amazon. It is far less expensive than those available from the expert on Abelard's ethics, David Luscombe. Therefore, I consider this a very good choice (although I have not read Dr. Luscombe's introduction and translation).
If one gets nothing else out of reading Abelard, one should appreciate the sophistication of his psychology and the extent to which he is different from the Roman church to which Martin Luther and the other Reformers objected. Luther and Abelard shared the same 'nominalist' philosophical outlook, so one may be surprised at both their similarities and differences.
This is a revelation of how sophisticated was Medieval thinking.