We’re happy to post this call for abstracts from one of our Summer Session 2016 participants, philosopher Tom Angier.
Virtue, Skill and Practical Reason
Prof. Julia Annas (University of Arizona)
Prof. Michael Thompson (University of Pittsburgh)
Prof. Rachel Barney (University of Toronto)
Aristotle drew an analogy between the acquisition of virtue and the acquisition of various skills such as archery and playing the lute. Since that time there has been substantial debate on how seriously one should take that analogy. In Intelligent Virtue (2011) Julia Annas has made a powerful case for taking that analogy very seriously, whereas others are more cautious.
This conference aims to bring together philosophers working in the virtue tradition, in particular those working in ancient and moral philosophy, to discuss the complex relationships between skill and virtue. There appears to be a consensus that the acquisition of virtue is part of the broader acquisition of practical reasonableness, but there the consensus ends.
High quality abstracts are invited in any area of virtue theory, including but not limited to virtue ethics and virtue epistemology. Papers can have a historical focus, or they can be organised thematically. Papers from a non-Western perspective are welcome.
The conference will be held from Friday 25th to Sunday 27th August 2017 at the spectacular University of Cape Town, and there will be ample opportunities for sight-seeing.
Profs Sergio Tenenbaum and James Allen (University of Toronto), Sarah Stroud (University of McGill), John Hacker-Wright (University of Guelph).
You will have 30/40 minutes for the paper presentation followed by a 30/20 minutes discussion. We regret we cannot cover expenses for accepted speakers. We are planning a published volume containing selected papers from the conference.
Dr Tom Angier (University of Cape Town) and Dr Richard Hamilton (University of Notre Dame, Australia).
Our Principal Investigator Candace Vogler is presenting at Blackfriars, St Giles, Oxford in early March.
Annual Aquinas Lecture
Thursday 2nd March 2017
“The Intellectual Animal” will be the 2017 Aquinas Lecture, delivered on Thursday 2 March at 5pm in the Aula at Blackfriars, by Prof Candace Vogler, David B and Clara E Stern Professor of Philosophy, University of Chicago, and Principal Investigator on “Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life”.
Freedom of Conscience is a right widely promoted, and widely withheld. If, as Elizabeth Anscombe remarked, “a man’s conscience may tell him to do the vilest things,” how absolute are its rights? Do we need to clarify what conscience is, and how it follows from our creation in God’s image, if we are to state its duties, privileges and limitations, and cherish it without idolizing it?
Candace Vogler will give the talk “Aquinas on Synderesis”
In his novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy explores questions about happiness and the meaning of life with brutal honesty and realism. Tolstoy’s harrowing account of one man’s confrontation with his own mortality helps us to see that even the most selfish and shallow life still contains within it the inherent potential for redemption through self-transcendent, sacrificial love.
The story’s protagonist is Ivan, a late nineteenth century Russian bureaucrat who strives, above all else, to live a “decorous and pleasant life”—a life of material comfort that is, at least to the greatest extent he can manage, insulated from hardship or suffering. We read that Ivan is “capable, cheerful, and sociable” as well as “playful, witty, good-humored and bon enfant.” He is industrious in his well-appointed role as a public prosecutor and content to do “his duty,” but Tolstoy cautions us that Ivan understands duty not in the moralist’s sense, but in accordance with what members of the Russian haute bourgeoisie perceive as good, proper, and decent. It is their standards that Ivan has internalized and their approval and validation that he seeks. By this measure, even at a young age, Ivan is succeeding in living well, and this brings him great satisfaction.
As a young man Ivan falls in love with “the most attractive, intelligent, brilliant girl,” Preskovia, who was also a member of his social class and consequently shared his general outlook. Ivan married her both because he loves her (at least as he loves anything –he finds her company “agreeable”) but also because she is met with the approval of his social circle. But the demands of marriage and family life soon lose their charms for Ivan, as he learns that domesticity does not always (or perhaps even very often) fit his ideals of agreeableness; thus he quickly finds it essential “to shut himself off from such interferences” to his personal well being. To avoid the trials that typically attend family life, Ivan throws himself into his work, where he takes particular delight in the power and honors the position affords him. Of this darker aspect of Ivan’s pleasure seeking, Tolstoy writes:
The awareness of his power, the power he had to ruin anyone he chose to ruin, the importance and even the outward dignity of his entrance into the courtroom and his meetings with subordinates, his success with both superiors and subordinates, and—above all—the mastery with which, as he felt, he carried out his duties—all this gave him pleasure, and alongside chats with his colleagues, dinners, and whist [cards], it was what filled up his life. So, on the whole, the life of Ivan Ilyich went on as he felt it ought to, that is pleasantly and decorously. (p. 169)
In this way, we learn, seventeen agreeable years of Ivan’s life pass.
But then Ivan reaches a point of perceived stagnation in his career, and feels that his talents are being neglected. He sees that he is being passed over for promotions that he both desires and feels he alone deserves, and he feels forgotten and wronged by his colleagues. He sets off for Petersburg with a single aim: to get a position that carries a significant raise. Through luck he succeeds, attaining a position in a new ministry “two grades higher than his colleagues.” At this achievement, all his hard feelings are forgotten, and he is “perfectly happy.” Ivan takes particular pleasure in his awareness that he is now the envy of many colleagues who previously ignored him, and who now must grovel before him.
The newfound happiness Ivan experiences on the occasion of his promotion allows him to resume pleasant relations with his wife. Having a new influx of money, they take on the task of securing a much larger apartment they can decorate together. Ivan throws himself into this task with determination and joy, making every detail very elegant and comme il faut. He particularly relishes his thoughts of how impressed his friends will be once his vision of a finely appointed home is completely realized.
At this point in the narrative Ivan truly believes he is happy and living just as he should. Although his life is devoid of love and shot through with motives of pride, vanity, and greed, as far as he can see everything is very good. And yet Ivan stands on the precipice of existential despair. For his agreeable existence is about to be disrupted by a mysterious ailment, which will open up horizons of suffering and torments previously unimaginable to him.
Ivan’s troubles begin with bouts of nausea, and a mysterious pain on the left side of his stomach, which only grows worse over time. His condition casts a pall over his otherwise happy mood, and makes him unable to find pleasure in his normal routines. Just as quickly as their reconciliation had come about, relations between Ivan and Preskovia begin to unravel; they take to quarrelling often as Ivan finds that the easy and agreeable feelings he longs for have vanished. Soon enough, a mutual hatred grows between them.
Despite the fact that he is seeing all the most famous doctors and taking his medicines punctiliously, Ivan can see that his condition is worsening. He begins to realize the gravity of his situation, and despair descends upon him. After a month of trying to convince himself that he is improving and will recover, Ivan realizes that he is dying. And yet he is unable to comprehend or reconcile himself to this fact; in fact, he actively works to hide from the grim reality. Of Ivan’s internal struggle with the truth, Tolstoy writes:
“He couldn’t understand it, and tried to banish this thought as false, wrong, and morbid, and put other thoughts in its place, correct thoughts and healthy ones. And this thought—and not only the thought but what seemed to be the reality—kept coming back and standing there before him. And he called up a succession of other thoughts to displace this one, hoping to find support in them. He tried to return to his old thought patterns, which had once shielded him from death. But strangely enough, everything that had once screened away, hidden, or abolished the awareness of death now failed to produce that effect.” (p. 188)
Ivan finds himself in unchartered psychological territory, as neither work, cards, or his fine home can any longer distract him from the unbearable truth. He finds himself all alone, face to face with it, though there was nothing to do “but stare at it and shudder.” He must confront and reconcile himself to death, but finds he is unable.
And so his life becomes a torment to him. Ivan is particularly aggrieved by the fact that no one around him—his colleagues, his doctors, his family—will acknowledge reality. They all perpetrate the “lie” that he is merely ill; worse still, they force him to participate in this lie. And so Ivan is deprived of the pity he feels is owed to him. Ivan wants desperately to be “caressed, and kissed, and wept over” even though he knows such behavior does not befit a man of his age and social stature. Instead he is merely prodded and poked by his doctors, cajoled by his wife, and ostracized by his so-called friends.
Ivan begins to enter a phase where his sufferings take on new dimensions: fear, helplessness, loneliness, and doubt. In particular, Ivan begins to doubt that his life had been anything more than a trivial and dubious mistake. He begins to worry that he never perceived reality clearly, and that what he thought was life was really death:
“It’s as if I had been going downhill, while imagining that I was climbing uphill. That’s what it was. In society’s eyes I was going uphill, and at exactly the same pace life was vanishing from under me.” (p. 202)
But once again, while Ivan knows the truth in his heart, he is still unable to reconcile himself to it. He struggles and fights back against it:
“‘Perhaps I didn’t live as I should have done?’… ‘But how can it have been wrong, when I did everything properly?’ he said to himself, instantly dismissing as completely impossible this one and only solution to the whole riddle of life and death.” (p. 202)
Ivan’s struggle to accept the truth, “that everything had been a huge and terrible deception which had shut out both life and death” (p. 206) is his final torment, the cause of an internal struggle that sends him into a fit of madness during which he screams uninterrupted for three days. Tolstoy describes his inner ordeal as follows:
“For those three days, during which time did not exist for him, he struggled in that black sack into which some invisible, invincible force was thrusting him. He fought as a man condemned to death fights in the arms of the executioner, knowing that he could not save himself; and minute by minute he felt that, despite all his struggles, he was drawing nearer and nearer to the thing that horrified him. He felt that his torment lay both in the fact that he was being thrust into that black hole, and even more so in the fact that he could not get into it. And what prevented him from getting into it was his awareness that his life had been a good one. It was this justification of his own life that held him back, not letting him go forward, and tormenting him more than anything.” (p. 207-8)
The struggle ends when Ivan has a sudden revelation: his life really was a worthless mistake, but it could now “be put right.” But how? Ivan does not have a clear answer until Vasya enters the room, kisses his hand, and bursts into tears; soon after Preskovia, who is also weeping, enters as well. For the first time Ivan sees what they need from him and lovingly responds. He realizes that to let himself die he needs to cease justifying his own life. And so, instead of continuing to try to reassure himself, he asks them for forgiveness for his failures. And with that gesture, suddenly,
“it was clear to him that the thing that had been oppressing him, and not letting him go, was now releasing him all at once, from two sides, from ten sides, from every side. He was sorry for them, and he must do what is needed so that they should not be hurt.” (p.209)
At last Ivan sees how to put things right: he can, and will, for the first time in his life, put the needs of others before his own. And with that final act of love and reconciliation, Ivan conquers death—the spiritual death of being trapped inside the prison of the self—and in so doing redeems his pathetic life. For it was that same selfishness that had him locked in an ongoing struggle with truth that was preventing him from the possibility of a happy death. Of Ivan’s final moments, Tolstoy writes that he searches for death but cannot find it: “Instead of death there was light.” By embracing the truth of sacrificial love for others, Ivan is released from his suffering and dies in a condition hitherto unknown to him—not a state of agreeable pleasure, but immense joy.
Being bilingual has some obvious advantages. Learning more than one language enables new conversations and new experiences. But in recent years, psychology researchers have demonstrated some less obvious advantages of bilingualism, too. For instance, bilingual children may enjoy certain cognitive benefits, such as improved executive function — which is critical for problem solving and other mentally demanding activities.
Now, two new studies demonstrate that multilingual exposure improves not only children’s cognitive skills but also their social abilities.
One study from my developmental psychology lab — conducted in collaboration with the psychologists Boaz Keysar, Zoe Liberman and Samantha Fan at the University of Chicago, and published last year in the journal Psychological Science — shows that multilingual children can be better at communication than monolingual children.
We took a group of children in the United States, ages 4 to 6, from different linguistic backgrounds, and presented them with a situation in which they had to consider someone else’s perspective to understand her meaning. For example, an adult said to the child: “Ooh, a small car! Can you move the small car for me?” Children could see three cars — small, medium and large — but were in position to observe that the adult could not see the smallest car. Since the adult could see only the medium and large cars, when she said “small” car, she must be referring to the child’s “medium.”
We found that bilingual children were better than monolingual children at this task. If you think about it, this makes intuitive sense. Interpreting someone’s utterance often requires attending not just to its content, but also to the surrounding context. What does a speaker know or not know? What did she intend to convey? Children in multilingual environments have social experiences that provide routine practice in considering the perspectives of others: They have to think about who speaks which language to whom, who understands which content, and the times and places in which different languages are spoken.
Interestingly, we also found that children who were effectively monolingual yet regularly exposed to another language — for example, those who had grandparents who spoke another language — were just as talented as the bilingual children at this task. It seems that being raised in an environment in which multiple languages are spoken, rather than being bilingual per se, is the driving factor.
You might wonder whether our findings could be explained as just another instance of the greater cognitive skills that bilingual children have been observed to have. We wondered that, too. So we gave all the children a standard cognitive test of executive function. We found that bilingual children performed better than monolingual children, but that the kids who were effectively monolingual yet regularly exposed to another language did not. These “exposure” children performed like monolinguals on the cognitive task, but like bilinguals on the communication task. Something other than cognitive skills — something more “social” — must explain their facility in adopting another’s perspective.
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In a follow-up study, forthcoming in the journal Developmental Science, my colleagues and I examined the effects of multilingual exposure on even younger children: 14- to 16-month-old babies, who are hardly speaking at all. In this study, led by Zoe Liberman and in collaboration with Professor Keysar and the psychologist Amanda Woodward, babies were shown two versions of the same object, such as a banana, one of which was visible to both the infant and an adult, the other visible to the baby yet hidden from the adult’s view. When the adult asked the baby for “the banana,” the baby might hand her either object — both were bananas, after all — yet if the baby understood the social context, he would reach more often for the banana that the adult could see.
We found that babies in monolingual environments reached equally often for the two bananas. Babies in multilingual environments, including those who were exposed to a second language only minimally, already understood the importance of adopting another’s perspective for communication: They reached more often for the banana that the adult could see.
Multilingual exposure, it seems, facilitates the basic skills of interpersonal understanding. Of course, becoming fully bilingual or multilingual is not always easy or possible for everyone. But the social advantage we have identified appears to emerge from merely being raised in an environment in which multiple languages are experienced, not from being bilingual per se. This is potentially good news for parents who are not bilingual themselves, yet who want their children to enjoy some of the benefits of multilingualism.
Katherine Kinzler is an associate professor of psychology and human development at Cornell University, and scholar with the project Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.
Founded in 1997 by Catholic Scholars at the University of Chicago, The Lumen Christi Institute brings together thoughtful Catholics and others interested in the Catholic tradition and makes available to them the wisdom of the Catholic spiritual, intellectual, and cultural heritage. Lumen Christi is a partner with our project and we’re pleased to share their upcoming events for Spring 2017.
Gavin House: 1220 E 58th Street, Chicago, IL 60637
Open to graduate and undergraduate students, including non-University of Chicago students. Space is limited and offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Copies of the readings will be made available online to all participants.
At least, that was the impression given by the 45th President of the United States when he praised Douglass at a recent Black History Month event, saying: “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.” TheAtlantic, Feb 1 2017.
Douglass, one of the most important figures in the anti-slavery movement and one of the greatest orators America has ever produced, died February 20, 1895, and the widespread public amusement at Donald Trump’s remarks about him came from a sense that the President had almost no idea who Douglass was. However, if Mr. Trump read one of Douglass’s Reconstruction-era speeches on virtue and political change, he might almost be forgiven for believing that the greatest Black American leader of the 19th century still walks among us.
April 16, 1885 was the 23rd anniversary of the emancipation of slaves in the District of Columbia. President Grover Cleveland reviewed a parade of over 5,000 people marching near the White House, and that evening, Frederick Douglass gave a speech, “We are Confronted by a New Administration,” at the Lincoln Memorial Congregational Church.
The occasion of Douglass’s speech was ominous. The Republican party had lost power after 25 years of running a post-Civil War government the emancipated slaves had come to rely on. Faced with the prospect of diminished freedoms and the great work of Reconstruction left undone, Douglass spoke of the election as a bitter defeat: “We do not stand where we stood one year ago. We are confronted by a new administration. The term of steady, unbroken successful Republican rule, is ended. The great Republican party that carried the country safely through the late war against the rebellion, emancipated the slave, saved the Union, reconstructed the government of the southern states, enfranchised the freedmen, raised the national credit, improved the currency, decreased the national debt, and did more for the honor, prosperity and glory of the American people, than was ever done before in the same length of time by any party in any country, under similar circumstances, has been defeated, humiliated, and driven from place and power.”
For Douglass, this election is not just the defeat of a good cause, but the triumph of those opposed to justice: “For the first time since the chains fell from the limbs of the slaves of the District of Columbia; for the first time since slaves were raised from chattels to men; for the first time since they were clothed with the dignity of American citizenship, they find themselves under the rule of a political party which steadily opposed their every step from bondage to freedom; and this may well give a peculiar coloring to the thoughts and feelings with which this anniversary of emancipation is celebrated.”
He acknowledges that slavery and racial oppression do not exist apart from the social structures that justify and maintain them, “Like any other embodiment of social and material interest peculiar to a given community, slavery generated its own sentiments, its own morals, manners, and religion, and begot a character in all around it in favor of its own existence.”
Such attitudes are not those of a morally strong and healthy nation; Douglass praises the wisdom in the rejection of a two-nation system, one slave and one free, “hostile civilizations side by side, with a chafing bloody border between them,” in favor of “one country, one citizenship, and one liberty for all the people.”
Insisting that the divisions that led to the Civil War were moral, he suggests the solution to the unfinished business of Reconstruction lies in the cultivation of virtue: “There never was any physical reason for the dissolution of the Union. The geographical and topographical conditions of the country all serve to unite rather than to divide the two sections. It was moral, not physical dynamite that blew the two sections asunder.”
Douglass explains that: “Twelve hundred more colored votes in the state of New York would have saved that party from defeat,” and suspects these votes were lost because the campaign did not address moral issues: “Little was said, thought, or felt, about national integrity, the importance of maintaining good faith with the freedman or the Indian, or the protection of the Constitutional rights of American citizens, except where such rights were in no danger . . . No nation, no party, no man, can live long and flourish, on falsehood, deceit, injustice, and broken pledges.”
“On the other hand,” he notes, “where good faith is maintained, where justice is upheld, where truth and right prevail, the government will be like the wise man’s house, in scripture: the winds may blow, the rains may descend, the flood may come and beat upon it, but it will stand, because it is founded upon the solid rock of principle. I speak this, not only for the Republican party, but for all parties.”
Attempting to find common ground with Democrats, he appeals to democratic ideals of citizenship, “We boast of our riches, power, and glory, as a nation, and we have reason to do so. But what is prosperity, what is power, what is national glory, when national honor, national good faith, and national protection to the rights of our citizens are denied?”
Warning that the social unrest of the European under classes could just as easily happen in American, Douglass urges politicians not to abandon oppressed peoples, writing: “Who could blame the negro if, when he is driven from the ballot box, the jury box, and from the school house, denied equal rights on railroads and steamboats, called out of his bed at midnight and whipped by regulators, compelled to live in rags and wretchedness, and his wages kept back by fraud, he shall imitate the example of other oppressed classes, and invoke some terrible explosive power as a means of bringing his oppressors to their senses, and making them respect the claims of justice.” To this typed passage Douglass has added, in script, “denied a fair trial when accused of crime,” and, “This would be madness, but oppression will make even wise men mad.” Although he hastens to assure his audience that he does not hope for or approve violent means, his edits suggest he believes that repeated injustices inevitably produce violent outcomes.
Yet Douglass seems to sense that he is standing on the eve of a terrible era. One of the speech’s most chilling passages concerns the “recent” Supreme Court decision that Douglass says “came upon the country like a clap of thunder from a clear sky . . . a surprise to enemies, and a bitter disappointment to friends.” Douglass is referring to the Supreme Court’s ruling in The Civil Rights cases of 1883, a decision that would usher in 80 years of Jim Crow racial segregation and pave the way for the infamous “separate but equal” ruling of Plessy v. Fergusen (1896), as well as widespread lynching and other forms of racist terrorism. TheCivil Rights cases of 1883 laid the groundwork for Plessy by ruling that public accommodations were not reached by the Fourteenth Amendment, and that Congress and the courts could not stop hotels, clubs, and restaurants from discriminating on the basis of race. Justice John M. Harlan was the sole dissenting voice, and Douglass praises him for being a “grand representative of American Justice standing alone.” Harlan’s famous dissent in the Civil Rights cases would someday serve as the basis for civil rights jurisprudence—but not until after World War II.
Despite his sense that the lives of Black Americans were about to get much worse, Douglass speaks to the “soul of the nation” and its virtues, the “spiritual side of Humanity” that cannot be burnt or drowned so long as it holds fast to its moral ideals, declaring: “The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous, for upon these conditions depends the life [o]f its life.” He talks about the great Chicago fire as one that left the city in ashes, yet could not eradicate the ideals of its inhabitants because they were possessed of civic virtue: “[T]here remained the invisible soul of a great people, full of energy, enterprise, and faith, and hence, out of the ashes and hollow desolation, a grander Chicago than the one destroyed, arose as if by magic.”
Douglass’s speech concludes with an appeal to civic virtue and civic involvement as crucial to surviving political change, not just as because civic virtue cultivates the self, but because it helps form a democratic community of brave and just citizens. As we celebrate Black History Month, we might take to heart his sense that a morally virtuous citizenry is the bedrock of a flourishing democracy. Quoting a poem by Sir William Jones that asks, “What constitutes a state?” Douglass answers with lines emphasizing courage and justice as virtues that carry the nation even in its most turbulent eras: “Men who their duties know,/ But know their rights, and, knowing, dare maintain.”
For the full text of Douglass’ speech, visit “Speech on the 23rd Anniversary of Emancipation in the District of Columbia,” also known as “We are Confronted by a New Administration” here.
Jaime Hovey is Associate Program Director for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.
Click the link below to hear our scholar and Associate Professor of Psychology and Human Development at Cornell University Katherine Kinzler discuss her work in child food preferences (with collaborators Zoe Liberman, University of California, Santa Barbara; and at the University of Chicago, Samantha Fan, Amanda Woodward, Boaz Keysar); and how working with scholars in our project across the fields of psychology, philosophy, and theology has impacted her approach to thinking about her research.
Next week on The Virtue Blog, we’ll post related writing by Kinzler.
Katherine Kinzler is Associate Professor of Psychology and Associate Professor of Human Development at Cornell University and Scholar with the project Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life. Read more here.