“A Consistent Ethic of Solidarity: Transcending Self, Transforming the World” – Part 2

On October 14, 2017, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich delivered the Saturday Keynote, “A Consistent Ethic of Solidarity: Transcending Self, Transforming the World,” at our Capstone Conference. We’re reprinting the text in two parts; Part 1 was posted yesterday. To watch the video and learn more about the conference, click here.


Pathways and Priorities

In this final section I want to suggest some concrete pathways and priorities for creating a greater sense of solidarity in practice which would be in line with your goals of building the common good in a way that fosters virtue, happiness and the meaning of life.


The first is dialogue. Dialogue is essential for building solidarity, but it also demands self-transcendence. Avery Dulles, the son of John Foster Dulles, who served as secretary of State, became a Jesuit priest and then was named a cardinal in his later years. He once wrote that it takes great strength, virtue, to give permission to another person to sit across from you and tell you why they think you are wrong. Pope Francis put it this way: “We ought to be able to acknowledge the other person’s truth, the value of his or her deepest concerns, and what it is that they are trying to communicate, however aggressively.”[i] Dialogue only comes with patience and respect for the other. It takes into account that people, men and women, youth and adults, those from different cultures and economic backgrounds, communicate differently.  They speak different “languages” and they act in different ways. They ask and respond to questions differently and vary in their tone, timing, conditioned by so many factors. So dialogue requires discipline, the kind that refrains from speaking until it is time, and making sure that we have heard the other person out.[ii] It takes the kind of self-transcendence that cultivates an interior silence that makes it possible to listen to the other person without prejudgments or the distractions of worries, fears or one’s agenda. All of this creates a fresh environment in which real authentic human communication takes place, not just an exchange of ideas but an exchange of lives, aspirations, values, histories in a way that creates bridges between others where there only existed walls. We need to take all of this into consideration if we are going to encourage authentic dialogue that offers an effective alternative to the technological communications paradigm that promises much but delivers little when it comes to human flourishing and the common good.

Collective self- examination of conscience

In a his 2016 article in America Magazine,  James Keenan, SJ,  the Canisius Professor of Moral Theology at Boston College, notes that following the Second World War, European theologians, shocked by the complicity of believers in the Holocaust, “began a process of understanding their capacity for evil by examining the history of their own actions.” In effect, they called for a collective examination of conscience, inspiring them to take corporate responsibility.  “That understanding continues to be visible today when one visits Germany, for instance, and sees public, social reminders of the nation’s own atrocities. From the Concentration Camp Memorial in Dachau to the Berlin Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, we can literally enter and see the pangs of the European conscience evident in its enduring testimonials,” as Keenan observes.

He goes on to say that we suffer in this country from an arrested development of conscience, which is rooted to some extent in “the longstanding American incapacity to recognize its own wrongdoing. Indeed, historians comment on the practice of American exceptionalism, in which we excuse many of our actions by presuming that our nation has a manifest destiny that exempts us from the standards that others must follow.” As an example, he points to slavery in this country, noting that “Despite the nation’s own history of enslaving millions of people and of enjoying the benefit of slavery even without owning slaves, America has never collectively faced itself in conscience. As M. Shawn Copeland reminds us, the American conscience is haunted, profoundly damaged by the complex history of slavery in the United States and by its national willfulness to accommodate to and profit from racism.”

It seems to me that such a collective self-examination is the ultimate form of transcendence called for in your virtue project and is also an instance of radical solidarity with those who have been and are excluded from the common good. An examination of what this means for your project could make an important contribution in bringing healing to a gaping wound that continues to affect not only the body politic of our nation but the streets of our city.

Investing in Friendships

My final suggestion is less dramatic, but no less important and that is recovering the importance of friendship. Friendships develop naturally; they are relationships that grow organically. They take time, discipline, mutual respect, dialogue and discipline. They don’t just happen. They take work and they grow in ordered sequence. We meet someone. We see something in them that we like and they see something they like about us. In friendships we reveal something about ourselves that we may not have appreciated.

Friendships involve self-transcendence, allowing us to transcend differences of opinion and conflicts, bring comfort in trial and they grow in moments of forgiveness and failing. All human communities, and society at large understand the value of friendships for society. In fact, centuries ago, Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, noted that friendships are needed for the growth of civilization. He remarked that while friendships, like justice, are not found in tyrannies, they are proper to democracies, “because the citizens, being equal, have much in common.” St. Thomas Aquinas, perhaps relying on Aristotle speaks of friendship as bene velle alicui – wishing well to another.

We seem to have lost the value of friendship in our social relationships. Our nation seems to have lost a sense of the importance of cultivating friendships as fellow citizens who, being equal, share much in common.  Instead, our politics and public discourse are often marked by enmity and animosity. There is an overly competitive character that defines how we relate to one another, emphasizing what divides us rather than what we share in common. And because we as the body politic do not value growing together, just as it is with any organism, cancers easily develop which can threaten to harm us all. Positions harden, progress is stalled, and it soon becomes clear that the body politic has only so much capacity to endure the suffering. Your turn to the classics as resource, I believe, offers you much on the topic of friendship, which I would encourage you to explore as you build out your understanding of the importance of self-transcendence for cultivating a virtuous life.


I hope that my words tonight leave you with a sense not only that the Church values the virtue project, but is a willing partner in furthering its aspirations. In fact, it is worth recalling the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes from the Second Vatican Council, which provided a new paradigm for the Church’s mission, declared that the Church embraces her role in the modern age of being “at once a sign and a safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person.” Gaudium et Spes 76.

Pope Francis witnessed to this approach in his 2015 Address to the U.S. Congress. He began by observing that his visit to our country coincided with anniversaries of several great Americans who demonstrated through their hard work and sacrifice the virtue of building a better future for all. He cited four in particular,   Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, who “shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people,” but who throughout our history have helped us  “to live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women,” he continued, “offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves.”

The pope’s words seem to be a good way to conclude my remarks for they remind us of two important things I want to leave with you tonight. First, the importance of the word “self” in self-transcendence. The pursuit of virtue, as these four Americans show, begins with each of us, taking personal responsibility for the way we live, our own human development and formation in a way that forces us to be real and honest about the world we live in and the circumstances of our personal lives. In a word, virtue begins with us.

But, the words of Francis also highlight a key ingredient of social cohesion, we often underplay. I am talking about the value of giving good example. Good example, as Francis observes, has an enduring power to embolden, inspire and encourage others to live through crises and challenges as they tap into the deepest culture reserves that hold these good examples in trust throughout the ages.

Therein lies the two-fold value your project aims to achieve: rekindling in us a fresh resolve to take personal responsibility for our lives, joining with others in solidarity for the building up the common good, and at the same time as we live in a world weighed down by so many thorny challenges, to ever remain attentive to how much good there is in the world, in people around us who give us good example and who share these same aspirations. In speaking to you tonight, to a group that has gathered over these past 28 months for a very worthy project, you have done both for me, strengthen my resolve and opened my eyes in a fresh way to recognize that there is so much good around us. Thank you.

[i] Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, 138

[ii] Ibid, 136-141.

“A Consistent Ethic of Solidarity: Transcending Self, Transforming the World” – Part 1

On October 14, 2017, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich delivered the Saturday Keynote, “A Consistent Ethic of Solidarity: Transcending Self, Transforming the World,” at our Capstone Conference. We’re reprinting the text in two parts; Part 2 will go up tomorrow. To watch the video and learn more about the conference, click here.



Thank you Professor McGinn and all at the University of Chicago and the organizers of this Conference for your warm hospitality and welcome. It really is an honor to be with you this evening and I am very grateful to be invited to participate in this Capstone Conference entitled Virtue, Happiness and the Meaning of Life. This is an important conversation for which – over a 28 month period – you have gathered scholars and professionals from various disciplines to focus on self-transcendence as integral to understanding the interrelationships of virtue, happiness and the meaning of life. Tonight I have been asked to add to that conversation, which I will do by considering how the notion of solidarity found in Catholic Social Teaching, when pursued as a consistent ethic for both individuals and society, might help to flesh out the meaning of self-transcendence, which you rightly state is needed for human flourishing and building up the common good. As I studied the information you sent me on your virtue project, it occurs to me that it shares much in common with the our understanding of solidarity in the Catholic tradition, such that we can benefit from each other in teasing out some points of convergence. And so, I want to begin by pointing out some connections between virtue and solidarity. I will then move on to what I consider some fault lines in the present age that give urgency to pursuing virtue marked by solidarity. I will conclude by suggesting some ways, or maybe priorities, all of us might want to consider as we move forward in solidarity to build up the common good in a way that fosters virtue, happiness and the meaning of life.


The Connection between Virtue and Solidarity

I have to admit I have no hesitation introducing the topic of solidarity into this conversation of virtue, particularly since your starting point is that virtue is not an individual pursuit, practiced and observed only for oneself as a personal improvement project. Rather, virtue has to do with one’s relationships to others and the world. So the ultimate measure of one’s virtue is not only how one personally improves, but how the common good is fostered and furthered by virtuous individuals as a whole. The pursuit of virtue by an individual is about stretching the identity of the person beyond the circumference of one’s body and life as defined by the individual. We often talk about expanding our mind, using more brain cells, but there is another way to increase our capacity as humans and that is by constantly exploring ways to intersect with the lives of others in a way that enhances their lives and the world’s good.

In other words, virtue’s end is solidarity Virtue when rightly pursued aims at uniting humanity through a reawakening of our interdependence as a human family. Pope John Paul II in his groundbreaking encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, called humanity to “see the ‘other’-whether a person, people or nation…as our ‘neighbor,’ a ‘helper’ …a sharer, on a par with ourselves, in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God.”


It is worth noting that John Paul made a special point in pressing those in position of authority and power to consider their particular responsibility in being virtuous on a global scale, not just for their own sakes or the benefit of the nations they serve. “World leaders,” he urged, need “to recognize that interdependence in itself demands the abandonment of the politics of blocs, the sacrifice of all forms of economic, military or political imperialism, and the transformation of mutual distrust into collaboration. This is precisely the act proper to solidarity among individuals and nations.”[i]

Pursuing virtue in the key of solidarity does not come easily and will cost each of us something. It first of all will require in the words of the Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching “men and women of our day (to) cultivate a greater awareness that they are debtors of the society of which they have become a part. They are debtors because of those conditions that make human existence livable, and because of the indivisible and indispensable legacy constituted by culture, scientific and technical knowledge, material and immaterial goods and by all that the human condition has produced. A similar debt must be recognized in the various forms of social interaction,” the Compendium continues, “so that humanity’s journey will not be interrupted but remain open to present and future generations, all of them called together to share the same gift in solidarity.”[ii]  Or, to put it in baseball language, especially appropriate in these days in Chicago, if you are successful, don’t think you hit a home run when all along you were “born on third base.” Or, again, this awareness of what we owe to others will require the kind of humility found in Isaac Newton’s famous saying: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”[iii]

Fault Lines and Urgency

Let me now say something about the urgency of a consistent ethic of solidarity in view of some fault lines present in society today. As I do so, my hope is that the link between the virtue project that relies on self-transcendence and a consistent ethic of solidarity will become clear.


Radical Polarization

The first obstacle we face today is a radical polarization in society. Our world has changed a great deal in our life time due to many factors that divide humanity. Our era is plagued by global terrorism. It irresponsibly tolerates the exploitation of limited resources and is threatened by climate change, which by its own inertia will imperil future food security as a result of decreased crop yields and result in the abandonment of populated areas due to rising sea levels. As a result of these unchecked forces of economic exploitation and globalization, many people feel excluded, while others are literally excluded as they are left homeless, or forced to migrate, by wars and privation. This has left us fearful of one another in a world marked by great divisions over race, ethnicity, religion and place of origin.


Without oversimplifying, the challenge for us today is not only that there is a division over issues, but humanity is divided. No longer is it that issues are siloed, people are. Their social networks, the media they consult, all operate in  silos, bereft of challenge or debate, isolated by differences of opinion or politics, race or social class in a way that obscures our shared humanity, as for instance with the issue of immigration where we are losing the ties that historically have united us as a nation of immigrants. And it is not too strong to say that this sense of disconnectedness is being legitimized not only by voices in the streets but by those in the halls of governance here and around the world, giving rise to xenophobia, nationalism, populism, racial intolerance.  All of this makes entire populations more vulnerable to disturbing influences, and centripetal forces which only further divide, while pretending to offer as solutions distorted views of the role of the economy and politics and how we relate to other nations and deal with global conflicts.



A second fault line is a growing libertarian approach in the present day which is impacting, and I believe is distorting, the way we think about and respond to our politics, the economy and the ecology. In this context, I want to refer you to an excellent paper given by Bishop Robert McElroy in January, 2016 at the Symposium “Erroneous Autonomy: The Dignity of Work,” sponsored by the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, Washington D.C. In his talk Three Kinds of Erroneous Autonomy he offers analysis of how libertarianism constitutes a compellingly different pathway for humanity at this moment in history which stands at odds with human solidarity. These conflicting pathways are based on two utterly divergent conceptions of the nature of the human person, resulting in two distinct trajectories when it comes to the meaning of economic life, and the goal of politics and the ecology in this era of globalization.


The example of the economy will suffice to make my point about the problematic claims of libertarianism. In fairness, it is important to recognize that many libertarians share with Catholic Social Teaching a respect for human dignity. Human dignity anchors their insistence on human freedom. They rightly argue that this dignity is not given by society but by the Creator and therefore freedom, self-determination and all other human rights are inalienable, echoing the principles in the documents of democracy. However, advocates of a libertarian philosophy stop short in considering what this means. They fail to uphold that since this dignity belongs to all human beings in common, it implies the solidarity of all peoples. By uncoupling human dignity from the solidarity it implies, libertarians move in a direction that has enormous consequences for the meaning of economic life. Let me put it more sharply:


  • In our understanding of solidarity, the human person seeks and claims an integral development, morally, spiritually and emotionally, which is joined intrinsically to the communities that sustain him or her. For libertarians, the human person is the autonomous individual, man the producer and man the consumer.


  • For advocates of solidarity, in this age of growing globalization, inclusion and economic security for all are measures of economic health, requiring global structures that help mold the forces of market capitalism to advance solidarity and dignity for all; while in contrast the libertarian has a one-dimensional measure of economic growth proposed for decision making, advocating that market forces left to themselves are the best arbiters of economic progress. It is for this reason that when it comes to politics, while solidarity seeks the common good, the libertarian advances a politics that seeks to maximize the freedom of markets and individual choice.


Challenges of Communications Technology

A final consideration as we think about the challenges of creating a greater sense of solidarity is the ongoing development in communications technology and its impact on the youth of the world. This technology is moving us and particularly young people to greater isolation while giving the impression of linking us. We can shield ourselves from the demands of others by the click of a key or by not responding on a device which we use to limit our interaction with the world. For many young people their smart phone is the only portal for interaction, but also information which they will believe. But, it is also the case that less personal and more electronic means of communication have gained a foothold in the minds of young people globally when it comes to news they believe over-against human encounters.  A menacing instance of this, of course, is the radicalization of young people who are being fed ideologies of hate, a manipulation that leads to the acts of terrorism we are witnessing today. Additionally, as communications technology continues to flatten the world as Thomas Friedman describes, there is an even more ominous threat looming when it comes to the youth of the world.  While it is true that many in our era have been lifted out of poverty, the numbers of people, especially children not just poor but trapped in poverty and exclusion, who are migrants, living in exile from their homes because of wars and famine, are staggering. Global communications surely conveys a certain sense that we are united in this world but many children living in abject poverty have good reason to believe that the world cares little about them. We may be together on this planet but they are receiving the message that they are not one of us. Living with no hope yet tantalized by what they see in the world of opulence, they will be challenged to deal with rising expectations in a non-violent way.


But, as a pastor working with families and parents as they raise their children, I am concerned about how this phenomenon of communicating through modern technology is also impacting family life, particularly the way youth and adults within a family relate, communicate and trust each other. Some years ago, a diplomat was telling me of a conversation he had with his daughter, trying to explain to her why he could not attend her dance recital, having been charged with serious negotiations impacting world peace that would force him to travel abroad. She was unconvinced, unsympathetic and hurt; what he said was not credible. But then, some days later she saw a news interview her father gave on a website explaining the importance of the meeting that took him away from home. She called her father to tell him she now understood because she saw it on a website channel. The moral of the story, if you want to talk to your children and have them believe you, send them a link to your YouTube upload.


Seriously though, I am convinced that we should consider the impact of the ever developing communications technology on our world especially our youth, which I am describing here, as a wakeup call. A good place to start, it seems to me, is to pay more attention to mining the results of your value project and the tradition of solidarity for resources that might challenge this narrow approach to communication and offer one that is more integrated and authentically human.


In fact, faced in this urgent moment with seemingly intractable challenges we face today, we would have much to gain by exploring how your advocacy of promoting virtue through  self-transcendence and the consistent ethic of solidarity I speak about today have the potential of informing each other to better contribute to human flourishing and the common good. My explanation of a consistent ethic of solidarity as aiming at uniting humanity through a reawakening of our interdependence as a human family, while not exhaustive of what Candace Vogler describes as your project in her piece featured on your virtue blog, seems to have a great deal in common. Let me quote just a bit of it here: “self-transcendence,” she writes, “shows itself when I live my life and understand my life as essentially connected to a good beyond my own comfort, the security and comfort of my friends and immediate family, the goods of personal achievement, success, self-expression, and the like. My life is lived through participation in a good that goes beyond personal achievement, expression, security and comfort, beyond even the need to promote those goods for members of my intimate circle. I work on behalf of bettering the community in ways that will help strangers … I have a self-transcendent orientation to the living of my daily life. My own life is a part of some good crucial to good life more generally, as best I can understand, serve, and embody that larger good.”

[i] John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 39.

[ii] The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

[iii] Newton, Isaac. “Letter from Sir Isaac Newton to Robert Hooke”. Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 7 August 2016.

VIDEO: “A Consistent Ethic of Solidarity: Transcending Self, Transforming the World” – Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich delivered the Saturday Keynote “A Consistent Ethic of Solidarity: Transcending Self, Transforming the World” for the Capstone Conference for the project Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life. He was introduced by Bernard McGinn, Naomi Shenstone Donnelley Professor Emeritus of Historical Theology and of the History of Christianity in the Divinity School and the Committees on Medieval Studies and on General Studies.


We’ll publish the text of this talk in Part 1 and Part 2 blog posts on Wednesday and Thursday this week.


Cardinal Blase Joseph Cupich obtained his B.A. in Philosophy from the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1971. He attended seminary at the North American College and Gregorian University in Rome, where he received his Baccalaureate in Sacred Theology in 1974, and his M.A. in Theology in 1975. Cardinal Cupich is a graduate of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where, in 1979, he received his Licentiate of Sacred Theology degree in Sacramental Theology. He also holds a Doctor of Sacred Theology degree, also in Sacramental Theology, from the Catholic University of America, awarded in 1987, with his dissertation entitled: “Advent in the Roman Tradition: An Examination and Comparison of the Lectionary Readings as Hermeneutical Units in Three Periods.” Additionally, Cardinal Cupich was the Secretary at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C. He also served as Chair for the USCCB Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People from 2008-2011 and for the National Catholic Educational Association Board from 2006-2008. In 2016, Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Cupich to the Congregation for Bishops.

The Role of Epistemic Virtue in the Realization of Basic Goods

Preston Bradley Hall (Chicago). Photo by Chris Smith.

Note: Anne Baril was a participant in the Virtue, Happiness, & Meaning of Life 2016 Summer Seminar. This post is an excerpt of a piece originally published June 6, 2017, on the blog Imperfect Cognitions, where Baril summarizes a paper she recently published in Episteme.

Click the above link to Imperfect Cognitions for the full post.

Getting clear about the nature of epistemic virtue is an important first step not only for empirical investigations, but for philosophical investigations as well. Is there some more-than- 
merely-instrumental relationship between epistemic virtue and well-being, or between epistemic virtue and some contributor to well-being, that can be uncovered through philosophical, rather than empirical, investigation?

This is one of the questions I seek to answer in my work. What I have found is that epistemic virtue–on at least one plausible interpretation–is importantly implicated in the realization of some of the goods that are widely believed to be instrumental to, or even constitutive of, well-being: goods such friendship, autonomy, and aesthetic experience. There is (what I call) a constitutive overlap between epistemic virtue and many such goods.

Take, for example, aesthetic experience. Aesthetic experience, understood as a general type of good, is realized in token instances – for example, in viewing Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, or reading George Eliot’s Silas Marner. It is not a passive experience that just ‘washes over one’; it consists in a certain kind 
of active engagement. It consists in charitably interpreting the work; transcending one’s 
familiar or default cognitive standpoint to open-mindedly engage with it (Baehr 2011: 
103); honestly assessing it; confronting the darker parts of human nature; not being overly 
influenced by others’ opinions about the work. What one is doing, in part, in the active experience that is aesthetic experience, is exercising epistemic virtue – for example, intellectual charity, open-mindedness, intellectual honesty, intellectual courage, and intellectual autonomy. In this sense there is constitutive overlap between epistemic virtue and aesthetic experience.

What exactly the upshot of this is for well-being depends on one’s account of well-being. But finding extensive overlap between epistemic virtue and goods like aesthetic experience supports the view that that epistemic virtue is an integral part of the kind of personality that is well-suited to realize the most important goods in one’s life. And this, in turn, goes a long way towards showing that–despite the anecdotal and empirical evidence cited at the beginning of this entry–epistemic virtue’s net contribution to a person’s well-being is a positive one. Epistemic virtue makes us better off.


Anne Baril is a Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis.  She has research interests in ethics, epistemology, social and political philosophy, and their intersection.  In her current central research project, she argues that epistemic virtue is both integral to the development of moral character and a constitutive contributor to well-being. 

SUN, Nov 12: Candace Vogler at the Chicago Humanities Fallfest/17: Belief!

Aquinas and “the Arabs”: Call for Papers for meetings at Marrakech & Rabat in March 2018

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Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until the program is filled.
Rabat: 12-13 March 2018
Research Seminar Workshop on Ibn Rushd /Averroes
Hosted by Prof. Fouad Ben Ahmad
We will have five (5) presentations by Moroccan scholars and five (5) by members of the AAIWG. 
The presentations will be 50 min. with 40 min. for questions and discussion. 
Marrakech: 15-16 March 2018
Workshop on Human Knowing in the Medieval Arabic and Latin Traditions
Hosted by Prof. Jamal Rachak
We will have six (6) presentations by Moroccan scholars and up to twelve (12) by members or friends of the AAIWG.
The presentations will be 20 min. with 10 min. for questions and discussion
Applications for the Marrakech meeting are still being accepted. Those interested should send a title, abstract and current CV to: Richard.Taylor@Marquette.edu Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until the program is filled.