Save the date: April 11 4pm Live-streaming Anselm Mueller, “What Do We Live For”

crop for web the-temptation-of-st-anthony
Detail from The Temptation of St. Anthony by Hieronymus Bosch.

“What Do We Live For?” Lecture by Anselm Mueller

4 pm, April 11, 2016 | University of Chicago | The Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society

For those unable to make this event, you can watch it on live our website

Ethical conduct is not without its costs—delivering truthful testimony against well-connected murderers in a criminal trial can be dangerous; delivering bad news to good people is painful; facing down and working through a mountain of debt can require tightening your belt in unpleasant ways; and duly courageous action can get you killed.  Unethical conduct, on the other hand, often promises ease, comfort, wealth, and some important forms of success.  Points such as these have led many thinkers to notice that there seems to be a tension between acting well (the stuff of ethical conduct) and faring well (getting things that people generally want to get, and finding ways of holding onto those things).


In this lecture, Anselm Müller will consider the traditional opposition between acting well and faring well, and the kinds of steps that thinkers in different cultural settings have taken to address it.   Some urge that meaningful lives are primarily those centered on pursuit of ethical perfection.  Others urge that the best lives are directed to faring well (sometimes in ways that have nothing to do with satisfying desires for wealth or ease or comfort).  And a few urge that there is no such thing as really faring well unless one also is devoted to acting well.  How are we to understand these responses to the traditional problem?  Which, if any, look like sound ways of addressing the tension?


Visiting Scholar Anselm Mueller

Anselm Mueller is Professor Emeritus, University of Trier, and a Visiting Scholar with Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life and the Department of Philosophy. A student of Elizabeth Anscombe and Anthony Kenny at Oxford in the early sixties, Professor Müller has taught philosophy at Oxford University, Australian National University, University of Trier, University of Luxemborg, and Keimyung University. He has written many books and articles in the following areas: ethics, rationality, action theory, philosophy of mind, and the history of philosophy.


For more details, visit:


Our Visiting Scholar Program is hosted by the Neubauer Collegeium for Culture and Society and made possible by a grant from the Chicago Moral Project. This talk is also made possible by generous support from the John Templeton Foundation.

Interview with Santiago Mejia, “Virtue & Happiness” Summer Session Participant

Photo by Marc Monaghan.

We’re running a new interview series about our incoming class for the “Virtue & Happiness” 2016 Summer Seminar. Today’s post features Santiago Mejia, who happens to also be our graduate assistant. He’s a PhD student at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago. In Fall 2016, he will be an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation postdoctoral fellow at Occidental College.  There, he intends to explore ways to apply research in moral psychology to issues in social justice and business ethics. 

Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?

Santiago Mejia: I come from the Andean highlands.  I was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia. As an immigrant to the US, this explains some of my greatest strengths and weaknesses.

VW: What are your research areas? Why?


SM: The overarching theme of my research is moral development and self-transformation. How do we make ourselves into better human beings? How can we transform ourselves so that we live a life worth living? I investigate these issues within virtue ethics, but I draw on insights from clinical psychology, social psychology, and cognitive science. I believe that the empirical findings I consider help me offer a textured account of ethical development and moral education that is both conceptually rigorous and empirically informed. During the last few years I have focused on examining, specifically, the role that self-examination and self-knowledge play in the development of virtue.

VW: Why these interests?


SM: I find the general topic fascinating. And I also think that it is a very important one. I take it that the question “How should one live?” is at the heart of the human existence. And my research is meant to help us understand better what the question is asking and how we are meant to respond to it, not just theoretically but also, and perhaps more importantly, practically.

VW: What are you most looking forward to about this summer’s Virtue & Happiness seminar?


SM: I am looking forward to work in a multidisciplinary environment where issues within moral philosophy area approached in a variety of ways. I love to work collaboratively and am eager to meet colleagues with whom to explore together areas where our research intersects.

VW: What are your non-academic interests?

SM: I play squash and video games, even though I am no good at either.

Interview with Kate Phillips, “Virtue & Happiness” Summer Session Participant


Today marks the start of a new series of interviews with our incoming class for the “Virtue & Happiness” 2016 Summer Seminar. Today’s post features Kate Phillips, Lecturer in the Writing, Speaking, and Argument Program at the University of Rochester.

Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?

Kate Phillips: I am from Rochester, NY. I grew up in a small, canal-town suburb of Rochester called Pittsford. Like many Rochesterarians, I have a fondness for seasons, a love of spring, and a well-developed tolerance for snow and overcast skies. In an unexpected (given my love of travel and academia) and pleasant twist I still live and work in Rochester after also having gone to graduate school in philosophy here. I now own a home in the city proper, and enjoy the rich intellectual diversity in the interdisciplinary Writing, Speaking, and Argument Program where I work. I can also now confidently say I will always love western New York for its many lakes, great beauty, fabulous parks, and super annoying weather.

VW: What are your research areas? Why?

KP: My broad research areas are ethics and philosophy of science. One project of long-term interest to me is comparing arguments about scientific realism with arguments about moral realism. My more specific, current research interests include investigating the intersection of philosophy and psychology by looking at work developed in the situationism/virtue ethics debate. I’m spending a lot of time thinking about what constitutes a eudaimonic life and how that relates to attacks on character developed out of work from the empirical domain. I suspect eudaimonia has a deep and interesting connection with the innate psychological needs, an account of which can be found in work on Self-Determination Theory from psychology.


Part of the reason that I am particularly interested in the ongoing debate about situationism and virtue ethics, or more broadly how empirical psychology and normative ethics intersect, is the essential practicality of ethics. I think sometimes that our theoretical inquiries can overlook this fact, separating ethical and moral investigation from the context of our lives. I think the very practicality of ethics became even more important to me when my long-term interest in ethics led me to join the Peace Corps immediately after college and before I entered grad school. While of course how people actually behave doesn’t tell us how they should behave, the actual behavioral tendencies of humans must tell us ethicists something interesting and relevant to our theories. I enjoy trying to figure out what that is.


VW: What are you most looking forward to about this summer’s Virtue & Happiness seminar?

KP: I am most excited about the diversity of scholarship that will be represented at the summer seminar. In particular I am excited about the many conversations we can have about the variety of studies of virtue and happiness, what they have in common and what they don’t, and what we will learn from each other. I am excited to be surrounded by a group of people interested in virtue and happiness.


VW: What are your non-academic interests?

KP: My most important current non-academic interests are dog ownership and homeownership. Last year, around the time of finishing my dissertation, I discovered that I could build things. It turns out building furniture can be a really nice thing to do when you finish a long and grueling intellectual project (or at least press a momentary pause on it by graduating), so I built a bookshelf, a place to keep my clothes (which is actually just a bunch of crates screwed together, but I like it), and what turned out to be a surprisingly nice 6.5’ dining room table. The next obvious step to test my handiness was homeownership, so I took the plunge. It turns out homeownership is much more difficult than building a table (unsurprisingly) but it has a lot of fun moments, in addition to some really stressful nonsense.


Part of my interest in homeownership was the longtime dream of having the privilege of being a dog caretaker. So, not long after moving into the new house, my wonderful partner and I adopted a 6-year-old Aussie Shepard/collie/spaniel mix, who has a long history of friendship with cats. He came from a local rescue with the name R2D2, which he obviously got to keep. Getting to be R2’s people is an unparalleled delight, and also a unique challenge. Given his background and his persistent uncertainty in life, R2 finds the world to be a scary place, with being alone the most challenging monster of all. We do a lot of work together to remind R2 that the world has got much great beauty in addition to its pain and sadness, and also to associate seeing another dog on leash with treats and good things rather than an explosion of unbearable emotion. We also are working slowly towards understanding that we will always be back, and being at home alone means the best toys and foods as well as gentle naps instead of a whole life unbearably alone.



Virtue Talk Podcast: Reinhard Huetter on Happiness

virtuetalklogorsClick the link below to hear our scholar Reinhard Huetter discuss his theological research and the impact working with psychologists and philosophers in our project is already having in ways he considers the idea of happiness.

Reinhard Huetter | Virtue Talk



Reinhard Huetter (center) at the Virtue Scholars’ December 2015 Working Group Meeting.

Reinhardt Huetter is Professor of Christian Theology at Duke University Divinity School where he teaches dogmatic, philosophical, and moral theology ad mentem S. Thomae. He is presently the Paluch Chair in Theology at the University of Saint Mary on the Lake/Mundelein Seminary of the Archdiocese of Chicago (2015-16). He is co-editor of the English edition of Nova et Vetera: The International Theological Journal. He is the author and editor of numerous books, most recently Dust Bound for Heaven: Explorations in the Theology of Thomas Aquinas (2012). Read more here.


Preview on iTunes

Read about our new podcast “Virtue Talk”

Virtue Insight: Conversations on Character

We’re thrilled to celebrate the launch of “Virtue Insight: Conversations on Character“, the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues‘ new blog. The Jubilee Centre, a research institute out of the University of Birmingham, is also one of our partners.

Virtue Insight blog screenshot
“This is the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues blog, where we, the staff of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, post reflections on issues that are close to our hearts and to the work that we are undertaking across the field of character and virtues. We use the blog to take the temperature of the public, social-media and academic discourse on character and character education and respond to it when necessary. We look forward to the active involvement of you, the readers, in response to what we write.”


We’re looking forward to writing some collaborative and/or conversational blog posts with the Jubilee Centre over the course of our 28-month project.

The Meaning of Boredom

Photo by shortono8

Boredom is a common experience – we experience it every day, often multiple times a day. People who are prone to experiencing boredom frequently are more likely to engage in a number of impulsive behaviors, including gambling, substance abuse, binge eating, and dropping out of school. Despite its frequency of occurrence and relation to negative outcomes, modern experimental psychology has largely ignored the effects of boredom until recently.


We proposed that boredom, like other emotions, occurs in response to a specific situation and organizes physiological, cognitive, and behavioral reactions. The situation that elicits boredom appears to be the perception that the current situation is no longer satisfying, and the experience of boredom organizes reactions to identify and pursue alternative activities that could be more satisfying. In other words, what you’re doing now is no longer satisfying, and boredom prompts you to look around for other options. Exactly what “satisfying” entails is a matter of debate. Some researchers have argued that satisfying activities are those that are personally meaningful. We have suggested that satisfying activities are those that are related to individuals’ goals, and could be aimed toward short or long-term goal pursuits. For example, boredom could prompt people to engage in an existentially meaningful examination of future plans, but it could also prompt people to play Candy Crush (which gives the illusion of goal pursuit).


In many studies people report that boredom is extremely aversive and unpleasant. In a series of recently completed studies, we randomly assigned participants to a boredom condition (viewing a long series of positive or neutral images) or a non-boredom condition (viewing a short series of images). Participants in the boredom condition expressed a preference for new experiences and they were more likely to choose novel over familiar images to view next. This preference for novelty was so strong that bored participants were even more likely to choose to view new negative images (e.g., cockroaches) over familiar positive images. These findings suggest that boredom creates a “seeking state” that motivates people to seek out new situations and stimuli, and that boredom is so unpleasant that people would rather view disgusting images than experience boredom.


Studies in our lab and other labs are currently exploring the relationships between boredom and creativity, mind wandering, and self-regulation. Given the ubiquity of boredom across individuals and cultures, this work has the potential to shed light on a core facet of human experience.

Heather C. Lench is Associate Professor of Psychology and Department Head, Texas A&M University, and a scholar with Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.