Congratulations, Joseph Stern!

Talbot Brewer and Josef Stern at our Scholars’ 2017 December Meeting.

Our Scholar Josef Stern (William H. Colvin Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Chicago) has been awarded a fellowship from the European Union Research Institutes of Advanced Studies at the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies.


The European Institutes for Advanced Study (EURIAS) Fellowship Programme is an international researcher mobility programme offering 10-month residencies in one of the 19 participating Institutes: Aarhus, Amsterdam, Berlin, Bologna, Budapest, Cambridge, Delmenhorst, Edinburgh, Freiburg, Helsinki, Jerusalem, Lyon, Madrid, Marseille, Paris, Uppsala, Vienna, Warsaw, Zürich. The Institutes for Advanced Study support the focused, self-directed work of outstanding researchers. The fellows benefit from the finest intellectual and research conditions and from the stimulating environment of a multi-disciplinary and international community of first-rate scholars.


EURIAS Fellowships are mainly offered in the fields of the humanities and social sciences but may also be granted to scholars in life and exact sciences, provided that their proposed research project does not require laboratory facilities and that it interfaces with humanities and social sciences. The diversity of the 19 participating IAS offers a wide range of possible research contexts in Europe for worldwide scholars. Applicants may select up to three IAS outside their country of nationality or residence as possible host institutions.


Josef Stern’s research topic for the EURIAS is “The Unbinding of Isaac: Maimonides’ Philosophical Interpretation of the Aqedah (Genesis 22)”.

Violence, Redemption, and the Liberal Imagination


This is an excerpt of Introduction: Violence, Redemption, and the Liberal Imagination by Candace Vogler and Patchen Markell. Public Culture, Volume 15, Number 1, Winter 2003, pp. 1-10 (Article) Published by Duke University Press. The full article is available here.


Violence haunts liberal political thought. The defining image of early modern European social contract theory—and an image that remains potent in contemporary contractarian moral and political theory—locates the possibility of civil society in a compact among men who are long accustomed to the use of force in the bloody business of self-assertion and self-preservation. These men, so the story goes, surrender their right to fight one another (and to dominate the defenseless), investing a common, sovereign power with the right to command obedience for the sake of peace, justice, prosperity, and reasonable expectations of security. In turn, their consent legitimates this common power—the state—at least as long as its use of coercion serves the welfare and good future of a voluntarily toothless citizenry.


This is an image of redemption from violence. Casting the state as the bringer of peace and prosperity into a disorderly world, this picture replays, in secular terms, the Christian theme of an epochal transformation in the human condition that the Oxford English Dictionary unsurprisingly lists as the first definition of redemption: “deliverance from sin and its consequences by the atonement of Jesus Christ.” At the same time, however, this is also an image in which violence persists, though often reorganized, renamed, or repressed. While the liberal state aims to control our violent tendencies by depriving us of the right to use force against one another, it also takes into itself the right to use violence in pursuit of this goal, exemplifying the capacity of redemptive aspirations not only to suppress but also to motivate and direct the coercive use of force. And often to disguise it: when one arm of society is elevated to a position of dominance over, and putative difference from, all others, its uses of force can easily come to be euphemized—as “patient justice,” for example, something altogether different from the pathological “violence” it combats. Similarly, since the liberal state thus conceived derives its legitimacy from the lingering threat of interpersonal violence, its redemptive promise must coexist, uneasily, with a portrait of the liberal individual as a very dangerous person. Without the benefit of a coercive sovereign power holding everyone in check, the liberal individual will use any means necessary in the pursuit of material benefits, will struggle to the death for the sake of recognition, honor, or self-esteem, and can have no good reason to expect decent treatment from his fellows.


In short, even in one ideal world of liberal political imagination—a world where all questions of legitimate authority are addressed in foro interno, where no one is expected to give up anything without good reason, where superstitious dread and vainglory are banished and rational scrutiny holds sway, where each citizen can reject or accept governance and will allow considerations of peace and prosperity to decide the matter, and where every state is established for the sake of the common weal—the potential for coercion, cruelty, outrage, disorder, and brokenness are abiding aspects of social life. This seam in the liberal imagination points to the need to broaden our sense of the ways in which the terms violence and redemption are tied to each other. For example, how does the pursuit of redemption from violence relate to the pursuit of redemption through violence? Or, recalling that redemption may also refer to more mundane acts of buying back, freeing, recovering, or making recompense for some particular loss or wrong, we might wish to distinguish between redemption from violence—the radical deliverance of humanity from the affliction of violence as such—and those concrete acts of compensation and counterbalance that, in assigning meaning and value to violence suffered, enable agents to project possible futures (though not necessarily fundamentally transfigured ones) in its wake. To survive violence, to find a way forward under its weight: is this less or more radical than to dream of overcoming violence in a final, exceptional stroke?


Some of the essays collected in this special issue were originally presented in fall 2001 at a conference organized by the Late Liberalism Project at the University of Chicago’s Center for Gender Studies in conjunction with the Center for Transcultural Studies. The Late Liberalism Project was initiated in 1998 by a group of scholars from across the humanities and social sciences who shared an interest in the intersection between liberal ideas and social forms, as well as a frustration with the usual ways of approaching that intersection. Liberalism is often treated either as a set of norms or principles (typically rooted in foundational moral or political theory) or as a constellation of institutions, practices, movements, identifications, and modes of affect and desire. This is a troubling division of labor, founded on a distinction (itself greatly valued by some liberals) between the mobility of abstraction and the immobilizing grip of the concrete. Too often, this division merely sustains a tired controversy between those who celebrate the power of liberalism’s normative content to transcend its own historical limitations and those for whom the history of liberalism’s concrete social forms merely reveals the essential bankruptcy of liberal ideas. It was unclear to us that the customary ways of separating concrete from abstract matters could be sustained in the face of careful historical work on liberal forms. Moreover, the whole of the intellectual conversation about liberalism tended to focus on North American and European contexts. We wanted to open a different kind of conversation about liberalism.


Seeing ourselves as neither partisans of “the liberal project” nor its debunkers, we resolved to consider more carefully the relations among liberal ideas, liberal desires and aspirations, and liberal forms, giving special attention both to liberalism’s colonial and postcolonial contexts and to the relationship between liberalism and globalization. Through what dynamics of imagination and desire do certain institutions and practices come to represent liberal ideas? What modes of feeling and subjectivity have liberal ideas authorized, opposed, or rendered unintelligible? How are liberal ideas themselves disseminated, multiplied, or transformed through the reproduction of the social forms in which they are vested? How do emergent, alternative social forms and ideas interact with various strands or species of liberalism? Do they inflect liberal ideas and practices? Are they deflected or suffocated by them? The essays collected in this issue attend to this nexus of idea, desire, and practice across a number of different social and historical contexts. Zeroing in on the relationship between redemptive promises and the organization, experience, and effects of violence, these essays study the ways in which ethically charged political desire, both liberal and nonliberal, sometimes organizes violence and sometimes attempts to heal the breach that comes in its wake.


Read full article is available here.

Samantha Mendez: “Musings from the VHML Summer Seminar 2017”

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Summer Session 2017: “Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life” cohort | Samantha Mendez is in the front row, fourth from the left.


Prior to the 2017 summer seminar, my research exposure was mostly on the field of Psychology. My collaborations were also limited to the Psychological discipline; hence, my understanding of the world was mostly influenced by the psychological frame. The best part about the experience was the interdisciplinary nature of the discussions. It was truly refreshing to be among philosophers and theologians who enlarged my understanding of virtue, happiness, friendship, meaning in life, and self-transcendence. I was not limited to a psychological standpoint, which usually automatically involves operationally defining virtue and happiness in measurable ways. The engaging and meaningful conversations I shared in and outside the sessions enriched my understanding and deepened my appreciation of pursuing knowledge for its own sake. I am also grateful for the cultural exposure through the faculty and my co-attendees. Prior to my attendance in this seminar, I only learned about other cultures vicariously through books, scientific papers, and movies. The interactions and conversations I have had with everybody from the summer seminar contributed to a deeper appreciation for cultural diversity.


Studying the constructs from a philosophical lens contributed to a holistic understanding of these constructs. It reminded me of the intimate history of Philosophy and Psychology as academic disciplines. This, in turn, inspired me to keep the philosophical perspective in mind as I currently write my dissertation proposal. The dialogues I’ve had with the other seminar attendees have also helped me clarify my own research agenda. I came to the seminar with a rough idea of what I wanted to study but I came out of it with more questions, which have been valuable in helping me tease out what I truly wanted to investigate. Continue reading “Samantha Mendez: “Musings from the VHML Summer Seminar 2017””

Podcast: “Transfiguring Love in the Brothers Karamazov” | Sacred & Profane Love


In Episode 2 of the podcast Sacred & Profane Love, philosopher Jennifer A. Frey has a conversation with fellow philosopher, David McPherson (Creighton University), about transfiguring love as explored by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in his influential novel, The Brother’s Karamazov.  The episode covers Dostoyevksy’s treatment of the classic problem of evil—i.e., the problem of reconciling God’s love and wisdom with the evil and suffering that are part of his creation—and in particular, his idea that active and self-transcending love for others is the only proper response to human suffering, because the only true path to achieving the kind of deep happiness that is the goal of every human heart.
Download Episode 2 “Transfiguring Love in the Brothers Karamazov”
Works under discussion in Episode 2:
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, TheBrothers Karamazov
Albert Camus, The Mythof Sisyphus
David McPherson, “Transfiguring Love,” in New Models for Religious Understanding,edited by Fiona Ellis, Oxford University Press, 2018: pp. 79-96.
Raimond Gaita, A Common Humanity: Thinking about Love and Truth and Justice
David McPherson is assistant professor of philosophy at Creighton University.  His research and teaching center around ethics (especially virtue ethics) and the philosophy of religion.  He has authored many essays on ethics, moral psychology, and spirituality.  He is most recently the editor of the collection of essays, Spirituality and the Good Life (Cambridge University Press, 2018).  David is current working on a monograph on human beings as meaning seeking animals.      

 Jennifer A. Frey is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina. Prior to joining the philosophy faculty at USC, she was a Collegiate Assistant Professor of Humanities at the University of Chicago, where she was a member of the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts and an affiliated faculty in the philosophy department.  She earned her PhD in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, and her B.A. in Philosophy and Medieval Studies (with Classics minor) at Indiana University-Bloomington. Her research lies at the intersection of philosophy of action and ethics, with a particular focus on the Aristotelian-Thomist tradition.

NEXT Episode 3: Nancy Snow, “Walt Whitman on hope and national character”


Preview on iTunes

Sacred and Profane Love is a podcast in which philosophers, theologians, and literary critics discuss some of their favorite works of literature, and how these works have shaped their own ideas about love, happiness, and meaning in human life. Host Jennifer A. Frey is A Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina and co-Principal Investigator at Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life.

This podcast is a project of Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life, and is made possible through a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

Content copyright the University of South Carolina and the University of Chicago.

Music credits, “Help me Somebody,” by Brian Eno and David Byrne, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.5.


Register for the eighth annual Thomas Aquinas Philosophy Workshop, “Aquinas on Divine Attributes”

June 14, 2018 – June 17, 2018
Mount Saint Mary College

The Catholic and Dominican Institute’s Eighth Annual Philosophy Workshop, “Aquinas on Divine Attributes,” will be held at Mount Saint Mary College on June 14-17, 2018.

The Catholic intellectual tradition has staunchly maintained that God’s existence can be known by reason alone and long heralded St. Thomas Aquinas’s Five Ways as prime examples of plausible demonstrations. This year’s workshop on the divine attributes will serve as a robust introduction to Aquinas’s natural theology for the Thomistic beginner and a speculative advancement for the veteran. Specific divine attributes will be explored as well as the broader issues of the possibility of knowledge of God in this life and divine naming.

Presenters include:

  • Anna Bonta Moreland, Villanova University
  • Fr. Stephen Brock, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross
  • Brian Carl, PhD, Dominican House of Studies
  • Michael Gorman, PhD, The Catholic University of America
  • Josh Hochschild, PhD, Mount St. Mary’s University
  • James Madden, PhD, Benedictine College
  • Fr. Raymund Snyder, OP, Thomistic Institute
  • Candace Vogler, PhD, University of Chicago

This event is sponsored by the Catholic and Dominican Institute at Mount Saint Mary College; the Thomistic Institute at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.; and the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture in Indiana.

Want to learn more? Download the conference brochure.


Click here to register online. Space for this workshop is limited and registration will close before May 7 if seats are full.

For more information, please email 

Today: Stream Candace Vogler’s interview on “Positivity Matters”


“Translating wellbeing research into positive community experiences.”

Nick Hernandez will interview Candace Vogler at 11:30 am central time today, March 19 on KZUM Community Matters for the program “Positivity Matters”.

Stream the talk here.



Candace Vogler is the David B. and Clara E. Stern Professor of Philosophy and Professor in the College at the University of Chicago, and a Principal Investigator for the project Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.  She has authored two books, John Stuart Mill’s Deliberative Landscape: An essay in moral psychology (Routledge, 2001) and Reasonably Vicious (Harvard University Press, 2002), and essays in ethics, social and political philosophy, philosophy and literature, cinema, psychoanalysis, gender studies, sexuality studies, and other areas.  Her research interests are in practical philosophy (particularly the strand of work in moral philosophy indebted to Elizabeth Anscombe), practical reason, Kant’s ethics, Marx, and neo-Aristotelian naturalism.

A stairway to heaven: A terror management theory perspective on morality

Congratulations to our Summer Session 2017 participant Andrea Yetzer, PhD student in Psychology at Northwestern University. She’s written a chapter for “Atlas of moral psychology,” out now from Guilford Press.
This chapter views moral values, judgment, and behavior from the framework of terror management theory (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 1991, 2015). Terror management theory posits that as cultural animals, we seek to achieve the behavioral standards set forth by our cultural worldviews, from which we derive both self-worth and meaning, as they ultimately protect us from the anxiety aroused by thoughts of our own eventual death. From a terror management perspective, individuals care about living up to moral values because doing so enables them to view themselves as enduring, significant contributors to a meaningful world who will continue to exist after death–either literally by qualifying for an afterlife, or symbolically by contributing to something greater than themselves that will last forever.
Yetzer, A. M., Pyszczynski, T., & Greenberg, J. (2018). A stairway to heaven: A terror management theory perspective on morality. In K. Gray & J. Graham (Eds.), Atlas of moral psychology (pp. 241-251). New York: Guilford Press.