What we’ve been up to: Excerpt of our report to Templeton

Chicago Cultural Center Chandelier and Tiffany Dome
Photo by Chris Smith.

Our project is funded by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation; the following is an excerpt of our last report to them, sent in January 2018.

We are on schedule for our Outputs and Outcomes. We held all 4 of our Working Group meetings, accompanied by 4 public lectures. We completed both Summer Seminars, and both Spring courses taught by Visiting Scholars, accompanied by their reading groups. Our Aristotle workshop, “Practical Truth: Reflections on the Aristotelian Tradition,” took place last April at the University of South Carolina. Our public Capstone conference was held October 14-15, 2017 at UChicago, along with two public keynote addresses. We are planning our April “Virtue and Corporate Life” event in partnership with the Booth School of Business. Frey’s podcast series on “Sacred and Profane Love” is being planned for a Spring deployment.

We surpassed our goal of 20 articles springing from the VHML project, with 22 articles and 3 books published or accepted. We will be or have been featured on KZUM radio Nebraska, BYU radio, London radio Newstalk 1290 CJBK, and in the Daily Nous, Philosopher’s Magazine, Quartz, Inside Philanthropy, The University of Chicago Daily Maroon, Tableau, Tableau web extra, Virtue Insight, Suburban Living, and Chicago Catholic. Our outputs have been shared online by the Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing, The Wisdom Center, The Jubilee Centre, Lumen Christi, the Hyde Park Institute, and the Thomistic Institute, as well as the University of Chicago, University of South Carolina, the Neubauer Collegium, the UChicago Divinity School, and Notre Dame Society for Ethics.

As of December 31, 2017, our website, virtue.uchicago.edu has had 22,541users and 66,051 page views. We have 4,168 page likes on Facebook, 664 followers on Twitter, 161 followers on Instagram, and 1495 views on Flickr. Our Virtue Blog was ranked one of the top “Happiness” blogs of 2017, with 48,782 visitors and 94,169 views.

Sport, Virtue, and the Olympics

IOCringsSport and virtue have been linked since ancient times, when the two were often interchangeable. The Greeks believed that sport helped cultivate virtue, and that virtue in turn helped one excel as an athlete. Ancient texts such as the Iliad feature not only battles but also athletic encounters such as footraces, where human cunning as well as human strength might carry the day, and show victors to be favorites of the gods. Aristotle believed that sport was akin to contemplation, taking us out of ourselves to concentrate on something greater.


Today we celebrate athletes as exemplars of courage, persistence, generosity, and discipline because we believe in the virtues inherent in athleticism, as well as believing in athletes as virtuous. Sports coverage almost always features back stories of athletes overcoming adversity, injury, and personal setbacks on their way to success, accommodating audience expectations that gifted athletes must also be gifted human beings. Conversely, we continue to be shocked and disappointed when great athletes demonstrate vice or bad character traits. We require that our athletes perform virtue, with advertisers often pulling endorsements from players who are less than stellar role models, and giving endorsements to those competitors who have shown especially strong discipline and conviction.  Television coverage of this year’s Olympic skaters seems especially interested in the persistence and discipline of young athletes, fixating on the sheer duration of time—all of their young lives– spent training for national and international competition, as well as the sacrifices that accompany such training. Each night of skating has featured film footage and photographs of U.S. team siblings Alex and Maia Shibutani as small children training together, while the internet has parsed and rehashed interviews with former Olympians Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir where each claimed not to have attended their high school proms because “we had no childhoods.”


It is no surprise, then, to find descriptions of the virtue cultivated by practicing sports and the virtue inherent in sports celebrated everywhere on the official Olympic site Olympic.org. We at the Virtue Project thought we would share with you some of the highlights of the site, and encourage you to explore the resources on virtue and sport the Olympic committee has put together there.


Paul Christesen, Professor of Ancient Greek History at Dartmouth College, USA, notes the importance of the Olympic games for the Greeks, who interrupted and delayed wars in order to participate in them:


“The classic example is that when the Persians invaded Greece in the summer of 480 (BC) a lot of the Greek city states agreed that they would put together an allied army but they had a very hard time getting one together because so many people wanted to go to the Olympics. So, they actually had to delay putting the army together to defend the country against the Persians.”


Of special note, too, is the “About” tab, where links to information of the Olympic mission of promoting sport for hope, the ethics of sport, women and sport, healthy body image, peace through sport, and promoting Olympism in society, among many other topics, can be found. The “Promote Olympism in Society” tab is especially inspirational, with links to the Olympic Charter, material on education through sport and social development through sport, and the declaration, in bold, that reads:




We hope as you watch the Olympics and rejoice in the courage and grace of so many diverse athletes from our own country and from all over the world, you take a minute to page through the Olympic website, and to contemplate the ancient Olympics, where the thrill of sport could redirect the passions of war, and our modern Games, founded on the notion that the cultivation of character through training and competition might bring the people of different nations together to celebrate human endeavor in the spirit of brotherhood and world peace.



Jaime Hovey is Associate Program Director for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

Hyde Park Institute Sponsoring Two Spring Courses at the University of Chicago


Our partner the Hyde Park Institute is sponsoring two courses at the University of Chicago. Registration opens Monday, February 19.

Read more about the Hyde Park Institute here.

Anselm Mueller, Candace Vogler, and John Yoon are the faculty members of the Hyde Park Institute. Read more about them here.



PHIL 21504/31504. The Nature of Practical Reason. Practical reason can be distinguished from theoretical or speculative reason in many ways. Traditionally, some philosophers have distinguished the two by urging that speculative or theoretical reason aims at truth, whereas practical aims at good. More recently, some have urged that the two are best known by their fruits. The theoretical exercise of reason yields beliefs, or knowledge, or understanding whereas the practical exercise of reason yields action, or an intention to do something, or a decision about which action to choose or which policy to adopt. In this course, we will focus on practical reason, looking at dominant accounts of practical reason, discussions of the distinction between practical and theoretical reasons, accounts of rationality in general and with respect to practical reason, and related topics. Prerequisite: At least one course in philosophy. Anselm Mueller; Candace  Vogler. DOWNLOAD PDF OF FULL DESCRIPTION HERE



CCTS 21005 / MED XXXXX . The Challenges of the Good Physician: Virtue Ethics, Clinical Wisdom, and Character Resilience in Medicine. This multi-disciplinary course draws insights from medicine, sociology, moral psychology, philosophy, ethics and theology to explore answers to the unique challenges that medicine faces in the context of late modernity: How does one become a “good physician” in an era of growing moral pluralism and health care complexity? John Yoon, MD and Michael Hawking, MD.  DOWNLOAD PDF OF FULL DESCRIPTION HERE



“Teaching Virtue”

Our scholar Nancy Snow has co-authored a paper with Dr. Scott Beck on “Teaching Virtue”, and a free draft is available online.
ABSTRACT: Can virtue be taught? The question is a controversial one, harking back to Confucianism and the Platonic dialogues. We assume that virtue can be taught in the sense that teachers can influence character development in their students and explore the challenges and opportunities of teaching virtue from a variety of perspectives. In part I, Nancy E. Snow surveys a number of theoretical perspectives on teaching virtue which have been or are being implemented in schools. Scott Beck, the principal of Norman High School, describes in part II the grassroots approach to character development recently initiated at his institution. In part III we discuss how features of the Norman High initiative illustrate aspects of the approaches discussed in part I, and conclude with general observations about roles for askesis, or disciplined practice, in changing school communities and cultivating character.

Explaining Apparent Features of Modesty

This post is one of two of excerpts from the paper “Modesty as an Executive Virtue,” forthcoming in American Philosophical Quarterly. Yesterday’s excerpt was “Modesty and the Moderate Evaluative Attitude.”


I have described the main features of the moderate evaluative attitude, which I claim to be central to modesty. Note that modesty’s operative requirement is a negative one. It serves to exclude various things (e.g., not having the stance that one is fundamentally worthier than others), rather than to positively require something (e.g., believing that all persons are equal). In this section, I show how my account can explain why a modest person has the apparent features of modesty, by which I roughly mean the patterns of behavior, desire, cognition, or attention that people commonly ascribe to a person they consider modest.
To begin, it is commonly said that a modest person tends not to be arrogant or
undervalue others even if she has superior qualities. This feature can be explained by the fact that the way she respects herself and others checks the possible temptation to think that her excellent qualities render her fundamentally worthier than others. Recall that my account does not require the modest person to evaluate herself as less worthy than she really is. Such an evaluative attitude would be more appropriate for self-deprecation or servility. Thus, my account does not ground modesty in any disposition to focus on one’s flaws or to underrate one’s own worth. I believe self-deprecation and servility are vices related to the way one evaluates oneself, just like arrogance and self-conceit. The reason modesty is commonly confused with self-deprecation or servility, while contrasted to arrogance or self-conceit, is because human beings are inclined to have higher opinion of themselves than they really deserve. This is analogous to the reason courage is often confused with recklessness while contrasted to cowardice, although both are vices associated with it. If human beings were naturally inclined to lower and efface themselves, modesty would have rarely been confused with self-deprecation or servility.


Another apparent feature of modesty is that a modest person tends to de-emphasize or downplay the worth attributed to herself for her good qualities (e.g., “Oh, stop it. I’m not that great!”). This is because, on my view, a modest person is committed to the evaluative stance that such excellences do not make her fundamentally worthier. Thus, she is less likely to accept and enjoy the praise that she thinks she does not deserve. Also, a modest person tends not to dwell on her superior qualities or show them off because she does not find the source of her self-esteem in possession of such qualities or others’ recognition of them.


The moderate evaluative attitude can also explain why a modest person tends not to care excessively about her rank or relative social position. This is because a modest person is disposed not to ground her self-esteem in the rank of her qualities among others’, and thus tends not to regard their comparative value as important. This point also explains why the modest person is less likely to overrank herself. This is because her evaluation is not easily biased by the self-centered incentive for higher rank. She is thus more likely to make an accurate assessment of her own qualities.


It is important to note that, on my account, these apparent features are not themselves constitutive of modesty. This has two implications. On the one hand, the apparent features of modesty mentioned above do not necessarily instantiate modesty; modesty is instantiated only when and to the extent that those apparent features express or are based on the underlying moderate evaluative attitude. On the other hand, the apparent features of immodesty may not actually instantiate immodesty. That is, as far as a person retains the moderate evaluative attitude, she would not be disqualified as a modest person just because she displays certain patterns of behavior, desire, cognition, or attention that appear inappropriate for or incompatible with modesty. For example, a modest person on my account may sometimes enjoy contemplating her good qualities or draw other people’s attention to them. Not all cases of ‘apparent immodesty’ instantiate a failure in modesty; some of them may be compatible with, though not particularly expressive of, modesty.


Then, how can we distinguish an instance of apparent immodesty that is compatible with modesty from one that is not? My suggestion is that apparent features of immodesty instantiate immodesty when they express some attitude incompatible with the modest evaluative attitude. To see this point more clearly, compare the following two cases. Suppose that Ben the gold medalist occasionally talks about the medal he won in the Olympics to enjoy the feeling of high self-esteem he takes from other people’s positive evaluation of his superior athletic ability. Ben’s act of mentioning his achievement in this case instantiates immodesty, since the attitude expressed here is incompatible with the moderate evaluative attitude. Now consider Sam the award-winning tutor. He mentions to his student that he has earned many teaching awards, but, unlike Ben, only to help the student learn better by building her trust in his ability as a teacher. (Suppose that there was no better way to earn her trust.) There is no intention to bathe in the student’s admiration or indulge in his past achievements. In this case, since Sam’s act of mentioning his achievements is not motivated by any attitude incompatible with the moderate evaluative attitude, it does not instantiate immodesty.


Sungwoo Um is a PhD candidate in the Philosophy Department and the Assistant Director of the Center for Comparative Philosophy (CCP) at Duke University. He holds philosophy degrees from Oxford University (BPhil) and Yonsei University (BA and MA). He works mainly in ethics, moral psychology, and social and political philosophy. Um was a participant in the Virtue, Happiness, & Meaning of Life “Virtue & Happiness” Summer Session in 2016.

Modesty and the Moderate Evaluative Attitude

s anGuitarist playing an electric guitar
This post is one of two of excerpts from the paper “Modesty as an Executive Virtue,” forthcoming in American Philosophical Quarterly


Many accounts of modesty offer to capture the distinctive features of modesty and explain its admirability as a virtue. I believe many previous accounts mistakenly regard things that are either results of modesty or loosely associated features as central to modesty. The main problem is that they do not pay enough attention to the admirable evaluative attitude that is characteristic of a modest person, which I call the moderate evaluative attitude. In this paper, I argue that modesty is best understood as an executive virtue with the moderate evaluative attitude at its center. My aims are to describe the main features of this evaluative attitude and to distinguish it from other features that are only contingently associated with modesty. In particular, I argue that many features that people frequently attribute to a modest person instantiate modesty only to the extent that they express or are based on the moderate evaluative attitude. Then I show why it is appropriate to understand modesty as an executive virtue, which helps exercise other virtues without having its own characteristic end. Next, I examine some of existing accounts and show why they are inadequate. Finally, I finish with the claim that modesty as a virtue does not depend on possession of excellent qualities.

Modesty and the Moderate Evaluative Attitude

Before describing in detail what I mean by the moderate evaluative attitude, let me make a few preliminary points about my view on modesty. First, the modest person’s characteristic evaluative attitude is supposed to be related to herself. One can be either modest or immodest only about qualities that one recognizes as one’s own, or at least as closely related to oneself in a certain sense (e.g., the intelligence of one’s son). This implies that we would not be instantiating immodesty no matter how highly or frequently we praise the good qualities of someone else, as far as we do not think those qualities are related to ourselves in any way.  This self-other asymmetry shows that modesty is essentially related to the person whose modesty is in question.

The second point is that a modest person’s characteristic evaluative attitude is typically toward herself in relation to others. In most cases, the context of modesty is set in the situation where some others are involved in the evaluation, and the scope of the ‘others’ may vary according to particular contexts. Suppose, for example, that Pericles has an evaluative attitude characteristic of modesty only in relation to the citizens in Athens, but not in relation to non- citizens such as women, slaves, and foreigners. It would be inappropriate, I think, to say that he is not modest at all, just because his attitude fails to cover wider scope. It would be more reasonable to say that he is modest at least in relation to citizens, while not in relation to non- citizens. In this sense, the scope of ‘others’ in my characterization of modesty is open and can be fixed only in the given context. Now let me describe the main features of the evaluative attitude characteristic of a modest person, which I call the moderate evaluative attitude. First, a person with this attitude is committed to the evaluative stance that she deserves no more respect than others in a fundamental sense. She feels, thinks, and acts based on the (possibly implicit) evaluation that her worth is not fundamentally superior to others, whether her qualities are excellent or not. She tends not to treat others in a disrespectful manner or look down on them even if their qualities are inferior to hers.

Note that my view is to be distinguished from the ‘egalitarian’ view proposed by Daniel Statman (1992) and Aaron Ben-Ze’ev (1993). According to the egalitarian view, modesty essentially involves the evaluative stance that all persons are fundamentally equal. First, what I impose on a modest person is the negative requirement that the agent does not take herself as fundamentally worthier than others. It implies that, unlike the egalitarian view, my view is compatible with ascribing at least some degree of modesty to a person who regards herself as less worthy of respect than others. Of course, such a person might be better described as self-deprecating or servile rather than as modest, and I don’t think such an attitude is required for modesty. However, it seems reasonable to say that she would be closer to being modest than a person who regards herself as more worthy of respect than others. My view can make this kind of distinction, while the egalitarian view cannot. Second, as I mentioned above, my account leaves it open in relation to whom one is modest. One can be modest or immodest in relation to many different entities including God, other compatriots, other persons, or even other animals. In contrast, the egalitarian view limits modesty to modesty in relation to persons.
Moreover, my view is neutral as to why a modest person would be committed to the evaluative stance that she is not worthy of more respect than others in a fundamental sense. The reason may be human beings’ shared vulnerability, shared rational agency, shared insignificance before God or something else. At least, my view of modesty does not rely on Kantian conception of equal respect for persons. The moderate evaluative attitude also involves a modest person’s characteristic way of holding herself in esteem. Respecting someone as a person is one thing, and holding her in high esteem is another. For example, although a virtuous figure like the Dalai Lama and a petty thief may deserve equal respect as human beings, hardly anyone would think that they are not different in any aspect of value. Let us say that to evaluate a person highly based on the worth of her qualities is to give her high esteem, rather than respect. A modest person tends not to find the source of her self-esteem in the mere superiority of her qualities compared to others’. Whether her qualities are superior or inferior to others is not in itself important to her.

Note that modesty understood in this way is compatible with having high self-esteem and does not essentially involve low self-esteem. Consider Sandri, a modest girl who is very smart and pretty. Although she happens to know that she is smarter and prettier than most other people, she does not take this fact as a reason to have higher esteem for herself or to have lower esteem for other people. As far as she finds the source of her self-esteem in her  outstanding intelligence and beauty as something good rather than as something better than others’, she may have high self-esteem without being immodest.


Moreover, a person with the moderate evaluative attitude tends not to take others’ positive evaluation on her qualities as itself a reason to have higher self-esteem. Although she may appreciate others’ praise on her, the real source of her self-esteem is not the praise itself, but what the praise indicates—that she has good qualities. Thus, if the modest person believes that the praised qualities are not her own or that they are not good enough, then she would not take the praise itself as a reason to have higher self-esteem. Consider Jimi the modest guitarist, for example. Suppose that people praise Jimi as they listen to a recorded guitar song that they believe he played. If Jimi believes that the song is in fact played by someone else, he would not have higher self-esteem based on this misdirected praise. Or if he believes that, although he did play the song, it is not good enough on his own standard, he would not hold himself in higher esteem merely because of people’s praise. In this sense, a modest person does not find the source of her self-esteem in mere comparative value or others’ praise. Ranking or reputation would serve merely as an imperfect indicator that one’s qualities are good.


Sungwoo Um is a PhD candidate in the Philosophy Department and the Assistant Director of the Center for Comparative Philosophy (CCP) at Duke University. He holds philosophy degrees from Oxford University (BPhil) and Yonsei University (BA and MA). He works mainly in ethics, moral psychology, and social and political philosophy. Um was a participant in the Virtue, Happiness, & Meaning of Life “Virtue & Happiness” Summer Session in 2016.

Register for Stephen Brock, “St. Thomas Aquinas on Free Choice”


Our visiting scholarsStephen L. Brock (Pontifical University of the Holy Cross), will be leading this summer seminar “St. Thomas Aquinas on Free Choice” through the Lumen Christi Institute at the University of Chicago.

University of Chicago

This seminar will be a five-day, intensive discussion aimed at understanding and evaluating St. Thomas Aquinas’ account of liberum arbitrium and of the psychological and metaphysical principles that underlie it. The sessions will center on passages from the Summa Theologiae, but we will also refer to other works of Aquinas, such as the De Malo and the Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and to pertinent texts from other philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Anscombe.

sb20170512_3793Stephen L. Brock is a priest of the Prelature of Opus Dei.  He is Ordinary Professor of Medieval Philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome. He earned a B.A. in Philosophy at the University of Chicago and a PhD in Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto.  Brock writes widely on Thomas Aquinas and action theory, ethics, and metaphysics. He is the author of The Philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas. A Sketch (Wipf & Stock, 2015) and Action & Conduct: Thomas Aquinas and the Theory of Action(T&T Clark, 1998).  During 2017 he was a visiting scholar in the Philosophy Department at the University of Chicago, collaborating in the project “Virtue, Happiness, and Meaning in Life.


Apply by February 15!


Now in their tenth year, these seminars are open to doctoral students in the humanities, social sciences, and other relevant areas of study. Room, board, and a travel stipend will be included for accepted applicants. Each seminar includes a week of intensive discussion based on close reading of the assigned texts, as well as daily presentations given by the professor and student participants. A deep knowledge of the material is not required to apply.
For details about the seminars and the application requirements,