The Virtue Blog

Blog for the Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life project

Podcast: “Walt Whitman on hope and national character” | Sacred & Profane Love

In Episode 3 of the podcast Sacred & Profane Love, philosopher Jennifer A. Frey has a conversation with fellow philosopher Nancy Snow, about why she thinks we should be reading the poetry of Walt Whitman in our current political moment.  We discuss Whitman’s, “Song of Myself” and “Democratic Vistas,” and how each of these works touches on the theme of hope as a democratic civic virtue.  We also explore Whitman’s conviction that poetry can help build hope and help to shape the national character more generally.
Works under discussion in Episode 3:
Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”
Walt Whitman, “Democratic Vistas
Nancy Snow is Director of the Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing at University of Oklahoma and was a scholar with the project Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life. Read more here.
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: Troy Jollimore discusses Madame Bovary


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.


Hyde Park Institute recent events with Tahera Qutbuddin, Thomas Pavel, and Adam Romeiser

We’re pleased to share these recent events sponsored by our partner The Hyde Park Institute

Character and Action Mini-Seminars

The seminars offered in this series have a special focus on moral dimensions of human life and the role of good character in navigating these dimensions well. Participants in these seminars will think through these issues by engaging with philosophical, literary, and religious texts.

These extracurricular, faculty-led seminars meet 2-4 times a quarter for around 1 ½ hours each session. They are open to all University of Chicago students, though space is limited. Advanced reading will be assigned for each seminar, but no written work.

On January 27th, Thomas Pavel, Gordon J. Laing Distinguished Service Professor of Romance Languages and Literature, led the last of three sessions using works of literature and film to highlight non-cardinal virtues. More specifically, Prof. Pavel drew on the works of Henry James, Simone Weil, Robert Bresson, and Heinrich von Kleist to elicit paradigm instances and failings of incumbency, trust, and attention. After short background remarks that framed the discussion of each virtue, Prof. Pavel guided participants through an analysis and discussion of the text and the virtue it emphasized. The general theme was how an attitude similar to love or care is important for virtue and how self-possession or self-centeredness tend to destroy it.


On February 14th, Tahera Qutbuddin, Professor of Arabic Literature, and scholar with the project Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life, gave the second of two sessions on the ethical writings of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and brother-in-law of Muhammad. Ali was a larger than life figure who was a learned philosopher, an aesthetic, caliph, and warrior and commander. The sessions consisted of presentations by Prof. Qutbuddin, a period of discussion and inquiry, and each ended with participants analyzing selected texts of Ali’s. Prof. Qutbuddin explained that for Ali faith and ethics went hand-in-hand as piety requires virtue and virtue requires piety.


Emerging Scholars Cohort in Bioethics

The Emerging Scholars Cohort in Bioethics is a yearlong certificate program in which a select group of students will interact with exemplar physician-scholars and consider what it means to be a good health care clinician, understood to involve more than mere technical competence. Members of the cohort will participate in a 2-day, intensive seminar and a series of lectures. Discussion of the seminar and lecture topics will continue over arranged dinners with the invited speakers. Throughout this program students will think through questions concerning the legitimate goals of medicine, the doctor-patient relationship, and medical professionalism, among others.


On February 21st, Dr. Adam Romeiser delivered an address titled “Rest, Renunciation, and Reconciliation: Three R’s and Their Relation to Health and Freedom in the Age of Addiction,” to the Emerging Scholar Cohort in Bioethics. The talk focused the value these three habits have had for Dr. Romeiser’s practice. More specifically, Dr. Romeiser tied the habits to maintaining health—especially mental health and the avoidance of burnout—and the capacity or freedom to meet all of one’s obligations. The talk was followed by discussion of Dr. Romeiser’s work providing health care to the Lawndale community, and the efforts of Lawndale Christian Center to provide their patients the opportunity for lifestyle changes.

ESCB seminar

For more information about the Hyde Park Institute and their programs, visit

Marc Berman on how physical environment impacts the brain and behavior

This conversation is reproduced from “Common Ground: Emily Talen and Marc Berman,” Dialogo: UChicago Social Sciences. LINK


Emily Talen and Marc Berman

Emily Talen and Marc Berman


DIALOGO: What big questions motivate your research?

TALEN: I spent my senior year in college in Paris. I was homesick, so I ended up just walking every inch of the city. As a sociology major, I was interested in cities from a built environment perspective and appreciating public space, great architecture, and great urbanism. Paris is different because it’s so planned. There has been forethought put into the way its public spaces, its streets, the frontage quality, everything about the city somebody’s thought about it. That contrasts with the suburban sprawl that I grew up in, where it’s much more driven by the bottom line of buying and selling, and much less attention given to public space mostly. Throughout my career, I’ve focused on what we can do to intervene and actually make things happen. In Paris, there was intervention, and you got Paris. I mean, we have so little of that in the US. In Chicago, sure, you can point to some good public spaces, but the design of the city is just not that thought out. There’s a lot to study there. Why did that happen? Where does it work? Where does it not work? What’s the fall-out of not being good city planners? Why does that happen and what’s the effect? It’s been a rich source of things to tap for a research agenda.

BERMAN: I’m interested in how the physical environment affects brain and behavior. A lot of people have this misconception that because humans have so much control over the environment, that we’re sort of immune to it — but the environment plays a huge role in our behavior, and we’re not even aware of it. We started to do some studies where we had people walk in nature versus more urban environments, and we found that people could improve their memory and attention by about 20% if they just went for a short walk in nature, versus a walk in a more urban environment. Much of our research is trying to figure out why. And also to touch on what Emily was saying, that at least in the US/North America, we haven’t done that good of a job in terms of designing cities for human psychological functioning. It’s good for moving goods and for housing people efficiently and things like that. But is it good for having a populace be the most productive they could be, or to have the highest wellbeing? I think we’re lacking in that area. As a lab, we are working to incorporate some of these elements of nature that we think are good for human psychological functioning, for human brain functioning, and retrofit those elements into cities.

TALEN: To me, a baseline question is how much attention is paid to the public realm, as opposed to the private realm. You go to some cities and think to yourself, “They’re really focused on the private world.” As an example, I usually pick on Phoenix because that’s where I was for some years. That built environment is reflective of people having their own internal worlds. You drive down the street, it’s nothing but walls separating different housing pods. How much of the public ground was cared for? That means everything from how the building meets the street to actual public spaces to the width of the sidewalk. How are people moving around in the city? Is it efficient for them to do, and do they have to rely on a car, which is bad for the environment? Even electric cars, self-driving cars, aren’t that great either because there’s a lot that goes into fabricating and manufacturing of an electric vehicle. I want people to just walk. To what degree are cities good for human beings to go out and use their two legs? In some ways, it’s just that simple.

BERMAN: That’s a big problem. Think about how much in this country, too, we have problems with obesity and lack of exercise. It’s difficult to take time out to exercise, but if walking is a part of your daily routine, you will get some exercise there. I mean, that’s kind of what recent Nobel laureate Richard Thaler says, “If you want somebody to do something, make it easy.” We make it really hard in our current society to exercise and do other healthy behaviors. I mean, we’re not meant to just sit in a car and go places. We’re meant to move around — there’s all this research about how exercise is good for cognition and mental health, not just good for physical health. That’s a huge element to this. Also, by having these huge roads many of the natural elements that you could have if you had a more walkable kind of space are destroyed.

To pick up on that idea of what’s natural, how do you define natural when you’re looking at these questions?

BERMAN: In the first study where we had people walk in an arboretum versus in a busy urban environment, we made the distinction ourselves. We’ve done studies where we show people pictures of nature versus pictures of built spaces. They’re not as strong as actual walking, but they are similar and suggest that there’s something about the visual aesthetic of nature that might be contributing to these cognitive benefits. Could it be the fractalness of nature, the amount of curved edges, the color palette? People have lots of different conceptions about nature versus urban. To someone who is an avid hiker, for example, a city park might not seem that natural. To somebody who is a very urban person, it might seem quite natural. The kind of nature that we’ve been researching thus far has been nearby nature in cities.

TALEN: Do you worry about defining cities as unnatural? If the urban is unnatural, we might somehow forgive poorly designed urbanism because, well, it’s not natural.

BERMAN: This is a good point. And people do see naturalness in buildings. We’re doing a study now where we’re showing only buildings to people, and they are seeing nature in some of these buildings. A Gaudí building in Barcelona is rated as more natural than a very 1960s cubic kind of architecture, which is rated as very unnatural. Our algorithms can predict whether something will be perceived as natural or not because it mimics patterns in nature, even though there’s nothing “natural” about it. It’s an entirely built structure. Look in this room here. This room has a lot of patterns in it that mimic nature, so you can construct environments that look like nature, even if they aren’t nature. That’s not exactly what we’re advocating for, although I think we should be thinking about that as well.

Do definitions of nature play into the way neighborhoods and cities have been managed?

By Lynn Betts / Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service., Public Domain,

By Lynn Betts / Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service., Public Domain,


TALEN: This is how we’ve gotten into trouble. In some ways, suburban sprawl is a quest to be near nature, right, but it ended up backfiring, with people having a sense that they’re closer to nature when really they were undermining nature. That’s set up a tension and confusion about how we should be designing cities and the place of nature in cities while we’re trying to be compact and have a lot of proximity between what people need in their daily lives and where they live. How do you bring nature into that in a way that doesn’t then spread everyone out and end up being bad for nature? That’s an interesting urban design question. In some ways, Paris has been good at bringing in nature in a way that is not destructive, and still being very compact and dense. They’ve sort of formalized nature, nature exists in very manicured small settings. When we bring nature in here, it’s all these big parks, or it’s suburban sprawl. We don’t know how to have the best of both worlds.

BERMAN: I think another area to touch on, too, is the physical space and the pattern of behavior. Suburbs might have more “green space” but people’s behavior is less natural, right? You’re going into your car, you’re zipping around. In cities, if you’re walking to places and if your social interactions mimic the environments that humans have lived in for a longer period of time, that in some sense is more natural than living in the suburbs, even though there might be more green space there. That’s another layer to add onto the physical environment —interactions with that environment and the patterns of the human behavior.

Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data for Cook County (O’Hare airport excluded) with 7 landcover variables plotted; Dark green = Tree Canopy, Light Green = Grass/Shrub, Pink = Bare Soil, Blue = Water, Red = Buildings, Orange = Roads, and Gray = Other paved surfaces. Within a county, there is notable variation in the balance of urban and natural elements.

TALEN: Have you heard of the transect? It’s a way of thinking about cities along a transect, a line, where you cut a line from rural to urban, and at every spot along that line you try to form cohesive environments depending where you are on the line. If you’re on the rural end, you don’t get those urban level services. As you move in and you don’t have as much nature, you have lots of services. Some people have been trying to think about zoning our cities that way. Zoning is a total mess, total disaster, it makes no sense. If we zoned our cities to be those immersive kind of coherent environments along the transect, we’d have better cities.

Does looking at how things have historically been organized in cities like Chicago help explain how things got this way? Does it suggest how we can get out of it?

TALEN: I’m focusing right now on retail, working with a post-doc and looking at small, independent, mom-and-pop shops. Where they are in the city, and where they’re dying. There’s an existential crisis in retail — first it was the big boxes, now it’s e-commerce. So what does that mean for our street life? If it’s not going to be retail, then what’s it going to be? The big boxes are not so good at activating street life. Streets are the most public land that we have in the city, by far. Do we want our cities to be composed of streets that are just conduits for cars? So we’ve been mapping out every block in the city of Chicago, looking at where are the mom-and-pop stores and what kinds of environments are they located in. And now I’m sending students out with a survey to ask these retailers how they are doing. Are they connected to the neighborhood? What is the future from their perspective?

There’s been a lot of hand wringing about bad decisions that were made — basically, everything between 1930 and 1990 was a total disaster for urbanism. The focus on urban renewal, tearing things down, putting in big highways. Really, really bad mistakes were made, globally. There’s a lot of attention paid to not repeating those mistakes. That’s why I brought up autonomous vehicles. The circles I run in, which is all about walkable urbanism, are very leery about that because it’s the next technological fix, and it sounds so much like the discussions that were going on in the 1950s: “Oh, look at these big highways. Everybody will be able to just drive everywhere.” You’ve seen these utopian “Jetsons” kind of worlds that were envisioned, and it’s the same thing going on now.

There’s not a lot of nature in those images of the Jetsons future.

TALEN: Right. No, no. There’s no nature there. I show some of these films in my classes, and the students are just amazed at the thinking that was going on. Futuristic city thinking, but we actually constructed a lot of the nightmare that didn’t pan out. That’s why relying too much on technology makes me nervous. How do you think, Marc? Do you agree?

BERMAN: It’s an interesting question about these autonomous vehicles, and if they just perpetuate this driving culture, that’s not desirable. I guess the technology is going to come whether we like it or not. We’re using some of the technology to quantify the benefits of cities. We’re developing apps like the ReTUNE app so if you want to get from point A to point B, it will give you the most restorative walk or route that has the most green space, the least amount of traffic, and is the quietest, and safest. I think walk-ability is a huge thing, and it also needs to be something that has to be equitable. Naomi Davis, who has a non-profit in Chicago called Blacks in Green, talks about one square mile, about having African American neighborhoods where you can get everything in one square mile (i.e., workplaces, shopping, entertainment, etc.), which is really not true in current times. All these things are highly related to each other and might foster better social interactions, which could have lots of other types of positive downstream consequences.

Another theme that Emily and I talk about is this movement to slow things down. We come up against this with mobile technology and phones. We’re each interested in how interacting with nature gives people a chance to be kind of contemplative and reflective, which is something that people don’t do a lot now because they distract themselves with music, social networking and other things. One of the reasons why we think interacting with nature might be beneficial is that it kind of forces people to be alone with their thoughts, and that’s why when we did the studies we kept cell phones in the lab. We made them go out on their own to force them to interact with the environment. And we found amazing effects. The weird part about the mobile technology is that it’s an addictive technology. Usually, things that are addictive are not really good for you.

Can nature be addictive?

BERMAN: I suppose it could. It’s hard for me to conjure up a lot of negatives. Whenever I talk to people about this and say, “we need to interact with nature more,” nobody ever argues with me about it. They may argue with me about why it works, but nobody argues with me that it does.

One misconception about nature is that it’s all about mood or pleasantness or something. It’s more than that. Something else is going on there. Certainly, people tend to get into better moods when in nature, but that doesn’t seem to be the driving factor for these kinds of attention and concentration benefits that we see. One reason could be that our brains evolved in these more natural types of environments. When we did our study in Ann Arbor, we had people walk at different times of the year. Some people walked in June, when it was 80 degrees Fahrenheit. People loved the walk, and showed these really healthy memory attention benefits. We also had people walk in January, 25 degrees Fahrenheit. People said, “Marc, I was freezing my butt off out there. Why did you make me go out there?” But they showed the same memory and attention benefits as the people that walked in June. You didn’t even have to enjoy the nature interaction to get the cognitive benefit.

Now, the trick is figuring out what is it about this environment that’s producing these benefits? Also, what is it about how our brain’s are organized and how they function that we’re seeing this kind of synchrony between the brain’s processing of natural environments?

Is there room to collaborate on all of these questions? What would that look like?

TALEN: Urban planning is, by definition, very interdisciplinary. There are different wings of urban planning, and certainly the exciting part of urban planning is where it intersects with another discipline like psychology, like architecture, like sociology. “Innovation at the margins of disciplines” —  I think it’s true with urban planning. The trick is to not get too disparate with all these different fields and lose sight of the end game, which is that we want better designed cities. How do we take all that interdisciplinary thinking and corral it back into what is sort of a more narrow focus, which is, can’t we just have cities that look like Paris? Why can’t we?

BERMAN: We want to know how to design the environment for better human psychological health. That can mean a lot of different things. In talking with Emily, she’s brought variables to mind that we haven’t really thought about, like having people map out where all the mom-and-pop shops are — we can incorporate that into our models where we have green space over the whole city, and we have health variables of people all over the city, crime in the whole city. We can start adding all these different variables in and see what’s predicting crime, what’s predicting disease, school performance, things like that. To me, it’s exciting that with big data we may actually be able to quantify some of these things. To say, well, when you have this many mom-and-pop stores, a reduction in car traffic, and you have 12 more trees per city block, you can reduce cardiovascular disease by 3% and crime by 5%. I think we’re moving in that direction. There’s a lot of people on campus that are very interested in these issues. It’s an exciting time.


Emily Talen is Professor of Urbanism in the Division and Director of the Urbanism Lab at UChicago. Her research is devoted to urban design and urbanism, especially the relationship between the built environment and social equity. Studying the making and unmaking of neighborhoods in cities like Chicago, Talen (who worked as a professional planner in California and Ohio before entering academia) looks for ways to improve the form and pattern of American cities and neighborhoods so they can be more inclusive and supportive. In a book currently underway, Talen explores the ideal of the neighborhood, comparing a wide range of perspectives on what makes a neighborhood, and the relationship between idealized neighborhood plans and reality. An earlier book, City Rules: How Regulations Affect Urban Form, looked at urban codes over the ages — showing that while many contemporary codes stifle communities, encouraging sprawl and even blight, revised codes can produce a more positive outcome.

Marc Berman is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology and is involved in the Cognition and Integrative Neuroscience programs. His research centers on understanding the relationship between individual psychological and neural processing, and environmental factors. Berman’s Environmental Neuroscience Lab uses brain imaging, behavioral experimentation, computational neuroscience and statistical models to quantify the person, the environment and their interactions. Recent studies from the lab have determined that the density of trees in a neighborhood has positive effects on individual health comparable to being younger and wealthier, and have identified elemental features of natural and man-made environments that influence individual preferences, and also memory, attention, and mood. He is a scholar with the project Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

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”

group20170622_4531 copy
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.
Works under discussion in Episode 2:
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.