CFA for UChicago Undergraduates: “Speaking of Character” with David Brooks, Anne Snyder, and Candace Vogler


Speaking of Character

May 27th, 11-3:30 (coffee and pastries at 10)
Open to University of Chicago undergraduates, by application.

Many different cultures treat developing good character as one of the central challenges in human life. Your character draws together strengths that help you to pursue and promote good reasonably, avoid bad responsibly, and participate in the collective movements toward common good that shape the social world in which you find yourself. Good character is, as one says, a proof against rewards–a good person does not, for instance, betray her friends or her firm for the sake of personal advantage. Good character is supposed to help people set their priorities, to think well about good courses of action they might pursue here and now, experience sorrow over genuine losses, joy over real triumphs, and more generally to live wisely and well.  With background reading by two philosophers, we will gather to think and talk about character in a one-day seminar.

David Brooks became an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times in September 2003. He is currently a commentator on “The PBS Newshour,” NPR’s “All Things Considered” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He is the author of “Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There” and “The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement.” In April of 2015 he came out with his fourth book, The Road to Character, which was a #1 New York Times bestseller. Mr. Brooks also teaches at Yale University, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.


Anne Snyder is the Director of The Character Initiative at The Philanthropy Roundtable, a pilot program that seeks to help foundations and wealth creators around the country advance character formation through their giving. She is also a Fellow at the Center for Opportunity Urbanism, a Houston-based think tank that explores how cities can drive opportunity and social mobility for the bulk of their citizens. Prior to jumping to the Lonestar state she worked at The New York Times in Washington, as well as World Affairs Journal and the Ethics and Public Policy Center. She holds a Master’s degree in journalism from Georgetown University and a B.A. in philosophy and international relations from Wheaton College (IL). Anne has published in National Journal, The Washington Post, The Atlantic Monthly, Philanthropy Magazine, Orange County Register, Center for Opportunity Urbanism, The Institute for Family Studies, FaithStreet, Comment Magazine, Verily, Humane Pursuits, and FareForward.


Candace Vogler is the David B. and Clara E. Stern Professor of Philosophy and Professor in the College at the University of Chicago, and Principal Investigator on “Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life,” a project funded by the John Templeton Foundation.  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.

Who is invited: UChicago undergraduates, by application only. Visit for more information and to apply.

Contact person:

Workshop on Happiness, Virtue, and the Meaning of Life at Stockholm University | May 5-6, 2017


This two-day workshop aims to close the gap between empirical and philosophical approaches to questions of happiness, virtue, and the meaning of life, in the interest of encouraging the development of an empirically informed philosophy and a science with philosophical awareness. Organizers: Erik Angner and Mats Ingelström.

Keynotes by Jennifer A. Frey (University of South Carolina) and Candace Vogler (University of Chicago).

Presentations by Anna Alexandrova (Cambridge University), Michael Bishop (Florida State
University), Dale Dorsey (University of Kansas), Kirsten Egerstrom (Southern Methodist University), Kaisa Kärki (University of Jyväskylä), Antti Kauppinen (University of Tampere), Jennifer Lockhart (Auburn University), Jason Raibley (California State University), Raffaele Rodogno (Aarhus University), Joshua Lewis Thomas (University of Sheffield), Willem van der Deijl (Erasmus University ) and Sam Wren-Lewis (Leeds University).

FREE ADMISSION „ Time and place: Friday and Saturday 5–6 of May, in the William-Olsson lecture hall (Geovetenskapens hus).

For more information:



Download the poster: Workshop-Happiness-VIrtue-Meaning-Poster.pdf

Interview with Candace Vogler: “You don’t have a beautiful soul if it’s useless to everyone around you.”

AdobeStock_103214271.jpegOur Co-Principal Investigator Candace Vogler spoke with journalist Richard McComb  when she was a keynote speaker at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues’ annual conference at Oriel College, Oxford. For the full article, click here.


At a time of socio-political upheaval and uncertainty, both in Europe and the United States, it is perhaps not surprising that public interest has focused on the project’s pursuit of happiness.

Prof Vogler is wonderfully candid in her responses when asked about the secret of happiness.

“Stage one is, ‘Get over yourself!’” she says. “Don’t worry so much about self-actualisation, self-expression, self-development, self-this, self-that.

“See if you can break the fascination of your own ego for a little bit. See if you can turn your attention to something that is genuinely self-transcendent, that connects you to a world bigger than your intimate circle – and engage there. That is likely to be where you will develop in virtue and character. Your character develops when you get opportunities that are expressive and productive of goods bigger than you are.

“Do you engage at the soup kitchen a couple of times a week because you know you are supposed to be charitable? No, you volunteer at the soup kitchen by opening yourself up to the possibility that you could be drawn out of yourself rather than affirmed in a sense of your own goodness. The self-transcendence provides the context in which virtue is at home.”

Prof Vogler has little time for self-righteous navel-gazing, adding: “You don’t have a beautiful soul if it’s useless to everyone around you. You don’t have a beautiful soul if you can’t be bothered to think about how to engage more effectively in the world that you find yourself in, not just for the sake of your own success but for the sake of contributing to what is good in that world and helping it struggle against what is bad.”


For the full article, click here.

Candace Vogler named Distinguished Fulbright Visiting Professor to the University of Notre Dame Australia

We are pleased to share the announcement that The Institute for Ethics and Society at the University of Notre Dame Australia has been awarded a Fulbright Specialist Grant for the visit of Professor Candace Vogler in 2017.

Professor Vogler will be in residence at the Institute for approximately three weeks in semester 2, during which time she will give lectures and run master classes and workshops for students and staff.

The Fulbright Specialist Grant program is highly competitive, and we are thrilled that IES  received a generous grant from the The Fulbright Program to cover Professor Vogler’s appointment as a Distinguished Fulbright Visiting Professor to the University.



Candace Vogler to Give Annual Aquinas Lecture & Colloquium Talk at Blackfriars


Our Principal Investigator Candace Vogler is presenting at Blackfriars, St Giles, Oxford in early March.

Annual Aquinas Lecture

Thursday 2nd March 2017

“The Intellectual Animal” will be the 2017 Aquinas Lecture, delivered on Thursday 2 March at 5pm in the Aula at Blackfriars, by Prof Candace Vogler, David B and Clara E Stern Professor of Philosophy, University of Chicago, and Principal Investigator on “Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life”.

If you wish to attend, please inform:


220px-Blackfriars_Oxford.jpegAquinas and Newman on Conscience

Saturday 4th March 2017

Freedom of Conscience is a right widely promoted, and widely withheld. If, as Elizabeth Anscombe remarked, “a man’s conscience may tell him to do the vilest things,” how absolute are its rights? Do we need to clarify what conscience is, and how it follows from our creation in God’s image, if we are to state its duties, privileges and limitations, and cherish it without idolizing it?

Candace Vogler will give the talk “Aquinas on Synderesis”



Candace Vogler on Aquinas and Practical Wisdom | Our Scholars at Oxford for Jubilee Centre Conference on Character, Wisdom, and Virtue, January 5-7, 2017

Inside New College, Oxford, and its Gardens. Photo by JR P (Flickr).

In early January, four of our scholars—Howard Nusbaum, David Carr, John Haldane, and Robert C. Roberts—and our 2 Principal Investigators—Jennifer Frey and Candace Vogler—all participated in a conference on Character, Wisdom, and Virtue held January 5, 6, and 7, 2017 at Oriel College, Oxford, UK, sponsored by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham, UK. We are pleased to feature their abstracts and papers here on the Virtue Blog, with many thanks to the Jubilee Centre.

vhml-candace-vogler-photo-by-marc-monaghan20150918_0001_1Candace Vogler is the David B. and Clara E. Stern Professor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago. 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), as well as essays in ethics, social and political philosophy, philosophy and literature, cinema, psychoanalysis, and gender and sexuality studies. 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.

Below is her abstract, introduction, and link to her keynote paper, “Aquinas on Practical Wisdom.”

ABSTRACT: “Aquinas on Practical Wisdom”

Various aspects of Aristotelian work on virtue seem to move around each other in circles—correct practical knowledge seems to be measured by right desire, and right desire seems to be measured by correct practical knowledge; having the moral virtues seems to require having practical wisdom, but having practical wisdom seems to require having the moral virtues. Aquinas’s account of practical wisdom is deeply indebted to Aristotle, but Aquinas finds a kind of grounding for practical wisdom in an understanding of human nature at some remove from Aristotle’s, developing a moral psychology that is, in many respects, both richer and more powerful than what we find in some contemporary neo-Aristotelian work. Aquinas devoted considerable attention to both the character of virtue and the nature of vice. He provided a special account of the way in which human beings were oriented toward human good and away from bad that allowed ample room for accounting for the many ways most of us routinely fail to lead entirely well-ordered lives. I will take us into some of the detail of Aquinas’s account of practical wisdom in search of theoretical wisdom about virtue, vice, and human nature.



I will start with what ought to be a commonplace—it is a condition on the intelligibility of animal movement that an animal moves toward what is good for an animal of its kind and avoids what is bad for an animal of its kind. There are exceptions, of course, especially among domestic animals. While even a domestic goat knows to avoid eating tansy, this aversion seems to be beyond the capacities of domestic sheep, and cats and dogs that spend too much time as objects of intense human emotional engagement become strange. But when a non-human animal seems incapable of going for the things that it belongs to such animals to go for, or else avoiding the things that it belongs to such animals to avoid, one wants to know what has gone wrong. Is the animal sick? Are we seeing the unhappy aftermath of myopic animal husbandry practices?


That is the sort of point at issue in the commonplace. And the commonplace frames study of animals generally. For example, there will be certain things one looks for in the course of identifying a new species of animal that point to what animals generally have to seek or to avoid, such as: How does this sort manage nutrition? How does it protect itself? How does it reproduce? In this sense, understanding living things immediately catches us up in very general and rudimentary concern over good and bad, given the kind of living thing in question.[i] I take it that no one engaged in serious study of, say, gray wolves, will become concerned over the possibility that she may be wrong in thinking that Wolf #355 is interested in breeding. She may be wrong in thinking that interest in breeding is what drives Wolf #355 to haunt the edges of that pack this week. He may be after food. He may be trying to join the pack even though membership rarely carries opportunities to breed. But there is no question that food, pack membership, and breeding possibilities are attractive to wolves—the sorts of things that wolves pursue, things that are, for the wolf qua wolf, good.


In short, if we want to understand what is going on with an animal, the framework for our investigation—the thing that sets the terms for our work—is some growing understanding of specific good—that is, what is good for that species of living thing. This is so even when we move from the level of the whole living thing in its characteristic environment to concern over detailed aspects of its biology.


Why does the chemical composition of the primate’s breast milk change? The infant’s need for such-and-such is communicated to the mother’s body during nursing, and the production of breast milk matches the infant’s need. At this level of description, it does not matter whether or not the primates are human beings.


When we turn our attention to human beings’ voluntary acts, however, even though we operate within the same framework of good and bad that guides study of organic chemistry or neurobiology or vision or digestion, we start to lose our grip. What counts as a good human act? What counts as a good way for human beings to manage the reproduction of living individuals? of the species? of modes of social life and interaction?


I have some confidence that I will not be able to interact with a seriously disturbed person in a healing way unless I can see the sense in which her way of moving around in the world is meant to secure a good sort of thing for a human to secure, or else to avoid something that is a bad sort of thing for one of us. Still, the last thing I usually would say straight off when confronted with someone who avoids bathing, screams profanities when approached, and scuttles into dark places rather than make eye contact with anyone is that she is engaged in reasonable pursuit of human good. The merely formal point—living things seek what is good, given the kinds of living things that they are, and avoid what is bad for such kinds of things—may frame our understanding of what people are up to. Nevertheless, what is understandable in humans’ ways of moving around in the world dramatically exceeds the range of ways of organizing one’s life that count as tending to reasonable and harmonious pursuit of human good, or avoidance of what’s bad. Folly, greed, pettiness, cowardice, injustice, despair, cruelty, negligence, callousness, selfishness, and a wide range of more unusual, boutique practical orientations can be perfectly understandable in this minimal sense: they can qualify as directed toward human good, or away from things that are bad for humans. For all that, if we can make sense of these orientations in ourselves or in others, this is because we can see them as attempts—however benighted—to move toward good or away from bad.


Aquinas takes this bit of wisdom about species of living things from Aristotle and develops the point with reference to voluntary human acts in ways that draw from other sources—notably from Augustine, but also from Ambrose, from some strands of Stoic thought, from saints, from scripture, from his teacher, his contemporaries, and others. Aquinas provides a fairly rich and strangely elegant map of human moral psychology. Our choices and actions are all inflected by reason in the sense at issue in treating us as going toward real or apparent human good, away from what is or seems to be bad. This is how what we are up to is potentially understandable even when we are acting in ways that are recognizably unpleasant, short-sighted, or foolish so that human appear, as my youngest sister once put it, to “lack the sense that God gave to mammals.”[ii]


On Aquinas’s schema, we are the animals with intellect. This is, for him, a metaphysical point rather than just an observation about the relative complexity or range of our sort of thinking, feeling, and wanting as contrasted, say, with the sort we think that we find in other species. And part of what is interesting about us, as we find ourselves, is that reasonable and harmonious pursuit of human good is a problem for us. Acquired virtues are cultivated, learned ways of coping with that trouble. And acquired practical wisdom is, for Aquinas, a cardinal virtue.


For obvious reasons, acquired virtues—strengths developed through education, acculturation, practice, and such, the nascent forms of which may begin in dense and complex attachment to caretakers very early in life—are the strengths of interest to most people in my line of work, to educators, and to social scientists. The other sort of virtue important for Aquinas is infused virtue—strength that comes from God and orients us to a supernatural end. I am among those fans of Aquinas who think that we ignore infused virtue at our peril if we are interested in his account of human life, human nature, and the place of substantive good in understanding how things go for human beings. Nevertheless, in what follows by virtue I will mean acquired virtue.


I will begin by giving a quick and crude sketch of Aquinas’s understanding of human moral psychology, by way of introducing his diagnosis of how it is that acting well can be such a problem for us. Moral virtue will come into the story to help us begin to address the problem, without entirely solving it, and practical wisdom—an intellectual strength—will help steady and steer the vessel whose patches and ongoing repair have been the work of moral virtue.

[i] The best work on this topic in contemporary philosophy is by Michael Thompson. For his most concise treatment, see “Apprehending Human Form,” in Anthony O’Hear, editor, Modern Moral Philosophy, (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2004), pp.47-74.

[ii] Lisa Winans in conversation.

For the full paper and others in this series, visit

Or click here for the paper: Aquinas on Practial Wisdom