Jan 15 deadline: Virtue, Happiness, & Self-transcendence Summer Seminar

June 18  – 23 (Sun – Sat) | University of Chicago

Applications, including letters, must be complete by January 15, 2017.

Click here for application information and submission portal.

Fr. Stephen Brock  •  Jennifer A. Frey  •  Dan P. McAdams  • Candace Vogler


Now in our second year, our 2017 summer seminar, “Virtue, Happiness, and Self-transcendence”  is intended for outstanding middle- and advanced-level graduate students and early career researchers in the areas of Philosophy, Psychology, and Theology/Religious Studies. Our aim is to involve participants in our innovative and collaborative research framework within these three fields, and to provide an engaged environment to deepen and enliven their own research.

The Seminar is highly intensive, meeting twice a day for one week on the topics below and continues in conversations informally over meals.

Participants are housed on the University of Chicago campus and eat communally in a nearby dining hall.

The 2017 seminar is supported by  a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation and our institutional partner the Hyde Park Institute, and includes lodging, meals, tuition, and reimbursement up to $500  for travel. Accepted participants are asked to pay a $200 registration fee.


Fr. Stephen Brock session topics

Session 1: Friendship. The topic of friendship takes up approximately a fifth of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (Books VIII and IX).  Aristotle judges friendship an essential factor in human happiness, and moral virtue an essential condition of true friendship.  And although he does not use the expression “self-transcendence,” he famously defines a friend as “another self.”  Thomas Aquinas fully endorses Aristotle’s account of friendship, and he gives it a fundamental role in his own account of the virtue of charity.  In this session we will look at some of the more salient passages in Aquinas’s commentary on Books VIII and IX of the Ethics.

Session 2: Law. According to Thomas Aquinas, all law tends toward constituting friendship, either among human beings, or between human beings and God (Summa theologiae, I-II, q. 99, a. 1, ad 2).  He also says that law regards “common happiness” (I-II, q. 90, a. 2), and that it aims to render those who are subject to it virtuous (I-II, q. 92, a. 1).  Aquinas’s conception of law thus brings together the themes of virtue, happiness, and self-transcendence.  In this session we will examine his general notion of law, his way of distinguishing various kinds of law, and especially his account of natural law.

Jennifer A. Frey session topics

Session 1: Self-Love and Self-Transcendence. A great deal of empirical and humanistic research suggests that human beings are happier and find their lives more meaningful when connected to common goods that go beyond the self.  The broadly Aristotelian philosophical tradition also suggests that self-love is the foundation of a happy and meaningful life.  This session will address how self-love and self-transcendence are mutually illuminating concepts, and how each can figure in an account of virtue.

Session 2: Happiness and Human Action. Happiness is a neglected topic in action theory.  In this session, we will explore the role that happiness plays in the account of human action advanced by Thomas Aquinas, with an eye to its relevance for contemporary questions and debates about the nature of practical reason, practical knowledge, desire, and practical intelligibility.

Dan McAdams session topics

Session 1:  Psychological perspectives on virtue and morality.  We will consider classic and contemporary understandings of what it means to live a good life, as expressed in the literature of empirical psychology.  Our emphasis will be on developmental conceptions, which lay out a series of psychosocial stages, tasks, experiences, or challenges that shape human virtue over the life course.  One increasingly influential perspective on the current scene suggests that virtue and morality may be construed as following three developmental lines over time:  the development of (1) moral traits and habits (the person as a social actor), (2) moral values and goals (the person as a motivated agent), and (3) a moral vocation in life (the person as an autobiographical author).

Session 2:  A virtue aimed at transcending and expanding the self:  Generativity.  In that the survival of the human species has traditionally been regarded as an ultimate concern, it is difficult to think of a more important virtue in human life than a commitment to promoting the survival, development, and well-being of future generations.  Erik Erikson named this virtue generativity.  We will explore classic theory and contemporary psychological research on the concept of generativity.  We will pay special consideration to the paradox that lies at the  heart of the concept – the contradictory idea that generativity is both narcissistic and altruistic, that a commitment to promoting future generations promotes the expansion of the self even as it challenges the generative adult to transcend the self.

Candace Vogler session topics

Virtue, Happiness, and Common Good.


Applications, including letters, must be complete by January 15, 2017.

Click here for application information and submission portal.

Is Morality Rational?

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Our Principal Investigator and Philosopher Jennifer A. Frey was a writer for the “Big Questions” blog yesterday, November 8, 2016. Here’s an excerpt, with a link to the full piece.

 

When we think of morality, we tend to think of things that we must or must not do if we are to count as good persons. In general, most of us recognize that a moral person does not do things like lie, steal, cheat, murder, rape, torture, slander, neglect duties and responsibilities, and so forth. And we further recognize that a moral person does not merely refrain from such detestable things, but also acts in certain ways that we find praiseworthy, for instance, being generous, kind, honest, respectful, loyal, brave, or self-controlled.

 

And while we deeply admire moral persons, we also know that morality is demanding of us. Let’s face it, sometimes the moral life can feel like a real drag. And though we may find it relatively easy to be just when things are going reasonably well for us, it is often far more difficult when justice demands that we sacrifice career prospects, harmony in our families, fulfillment of our deepest passions, and, perhaps, even our very lives.

 

Furthermore, even a casual observer of human affairs might notice that people who have been wildly successful in life are not always or even typically very moral. The self-sacrificing and just person might look around and begin to worry whether she has been exercising poor practical judgment. After all, if practical wisdom is about living well —  and so many immoral people seem to be living well — perhaps carrying out the demands of justice is not our best option.

 

This raises a difficult philosophical question: Is it rational — practically wise — to be moral and just?

 

This question is put to Socrates in Plato’s Republic. In the dialogue, Socrates’ interlocutors force him to confront a sordid truth: that the unjust man appears to have the upper hand in life, since injustice allows him to accumulate the money and power necessary to live freely — to live unencumbered by any relations of servitude or need to others.

 

But Socrates is unmoved by this argument. He contends that “anyone who is going to be blessed with happiness” must love justice both for its own sake and for the sake of its good consequences. He is adamant that justice does have intrinsically good consequences — that justice “benefits its possessor” — though the moral person does not pursue justice only for the sake of those consequences.

 

This is an argument that appeals to human nature. The idea is that, as political animals, we need to stand in just relations to one another, for we can live well together and be happy only if we have laws that both regulate and promote sound modes of social interaction. This is why the laws of any city in which citizens can flourish and excel must be just. So we can say that justice is in a sense necessary for us — that we must pursue it. The natural desire to live happily together is not a matter of individual choice but, rather, a fact about us as humans. If we accept this picture of human nature, it is reasonable for us to be just — it both befits and benefits us given the kind of beings we are.

 

Plato was not the only classical author to make this connection between the good man and the good state. It’s a connection that often puzzles contemporary readers, because we have lost the conception of the human person that grounds it. It’s helpful here to remember that it was central to ancient and medieval philosophical traditions that humans possess, by nature, a function or goal that provides a standard against which to measure whether we are living well. Just as it is the goal or function of a knife to cut — such that a knife is good insofar as it cuts well — so it is the goal or function of man, Aristotle argues, to live according to judgments of right practical reasoning, to be practically wise. In other words, virtue only make sense in relation to a given goal or function. So, if the function of a knife is to cut, then the virtue of a knife is its sharpness. Similarly, Aristotle argues that the cardinal virtues — justice, courage, temperance, and practical wisdom — enable us to perform our function well, to live a reasonable life in which we make practically sound choices.

 

According to this view, because we are rational, political animals, we can carry out our function only together, within the context of a political community. Continue to the full piece here.

 


Jennifer A. Frey is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina and Principal Investigator with Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life.

Questions our scholars are asking – part 2 of 2

Colorful autumn trees
Click photo to make it larger.

 

We’ve distilled our Scholars’ research for this semester into respective questions; click here to take a look at the questions posted yesterday. In forthcoming posts, we’ll feature in-depth look at each. For now, we thought our readers would enjoy pondering each question. Together, they can read as a kind of meditation on the inter-relatedness of virtue, happiness, and deep meaning in life.

 

When and why are people accurate or inaccurate predictors of their own future feelings?

~Heather C. Lench, Texas A&M University

 

What roles do stories, social identities, and value pursuits play in the ways people understand their lives to have meaning?

~Dan P. McAdams, Northwestern University

 

How do we get people to abandon the notions of human separation from, and superiority to, nature?

~ Darcia Narvaez, University of Notre Dame

 

Do the fundamental human capacities for desire and aversion possess a rational structure, and can a Thomistic understanding of virtue help us understand it?

~Jean Porter, University of Notre Dame

 

Is it better to put the existence of evil out of our minds, or focus on how to respond to it?

~David Shatz, Yeshiva University

 

Should one die for God, and if so, under what conditions?

~Josef Stern, University of Chicago

 

What is the role of religious freedom in the context of the modern, non-confessional state?

~Father Thomas Joseph White, Thomistic Institute, Dominican House of Studies

 

How do we differentiate between positive and negative varieties of self-transcendence?

~Paul T.P. Wong, Trent University

Now accepting applications: “Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence” Summer Seminar 2017

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

Summer Seminar 2017: “Virtue, Happiness, and Self-transcendence”

June 18 (arrive) – 23, 2017

University of Chicago, Hyde Park campus

The Seminar is intended for outstanding middle- and advanced-level graduate students and early career researchers in the areas of Philosophy, Psychology, and Theology/Religious Studies. Our aim is to involve participants in our innovative and collaborative research framework within these three fields, and to provide an engaged environment to deepen and enliven their own research.

The Seminar is highly intensive, meeting twice a day for one week and continues in conversations informally over meals.

Participants are housed on the University of Chicago campus and eat communally in a nearby dining hall.

The 2017 seminar is supported by  a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation and our institutional partner the Hyde Park Institute, and includes lodging, meals, tuition, and reimbursement up to $500  for travel. Accepted participants are asked to pay a $200 registration fee.

Click here for more information, including faculty, topics, and how to apply.

Dan P. McAdams on “The Mind of Donald Trump”

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Our scholar Dan P. McAdams  is a psychologist whose work focuses on stories people tell about their lives and how their narratives help create their respective personalities. “Redemptive life narratives serve as a psychological resource for highly generative adults, providing them with the kind of personal story (narrative identity) they often need to persevere in the face of adversity and to keep focused on trying to make a positive difference in the lives of others and in society writ large,” he wrote about his research in  The Virtue Blog last October.

Recently, McAdams published a piece in the June/July issue of The Atlantic analyzing how the personality of Donald Trump might shape his presidency, writing “A large and rapidly growing body of research shows that people’s temperament, their characteristic motivations and goals, and their internal conceptions of themselves are powerful predictors of what they will feel, think, and do in the future, and powerful aids in explaining why. In the realm of politics, psychologists have recently demonstrated how fundamental features of human personality—such as extroversion and narcissism—shaped the distinctive leadership styles of past U. S. presidents, and the decisions they made. While a range of factors, such as world events and political realities, determine what political leaders can and will do in office, foundational tendencies in human personality, which differ dramatically from one leader to the next, are among them.”

McAdams investigated 4 areas of personality construction: Disposition, mental habits, motivations, self-conception; in doing so he explored Trump’s telling of early childhood memories, self-referential language, authoritarianism, focus on personal relationships and one-on-one negotiating, and persona as warrior.

In the August/September issue, readers responded to the article. McAdams also wrote about the piece, noting “Composing an evidence-based psychological commentary on a presidential candidate—one that draws exclusively on well-validated constructs in personality and social psychology and relies on reputable biographical sources—constrains an author in many ways. For one, there have been only 43 U.S. presidents, which is a small sample size for comparison . . .While some supporters of Trump may dismiss any effort to make psychological sense of the man, some detractors will not be satisfied until he has been psychologically eviscerated. I tried to perform a fair-minded interpretation—sticking to the facts as we know them and to some of the best ideas in contemporary psychological science.”

Read “The Mind of Donald Trump” in The Atlantic here.

Read comments and Dan P. McAdams’ response here.


Dan P. McAdams is a scholar with Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life, and Henry Wade Rogers Professor of Psychology at Northwestern University.

Valerie Wallace is Assistant Director, Communications, for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.