Twenty-seven undergraduates attended the day-long workshop “Speaking of Character” with David Brooks, Anne Snyder, and Candace Vogler on May 27, 2017, which was sponsored by the Hyde Park Institute and co-sponsored by Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.
The session was closed to the public but we captured a bit on Twitter and some photos.
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.
After decades of believing happiness could be found by focusing on the self, many of us are now seeking purpose elsewhere. Rejection of personal achievement as the yardstick with which one might measure a successful life began some years ago, but in recent years more and more people seem to feel that a good life requires more than mere personal success. In a 1997 interview with Terry Gross on the NPR showFresh Air, the fabulously successful young author David Foster Wallace voiced his profound disenchantment with the self-indulgent tendencies of U.S. culture, describing the sense of emptiness he felt he shared with others of his generation: “I was about 30 and I had a lot of friends who were about 30, and we’d all, you know, been grotesquely over-educated and privileged our whole lives and had better healthcare and more money than our parents did. And we were all extraordinarily sad.”
Wallace went on to criticize mainstream culture’s definition of a meaningful life: “[A] successful life is – let’s see, you make a lot of money and you have a really attractive spouse or you get infamous or famous in some way so that it’s a life where you basically experience as much pleasure as possible, which ends up being sort of empty and low-calorie.” Wallace also questioned the connection between individual success as
measured by money and status, and real happiness, happiness which he felt had eluded him despite his enviable achievements: “I guess it sort of depends on what you mean by happiness . . . we sort of knew how happy our parents were, and we would compare our lives with our parents and see that, at least on the surface or according to the criteria that the culture lays down for a successful, happy life, we were actually doing better than a lot of them were. And so why on earth were we so miserable?”
Wallace’s sense that life should be about something greater than individual achievement is reflected in the contemporary idealism of the high-profile actors and music industry stars whose lives are successful by conventional measures, yet who have still felt the need to draw attention to poverty and human suffering throughout the world. It is reflected in the popularity of Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life, which has sold more than 30 million copies, and whose first chapter begins, “It’s not about you,” and goes on to insist, “The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions.”
This sense that a successful life should be about something greater crops up in the language Karl Moore uses in Forbes magazine to contrast the desire of millennials for meaningful work with the Wall Street generation that preceded them:
“You might remember the bumper sticker, ‘He Who Dies With the Most Toys Wins.’ Fast forward two decades and you notice that Millennials are concerned with other things. Money is important and they do enjoy making it, however, they long to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”