Self-Other Concept in Humble Love As Exemplified by Long-Term Members of L’Arche


We’re presenting a short series of abstracts of the work-in-progress our scholars presented and discussed at their June 2017 Working Group Meeting.

Robert C. Roberts is Professor of Ethics and Emotion Theory at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, and joint Chair with the Royal Institute of Philosophy. Michael Spezio is Associate Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience and head of the Laboratory for Inquiry into Valuation and Emotion (LIVE) at Scripps College in Claremont, CA.

After living for a significant period in l’Arche communities, people often experience a change of self-other concept. It is a character change in which, from conceiving self-other in a way that is typical for modern secular societies, members’ experience of self in relation to others is transformed under the reign of what we call humble love. Both before and after the transformation, the experience of self-other has the character of concern-based construal, but the terms of the two kinds of construal are mutually contrary. Following Jean Vanier, we call the ethos guiding the first self-other style of construal “the Normal” (he writes of “the tyranny of the Normal”). The leading concepts on which this ethos turns are success, competence, competition, advancement, achievement, power, superior-inferior, rival, reputation/recognition/ acclaim, and the like, as criteria for the evaluation of persons. Here the self is seen as in relation to the other/ others, but the relations are distancing, alienating, ones of rivalry, differential competence, superior achievement, competition for power, winner and loser, etc. The relations are not those within a community, in the strict sense, but rather within a social arena of agonistic differentiation. By contrast, the terms of self-other construals that are fostered by long-term living in l’Arche are characterized by commonality, mutuality, and reconciliation: brother/sister, friend, helper, colleague, forgiveness, love. Humble love combines two highly congruent and complementary virtues: humility and charity. The tyranny of the Normal erects “walls” that impede the mutuality construals of self-other that are characteristic of love. Humility, which dissipates or undermines the distancing, alienating self-other construals, brings down these walls, making way for the genuine communion of love with its characteristic self-other construals.

An Integrative Model for Affective Forecasts: Understanding Predictions about Future Feelings



We’re presenting a short series of abstracts of the work-in-progress our scholars will present and discuss at their June 2017 Working Group Meeting.  Heather C. Lench is Associate Professor and Associate Head in the Department of Psychology at Texas A&M University and scholar with Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.


People try to make decisions that will improve their lives and make them happy, and to do so, they rely on affective forecasts–predictions about how future outcomes will make them feel. The greater the emotional impact people expect a future outcome to have, the more effort and resources they invest in attaining or avoiding it. Understandably then, inaccuracy in affective forecasting has been identified as a major obstacle to making good decisions. Decades of research suggest that people are poor at predicting how they will feel and commonly overestimate the impact that future events will have on their emotions. Although the simplicity of this idea is intuitively attractive, recent studies have revealed that people are actually very good at forecasting some features of their emotional reaction. This investigation tested a new theoretical model that explains past inconsistent results demonstrating that sometimes people overestimate, sometimes underestimate, and are sometimes accurate in their forecasts. The investigation clearly differentiates forecasts of emotional intensity, frequency, and duration for the first time in the real-world setting of a controversial presidential election. Participants accurately forecast the intensity of their reaction, but overestimated how frequently they would feel emotions about the election and how much their mood would be impacted by the election. Consistent with our theoretical model, bias in forecasts of emotion were predicted by cognitive features. Overestimating the importance of the election resulted in overestimating the intensity of responses; overestimating the frequency of thinking about the election resulted in overestimating the frequency of responses; and overestimating the relevance of the election to personal goals predicted overestimating the impact of the election on mood. By allowing researchers to achieve greater precision about the features of emotion being predicted, this study clarifies when and why people overestimate, underestimate, and accurately predict their emotional reactions. Addressing this question is essential, not only for a theoretical understanding of how people think about their futures, but also for understanding how to intervene to improve decisions.


The results inform interventions designed to improve decision-making in applied domains including health, public policy, education, and economics. People making important decisions–such as whether to undergo surgery, listen to public health warnings, or pursue a specific career– will be better informed if they can accurately predict how the outcomes of their decisions will make them feel. Thus, interventions that improve forecasting are critically important for helping people make informed choices with implications for the length and quality of their lives.
*This is a collaborative project with Linda J. Levine, and is funded by the National Science Foundation (#1451297)

*A similar abstract was submitted for the December 2016 meeting; however, discussion of these primary findings was delayed in favor of presenting several serendipitous results given the surprising outcome of the election.



Robert C. Roberts on Emotions and Practical Wisdom | Our Scholars at Oxford for Jubilee Centre Conference on Character, Wisdom, and Virtue, January 5-7, 2017

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A Foggy Walk in Magdalen College. Photo by Jennifer A. Frey.

Last week, 4 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 for the next few days, with many thanks to the Jubilee Centre.

robertcrobertsRobert C. Roberts is Professor of Ethics and Emotion Theory at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, and has a joint Chair with the Royal Institute of Philosophy. Professor Roberts received his Ph.D from Yale University in 1974 and has taught at Western Kentucky University (1973–1984), Wheaton College (1984–2000), and Baylor University (2000–2015), where he retains Resident Scholar status in the Institute for Studies of Religion. He has received research grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and Notre Dame’s Center for Philosophy of Religion. He is currently a recipient, with Michael Spezio, of a grant from the Self, Motivation, and Virtue Project at the Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing at the University of Oklahoma, for a study of “Humility in Loving Encounter.”

Below you will find his short abstract, followed by a link to the larger paper discussed at the conference, “Emotions and Practical Wisdom.”

ABSTRACT: “Emotions and Practical Wisdom”

Practical wisdom connects with emotions in at least three ways. First, the perceptions most perfectly characteristic of practical wisdom, whether spontaneous intuitions or results of deliberation, are either emotions or virtual emotions. Second, practical wisdom is a power of judging emotions — one’s own and other people’s. In relation to one’s own emotions, it is an ability to recognize one’s emotions as morally fit or unfit and to understand what is right or wrong about them. As to others’ emotions, practical wisdom turns largely on sympathy, which in turn depends on a breadth of emotional dispositions in oneself and good powers for assessing emotions. Third, practical wisdom is understanding of what to do to correct morally adverse emotions and to confirm oneself in morally appropriate ones, and the motivation to do so.

Read Roberts’ full paper here:

Virtue Talk Podcast: Psychologist Heather C. Lench on Emotions

virtuetalklogorsClick the link below to hear our scholar and psychologist Heather C. Lench discuss her research in how our emotions impact our thoughts about our futures and daily events, and how the conversations she’s having at our working group meetings have given her new ideas about emotions.

Heather C Lench | Virtue Talk

Heather C. Lench is Associate Professor and Department Head of Psychology at Texas A & M University.  Read more here.

Heather C. Lench with fellow scholar Marc Berman at the December 2015 working group meeting of the scholars of Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.



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Interview with Jason Welle, Summer Seminar Participant

This post is part of a series of interviews with our incoming class for the “Virtue & Happiness” 2016 Summer Seminar.  Father Jason Welle, OFM of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, D.C. is doctoral student at Georgetown University in Theology and Religious Studies, with a focus on Christianity and Islam.

Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?
Jason Welle: I grew up in Albany, Minnesota, a small farming town in the central part of the state.  After completing a B.A. at St. Olaf College and an M.T.S. at the University of Notre Dame, I joined the Assumption BVM Province of Franciscan Friars, centered in Wisconsin.  I currently live in Washington, D.C., where I’m completing a doctorate at Georgetown University.  In the fall I will begin a visiting professorship at the Pontifical Institute for the Study of Arabic and Islam in Rome.


VW: Tell me about your research.

 JW: Georgetown’s doctoral program focuses on religious pluralism; my subject areas are Christianity and Islam.  I’m interested in Muslim-Christian relations broadly-speaking, especially in the middle ages and in connection with the Franciscan tradition.  My dissertation focuses on medieval Ṣūfism, specifically on the concept of companionship in the writings of the Ṣūfī master ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Sulamī (d. 412/1021).  In short, I chose this because I am interested in how people become better people.  Medieval Ṣūfīs had an acute sense for the way our friendships shape our relationship with God and our growth in the spiritual life.  My dissertation engages the theoretical work of Alasdair MacIntyre, arguing that he offers helpful resources to reconsider notions of virtue, character, and the role of a community’s practices within an Islamic context.


VW: What are you most looking forward to about this summer’s Virtue and Happiness seminar?

JW: I’m thrilled by the diversity of the participants.  While we all have an interest in virtue and character, I know that the different approaches to those themes will spark questions about my work that I had not anticipated.  Specifically, the seminar will help me advance one research project on which I’ve done some initial work: the role of emotions in the thought of Bernard Lonergan.  I intend to bring Lonergan’s framework into conversation with Martha Nussbaum’s research on “negative emotions” like shame and anger, looking at the way these can impede proper cognition.  The section of the seminar with Owen Flanagan on destructive emotions will assist me in developing my thoughts on this for publication.


VW: What are your non-academic interests?
JW: I remain gratefully active in sacramental ministry, celebrating masses and hearing confessions at our shrine church in Washington.  I am a pilgrim guide in the Holy Land and travel there once or twice a year to lead groups.  My brother Scott turned me into a marathoner; I train year-round and we run a full marathon together, shoulder-to-shoulder, at least once a year.  Outside of Christmas and Holy Week, this is one of my greatest joys.

The Meaning of Boredom

Photo by shortono8

Boredom is a common experience – we experience it every day, often multiple times a day. People who are prone to experiencing boredom frequently are more likely to engage in a number of impulsive behaviors, including gambling, substance abuse, binge eating, and dropping out of school. Despite its frequency of occurrence and relation to negative outcomes, modern experimental psychology has largely ignored the effects of boredom until recently.


We proposed that boredom, like other emotions, occurs in response to a specific situation and organizes physiological, cognitive, and behavioral reactions. The situation that elicits boredom appears to be the perception that the current situation is no longer satisfying, and the experience of boredom organizes reactions to identify and pursue alternative activities that could be more satisfying. In other words, what you’re doing now is no longer satisfying, and boredom prompts you to look around for other options. Exactly what “satisfying” entails is a matter of debate. Some researchers have argued that satisfying activities are those that are personally meaningful. We have suggested that satisfying activities are those that are related to individuals’ goals, and could be aimed toward short or long-term goal pursuits. For example, boredom could prompt people to engage in an existentially meaningful examination of future plans, but it could also prompt people to play Candy Crush (which gives the illusion of goal pursuit).


In many studies people report that boredom is extremely aversive and unpleasant. In a series of recently completed studies, we randomly assigned participants to a boredom condition (viewing a long series of positive or neutral images) or a non-boredom condition (viewing a short series of images). Participants in the boredom condition expressed a preference for new experiences and they were more likely to choose novel over familiar images to view next. This preference for novelty was so strong that bored participants were even more likely to choose to view new negative images (e.g., cockroaches) over familiar positive images. These findings suggest that boredom creates a “seeking state” that motivates people to seek out new situations and stimuli, and that boredom is so unpleasant that people would rather view disgusting images than experience boredom.


Studies in our lab and other labs are currently exploring the relationships between boredom and creativity, mind wandering, and self-regulation. Given the ubiquity of boredom across individuals and cultures, this work has the potential to shed light on a core facet of human experience.

Heather C. Lench is Associate Professor of Psychology and Department Head, Texas A&M University, and a scholar with Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.