Note: This post is a reprint from the November 2017 article in Fulbright Hearts and Minds. The piece and more information about the Fulbright Specialist Program can be viewed here.
In August and September 2017, Professor Candace Vogler from the University of Chicago spent three weeks in residence at the Institute for Ethics & Society at The University of Notre Dame Australia in Sydney, supported by a generous grant from the Fulbright Specialist Program.
Candace is a world leading moral philosopher, and one of the most creative minds at work today on how to translate the insights of moral philosophy into improving tertiary education environments.
Her expertise dovetails with the Institute for Ethics & Society’s research strengths in moral philosophy and ethics education.
Candace and researchers at Notre Dame share the conviction that integrating moral philosophy into university curriculums has a unique role to play in contributing to the intellectual and moral formation of all university students.
During her visit at Notre Dame, Candace delivered a public lecture, gave two keynote conference papers, taught a master-class on the history of moral philosophy, and facilitated a pedagogy workshop on creating community in the classroom.
She also consulted with researchers and senior leadership on how to develop connections between moral philosophy and professional education – a particular passion for Notre Dame in its commitment to providing an excellent standard of training for the professions.
The visit made a huge impact on students and faculty at Notre Dame, and led to the Institute for Ethics & Society being named an official partner institution with the University of Chicago’s $2.2m John Templeton Project “Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life” – a partnership which will bring the Institute for Ethics & Society into a global community of scholars and allow it to further develop its research expertise in moral philosophy and ethics education.
Professor Sandra Lynch, Director of the Institute for Ethics & Society was responsible for the successful FSP proposal. “Winning this grant has opened many doors for us and stimulated our thinking, especially in relation to ethics education. Not only did we have the pleasure of engaging with and learning from Candace for three weeks, but the link has enabled us to begin building research linkages around the world.
“A number of our researchers have been admirers of Candace’s scholarship for many years. This grant has provided us with a pathway to continue benefitting from Candace’s expertise in the future, and we also expect it will provide a platform for discussion and dissemination of our research in years to come as we interact with scholars of moral philosophy and ethics education around the world.”
The impact of this specialist visit was also felt in the wider Australian academic community. Activities associated with her visit saw researchers and students from universities across Sydney, as well as from the University of Oxford, University College London, and Princeton Theological Seminary, gather at Notre Dame to learn from Candace.
After more than two years of research with collaboration between philosophers, religious thinkers and psychologists, the Virtue, Happiness & the Meaning of Lifeproject will present its findings at a capstone conference on Oct. 13 and 14, featuring keynote talks by Prof. Jonathan Lear and Cardinal Blase J. Cupich.
The conference culminates a project that brought scholars together from around the world to examine the enrichment of human life. Research in both the humanities and social sciences suggests that people who feel they belong to something bigger than themselves—be it family, a spiritual practice, or work in social justice—are often happier than those who do not. Scholars refer to the feeling as “self-transcendence.”
Panelists throughout both days, including scholars from religious studies, theology, philosophy, psychology, and economics, will discuss whether self-transcendence truly makes people happier and provides deeper meaning in human life.
Speakers from the University of Chicago include Candace Vogler, the David B. and Clara E. Stern Professor of Philosophy and co-principal investigator for the project; Marc Berman, assistant professor in psychology; and Tahera Qutbuddin, professor of Arabic literature.
“This conference serves to share our research with the broader community,” said Jennifer A. Frey, co-principal investigator, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina and formerly a scholar at the University of Chicago. “Our scholars from a variety of disciplines have reached similar conclusions about the essential role of self-transcendence in the general account of what makes for potential happiness and meaning in human lives. Our hope is that as this project winds down, we are only at the beginning of a new line of research.”
Lear, the John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor in the Committee on Social Thought and the Department of Philosophy, will speak at 7 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Oriental Institute. His talk, titled “Gettysburg,” will look at the ethical difficulties of memorializing the dead and in particular the soldiers that died following the bloodiest battle of the U.S. Civil War.
Cardinal Cupich will speak at 6 p.m. Oct. 14 in the auditorium at the Law School. He will deliver a talk considering virtue in the context of building up the common good, titled “A Consistent Ethic of Solidarity: Transcending Self, Transforming the World.” President Robert J. Zimmer will introduce the cardinal.
“Cardinal Cupich has distinguished himself in his fundamental love of and concern for some of the most disadvantaged people in the city of Chicago,” said Vogler. “His call for solidarity is rooted in the genuine practice of solidarity, day in and day out.”
The conference is free and open to the public, but registration is required. To learn more, visit the Virtue, Happiness & the Meaning of Life website.
How to be Happy: Virtue and the Path to Human Happiness
Call both one’s efforts at being a good person and the ways of thinking, feeling, and responding to circumstances that develop while one works to be a good person ‘virtue.’ Let ‘human happiness’ pick out a pattern in one’s life marked by such connected and interrelated goods as love, health, strong family ties and friendships, intellectual engagement, interesting work, a reasonable measure of material security, optimism for one’s future, and availability to experiences of joy and peace. On some traditional views, the development and exercise of good character—of virtue—is supposed to be enough to guarantee happiness. On other views, traditional and more modern, virtue and happiness can come apart. Both sorts of view share the idea that people want happiness. Both sorts of view share the understanding that acting well can be costly. In this talk, I will trace some of the tensions between virtue and happiness, urging that, while there may be no guarantee that the living will be easy when we work to be good human beings, the kinds of temporal happiness we can enjoy are only worth going for in the context of our efforts to be good people.
Good and the Privative Understanding of Evil
In this talk, I will think about bad things, and the ways in which we can apprehend and consider what is bad—both the kind of badness at issue in so-called “natural evils” like illness, injury, and some forms of suffering, and so-called “moral evils”—like injustice (with the understanding that moral evil can sometimes show itself in manmade natural evil). It can seem like both sorts of bad function completely independently of the goods that they block, impede, prevent, or otherwise sabotage. It can seem that way even if we don’t have unproblematic access to an account of what overall good might look like in the relevant area of human experience, life, or action. I will take seriously the difficulty of giving an account of all-around goodness in specific areas of life, experience, and action, and argue that, nevertheless, any understanding of badness is parasitic on a grasp—however inchoate or indeterminate—of good.
Our principal investigator Candace Vogler will be at Tulane University on Monday, September 18 to give a talk on finding happiness. She will be hosted by the Thomistic Institute Graduate Chapter at Tulane University.
Hollow Pursuits, Fulfilling Pursuits, and Ultimate Satisfaction
According to an ancient truism that I have no interest in challenging, people want happiness. According to more contemporary thought on the topic, in seeking love, wealth, health, friendship, adventure, something that counts as family, some sort of supportive community, interesting work, and the kinds of security associated with these things, people are seeking happiness. Alongside these goods, people sometimes take an interest goods that go beyond the stuff of personal well-being and the well-being of those in their immediate proximity. They want to be good people. They want to play the good that they enjoy forward in some area of human life. They want to work for social justice, say, or for other good causes. But according to the ancient truism that understands this human busy-ness as directed at happiness, genuine happiness shows itself in complete satisfaction. Drawing on the thought of Thomas Aquinas, I will urge that it is folly to think that a very good life will all by itself be completely satisfying. While allowing that sources of temporal happiness really are sources of happiness, I will suggest that human life points beyond itself to a kind of spiritual good that we cannot secure on our own.
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.
Our scholar Erik Angner has coordinated the workshop “Workshop: Happiness, Virtue, and the Meaning of Life” at Stockholm University.
In recent years, psychologists, neuroscientists, economists, and other scientists have turned their attention to traditional philosophical themes of happiness, virtue, and the meaning of life. Perhaps not coincidentally, philosophers’ interest in these themes appears to have been rekindled.
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.
The workshop’s keynotes are the Co-Principal Investigators for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.
Jennifer A. Frey’s talk is
Candace Vogler’s talk is
Aquinas holds that human beings are the animals that have to figure out what to do–things are differently challenging for us than they are for other kinds of animals, however careful he is to notice that the highest levels of cognitive functioning in some nonhuman animals are very close to the simplest levels of human cognitive functioning. But he also holds that we come equipped with something that he calls a “natural habit”–synderesis. Synderesis gives us some initial direction, and gains more specific content as we mature. In this talk, I will discuss Aquinas’s notion of synderesis, and explain the sense in which it is plausible to think that there is such a habit, linking my discussion to some work in developmental psychology with an occasional nod in the direction of controversy in contemporary Anglophone philosophy about the ‘guise of the good’ thesis.
For more about the workshop, speakers, and schedule, visit http://www.philosophy.su.se/english/about-us/events/workshop-happiness-virtue-and-the-meaning-of-life