The Virtue Blog

Blog for the Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life project

Scholarship of Self-Transcendence

DP319704
Allegorical Tapestry with Sages of the Past, The Cloisters Collection, 2014, CCO, 1.0.

This article originally appeared in Tableau, the Division of the Humanities at the University of Chicago’s quarterly publication, as Scholarship of Self-Transcendence: Candace Vogler leads a search for the meaning of life by Courtney C. W. Guerra.

 

Candace Vogler, the David B. and Clara E. Stern Professor in Philosophy, is invested in her fellow human beings, and she’s determined to help them—us—find fulfillment. To tackle such a complex issue, she proposed the collaborative research project Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life, the aims of which are every bit as ambitious as its name implies. With major support from the John Templeton Foundation, this multiyear initiative—jointly led by Jennifer A. Frey, a philosopher at the University of South Carolina—explores self-transcendence: a feeling of connection to something beyond the individual self.

 

Of course, there’s no single way for human beings to attain self-transcendence: it can happen through spiritual practice, professional drive, familial bonds, or any number of commitments to a higher cause. Vogler’s group includes psychologists, philosophers, and religious thinkers from a variety of traditions. Many are UChicago colleagues: assistant professor Marc G. Berman and professor Howard C. Nusbaum in Psychology, associate professor Tahera Qutbuddin in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and, in Philosophy, assistant professor Matthias Haase and Josef Stern, the William H. Colvin Professor Emeritus. The 30-scholar cohort represents institutions throughout the United States, Middle East, and Europe; they have been meeting and teaching since October 2015.

 

When she devised the project, Vogler says, “The ambition was to get a kind of deep integration between people working in very different disciplines” without relegating their work to the margins of less widely read, explicitly interdisciplinary publications. And it worked: the participants are “doing disciplinary work, they’re publishing in the disciplinary journals, and the inspiration for it is coming out of the frame of the project.”

 

These discussions have informed 10 published or forthcoming articles—a figure that “pretty dramatically exceeded” her initial expectations—with many more on the way. One essay that encapsulates the spirit of the project is being developed by Notre Dame theologian Jean Porter, about studies by Cornell University psychologist Katherine Kinzler on early childhood food preferences. Porter finds parallels between contemporary psychology and the views of Catholic philosopher Thomas Aquinas on the influence of group identity on what children choose to eat. (A draft is available on the Virtue Blog, along with other writings and filmed lectures.) This video helps to introduce and contextualize the group’s scholarship.

 

Like Porter’s essay, much of the project is “built on things that ought to be super interesting to people who are not academics,” says Vogler. She hopes a broad audience will attend the culminating conference at UChicago over the weekend of October 14–15. From there, Vogler plans to share her team’s findings with educators—from early childhood through MBA programs and beyond—to help promote self-transcendence at every stage of development. “There’s a big difference,” she points out, “between leading a life that’s super busy and leading a life that’s full.” Her hope is that the group’s work, as it reverberates out into the broader world, will help people achieve the latter.

Howard Nusbaum on experience and wisdom | Our Scholars at Oxford for Jubilee Centre Conference on Character, Wisdom, and Virtue, January 5-7, 2017

oxfordbyfrey1
Oxford in Winter. 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 weeks, with many thanks to the Jubilee Centre. http://jubileecentre.ac.uk

 

headshot-nusbaumHoward C. Nusbaum is Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago, and a steering committee member of the Neuroscience Institute. He is an internationally recognized expert in cognitive psychology, speech science, and in cognitive neuroscience. His research explores the cognitive and neural mechanisms that mediate spoken language use, as well as language learning and the role of attention in speech perception. He is also interested in how we understand the meaning of music, and how cognitive and social-emotional processes interact in decision-making and wisdom research. He is currently Division Director for the Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences Division in the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) Directorate for the National Science Foundation.

 

Below you will find his short abstract, followed by a link to the larger keynote paper discussed at the conference, “The Relationship Between Mental and Somatic Practices and Wisdom.”

 

ABSTRACT: “The Role of Experience in Making Wiser Decisions”

 

There are many notions that circulate about the development of wisdom, such as the association of wisdom with age. But aging is not just a biological change in the functioning of the body; it is an accumulation of experience. It is likely that wisdom may result from experiences themselves rather than aging. There is some belief that life challenges can increase wisdom, although the benefits of adversity are questioned by research. What kinds of experiences lead to wiser decisions? Wiser decisions may sometimes depend on knowledge and expertise that comes from experience in particular domains, such as medicine or business or law, and may depend on generalizing beyond those experiences to new situations. However, there can be wise experts and not-so-wise experts. From Aristotle’s concept of practical wisdom, wise decisions increase human flourishing, which suggests other kinds of experiences may be important. Deep knowledge of human social interaction and human nature is likely important. Furthermore, beyond knowledge, a set of dispositions and skills may be important for wisdom, such as epistemic humility, emotional self-regulation, curiosity, perseverance, and the ability to reflect and take others’ perspective. In my larger paper I discuss research that is focused on trying to understand how specific types of experiences can strengthen these foundations of wisdom.

 

The full paper can be found here http://jubileecentre.ac.uk/userfiles/jubileecentre/pdf/conference-papers/CharacterWisdomandVirtue/Nusbaum_H.pdf

 

 

A New Center for Practical Wisdom at the University of Chicago

 

Wisdom class
Howard Nusbauum (center) is also a scholar with Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.Photo by The JJ Effect.

The Center for Practical Wisdom at the University of Chicago aims to deepen scientific understanding of wisdom and its role in choices of everyday life. Research at the center is geared towards individual development of wisdom and the circumstances in which people are most likely to make wiser decisions. Core research projects at the center include a range of topics including epistemic humility, stress resilience, individual differences in wisdom, and impact of language.

 

The center connects scientists, scholars, educators, and students internationally who are interested in studying wisdom. Through the wisdom research network and annual wisdom research forums, the center provides guidance for dissemination of current wisdom studies as well as initiates new research in wisdom. The Center for Practical Wisdom website provides a space for networking, a database of the latest wisdom-related articles, publications, and news items, wisdom based research tools and measures, and forums for online discussions.

 

The John Templeton Foundation provided seed funding for the Center while collaborative efforts are supported by a variety of sources including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and federal agencies. Affiliated organizations to the Center for Practical Wisdom include The Institute for Human Flourishing led by Nancy Snow at the University of Oklahoma and the Wisdom and Culture Lab led by Igor Grossmann at the University of Waterloo, among others.

 

Center logo square copy

The Center’s accomplishments and resources are shared through social media, the Wisdom Research YouTube Channel, and the Center for Practical Wisdom e-newsletter.


Jean L. Ngoc Matelski-Boulware is Assistant Director of Communications & Research at the Center for Practical Wisdom.

 

 

Video: Being Wise & Being Good: A Conversation with Howard Nusbuam and Candace Vogler

On June 6, 2016, Psychologist Howard Nusbaum and Philosopher Candace Vogler participated in a public conversation, held at the University of Chicago’s Swift Hall.

Nusbaum and Vogler discussed various forms of self-transcendence that provide contexts in which the exercise of virtue in daily life can operate as a source of a sense of purpose or meaning and a source of happiness. They also looked at the wisdom that belongs to ordinary human flourishing and requires a deep sense of both humility and social connection.

Their conversation was followed by a discussion with the audience about being wise and being good.

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 2.02.36 PM.png

Howard C. Nusbaum is a professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Psychology and its College, and a steering committee member of the Neuroscience Institute. Nusbaum is an internationally recognized expert in cognitive psychology, speech science, and in cognitive neuroscience. He investigates the cognitive and neural mechanisms that mediate spoken language use, as well as language learning and the role of attention in speech perception. In addition, he investigates how we understand the meaning of music, and how cognitive and social-emotional processes interact in decision-making and wisdom research. He is currently Division Director for the Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences Division in the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) Directorate for the National Science Foundation.

Candace Vogler is the David B. and Clara E. Stern Professor of Philosophy and Professor in the College 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), 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. Candace Vogler is the Director and co-Principal Investigator for the project “Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life.”

Photos: “Being Wise & Being Good: A Conversation” with Howard Nusbaum and Candace Vogler

Photos from our June 6, 2016 Keynote to our Working Group Meeting. “Being Wise & Being Good: A Conversation” with Howard Nusbuam and Candace Vogler was held in beautiful Swift Hall’s 3rd Floor Lecture Hall with a reception in the Common Room. Over 150 turned out! More photos are up on our Flickr album.

Coming soon: the video!

Days 1-2 Working Group Meeting in Chicago – photos

Our 2nd working group meeting of scholars met June 6-10, 2016 at the University of Chicago in the beautiful Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society. Although the sessions were closed, you can read our scholars’ abstracts for their June Meeting Topics here and see more photos up in our Flickr album for the week.

 

 

Group photo: Working Group Meeting June 2016

Scholars Team June 2016
Click photo to make it larger. Photo by Marc Monaghan

We’re so happy our scholars are here in Chicago! Find out more about our scholars and their work this week in June here, and working group meetings in general, here.

Our scholars and team are:

From left to right, back row: Santiago Mejia, Michael Gorman, Matthias Haase, Jennifer A. Frey, Father Kevin Flannery, Candace Vogler, Katherine Kinzler, Howard Nusbaum, Talbot Brewer, Reinhardt Huetter, Marc G. Berman (not pictured: Tahera Qudbuddin).

Middle row: Christian Kronsted, Jean Porter, Father Thomas Joseph White, Mari Stuart, Nancy Snow, Heather C. Lench, Angela Knobel,  Erik Angner, Dan McAdams, Valerie Wallace, Jaime Hovey.

Front row: Paul Wong, David Shatz, David Carr, Anselm Mueller.