“Justice is quickly eroded if one is too cowardly to hold firmly to the ideals that are central to a just society” | Interview with Jean Porter

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Jean Porter is a scholar with the project Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life, pictured here at our first working group meeting in December 2015.

Moral theologian Jean Porter (University of Notre Dame) will give the talk “What should we fear? Courage and cowardice in public life” on Monday, June 5, 2017 at 7pm in the Swift Hall 3rd Floor Lecture Hall at the University of Chicago. An audience Q & A will be followed by a reception in the Swift Hall Common Room. This talk is free and open to the public. Registration is required.

The talk and Q&A will be live-streamed at 7pm central time. For more information and to RSVP, go to https://virtue.uchicago.edu/porter

Amichai Amit is a PhD student in philosophy at the University of Chicago and a graduate assistant for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.



Amichai Amit: Courage is often considered a virtue most pertinent to times of crises and especially to actual battle. What is the importance of courage in day-to-day public life? 
Jean Porter: You are quite right, and Aquinas would in fact agree with this, with some qualifications.  Courage is the virtue through which someone firmly holds onto rational and spiritual values in the face of danger, especially the danger of death. As such, it is clearly exemplified by the willingness to face death on the battlefield in defense of the common good. It might seem that courage has little relevance to our day to day lives, which are so safe and secure. And yet, on reflection, how safe are we, and even more to the point, how safe do we feel? In my talk, I focus especially on public attitudes towards the threat of terrorism, and I argue that we are challenged to hold onto certain ideals — equality, tolerance, respect for rule of law — even in the face of potentially lethal attacks. You might say that in certain ways, we are a society in crisis, although it is hard to say whether at this point this crisis reflects actual dangers, or stems from our perceptions of the world.
AA: Is there any difference between courage in the private realm and courage in public life?
JP: The differences would be circumstantial.  Actually, in my talk I will focus on the courage of the community as such, acknowledging that courage at this level is dependent on the courage of many individuals, but assuming nonetheless that it makes sense to speak of a community or a nation as courageous. the parade example would be the courage of the British people during the Blitz, and I claim that the American people displayed courage in the immediate retractions to the 9/11 attacks.
AA: One may think that in a well-ordered society, one in which law and bureaucracy are in good order, courage is required only in times of crises and when the social and legal systems falter. What do you think about this view? 
JP: I think it is critically important for any large-scale, complex society to have a legal system and bureaucratic structures in good working order. These are not only requirements for efficient functioning, they are also the institutional embodiments of ideals of equality and freedom. To put this in medieval terms, they are the preconditions for political rule, in contrast to a kind of dominion that reduces subjects to a servile statues.  that being said, however, formal structures are not enough — they must also be defended and interpreted by individuals who are committed to the rules precisely as embodiments of  moral ideals, and are committed to interpreting them accordingly. Recent experience clearly indicates that formal structures, to say nothing of tacit norms of civility and discourse, are no match for malice and stupidity.
AA: (In relation to the previous question): What are the relation between justice and courage?
JP:  Like all good Thomists, I affirm the connection of the virtues, and therefore believe that true courage presupposes a disposition towards justice. Perhaps more to the point, justice is quickly eroded if one is too cowardly to hold firmly to the ideals that are central to a just society. Again, I think our experience confirms this.
AA: Do you think courage is a virtue especially needed in contemporary public life? Are there any characteristics of our times that render courage more crucial than in past times? 

JP:  I don’t know that I would say it is more necessary, but we are perhaps faced with a distinctive set of challenges. The dangers that we face are in one sense ongoing, but they tend to be expressed in episodic bursts of violence, rather than through continued onslaughts.  This situation encourages either paranoia or complacency, and we see both in public life.
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AA: Aristotle defined courage as the mean between rashness and cowardice. Your talk focuses on courage and cowardice, but not rashness. Do you think rashness is less crucial when it comes to the public sphere? 

JP:  Actually, I do talk about recklessness, which I argue only makes fear worse in the long run.

For more information and to RSVP for “What should we fear? Courage and cowardice in public life,” go to https://virtue.uchicago.edu/porter

Interview with James Dominic Rooney, OP, Summer Session Participant

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This post is part of a series of interviews with our incoming class for the “Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence” 2017 Summer Seminar. James Dominic Rooney is Dominican Priest and graduate student in Philosophy at Saint Louis University. Valerie Wallace is Associate Director, Communications, for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

 

Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?

James Dominic Rooney: I am from Ohio, originally, but more recently of St. Louis, MO.

 

VW: What are your research areas? Why?

JDR: I am interested in metaphysics, Eastern and Western medieval philosophy, and philosophy of religion.

I’ve always been fascinated by the most general, fundamental questions of philosophy, such as the nature of casuality, what exists, or basic truths we often take for granted. Much of this explains my interest in metaphysics. Metaphysics as I conceive of it follows on Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas: it is the science of being-as-being, or the structure of reality. While this can seem esoteric, empirical science appears to require metaphysical assumptions, and I am interested in how we should decide between metaphysical theories that might have ramifications for fundamental physics (quantum mechanics, etc.) or other sciences like biology.

Because of my interests in metaphysics, I have found a lot of interesting resources in medieval philosophy both in the Latin West and in China (Confucianism). Both of these traditions have a view of metaphysics as the science of wisdom, knowing the ultimate causes of everything. We tend to divide theoretical and practical concerns far apart, so that scientific inquiry is neither morally good nor bad, and is just beside the point of leading a fulfilled life. But I think the Chinese and Latin philosophers point to a different vision of wisdom: philosophy (and the wisdom it seeks) is not only a kind of theoretical knowledge, but importantly connected to a way of life. This perspective seems to me often forgotten or unpracticed in contemporary philosophy, let alone society. I think we could all benefit from rediscovering how to acquire wisdom.

 

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

JDR: I look forward to having the opportunity not only to learn from some of the top scholars in their respective fields, but to be able to have personal discussion with them alongside other graduate students. The best and most lively work in philosophy seems to me to originate in these kind of discussions.

VW: What are your non-academic interests?

JDR: I am fond of art-house movies, calligraphy, bonsai trees, skiing, and being generally outdoors. But my aesthetic interests are really just a mature compensation for my love of computer games.

Interview with Timothy Reilly, Summer Session Participant

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This post is part of a series of interviews with our incoming class for the “Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence” 2017 Summer Seminar. Timothy Reilly is Postdoctoral Research Associate in developmental psychology at the University of Notre Dame. Valerie Wallace is Associate Director, Communications, for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?

 

Timothy Reilly: I’m an Indiana native, originally from Muncie. I began my studies in Bloomington, Indiana, completed my doctorate in California. After that I returned to Bloomington, moved to Muncie, and finally arrived at Notre Dame. I still miss the scenery and weather of the Bay Area, though I am enjoying life back in the Midwest.

 

VW: What are your research areas? Why?

 

TR: My research addresses moral development and positive development from a variety of perspectives. My training is primarily in the fields of developmental psychology and the learning sciences. My graduate research focused on purpose, self-development, and well-being in the transition to adulthood. My current research is a survey and interview study of virtue in laboratory research and ensemble music, as part of a larger project on virtue in practices.

 

I engage in this work in order to understand how best to foster a wide array of individuals’ potential and self-development. In this, I seek to understand both the general patterns that are beneficial, broadly speaking, and the need to account for particularities in individuals’ needs, interests, and capacities. Originally this interest in potential focused on talent development. More recently, however, my interests have been drawn to the centrality of relationships, within families, schools, and other institutions, in facilitating or frustrating self-development and well-being. I am especially fascinated by the way that, for many, the self is most fully expressed, and is most fully fostered, in service to transcendental ends.

 

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

 

TR: I am looking forward to the opportunity to engage with scholars who bring a variety of perspectives. It is important to me to continually ask new questions and to push at the boundaries of my knowledge. I am especially interested in discussing various conceptions of how virtue is developed and discussing the forms that self-transcendence and well-being take at different points in development and in different domains.

 

VW: What are your non-academic interests?

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TR: Outside of my work, I enjoy swimming, cycling, and hiking. I also enjoy reading and board games.

Interview with Jennifer Rothschild, Summer Session Participant

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This post is part of a series of interviews with our incoming class for the “Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence” 2017 Summer Seminar. Jennifer Rothschild is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Florida. Valerie Wallace is Associate Director, Communications, for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

 

Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?

JR:  am from Iowa, my philosophical upbringing was in Chicago, and I am currently living in Florida and teaching at the University of Florida.

 

VW: Tell me about your research.

JR: I am endlessly interested in human beings—what it is to be human, what makes individual ones of us good or bad versions of a human being, how to understand what we do (actions and practices) and why we do it, and so on. I suppose my philosophical questions converge in ethics, moral psychology, and action. Though I am willing to draw inspiration from any source that makes good points about the things I care about, my writing tends to be more narrowly anchored in Aristotelian virtue ethics. At this point in my research I would say that I work on Aristotle because, first, of the philosophy I know, he is the most right. Second, I like ancient virtue ethics because this kind of philosophy does not seem to me to lose sight of its connection to actual human beings.

Currently I am working on trying to understand self-improvement from an Aristotelian perspective. Within the framework of Aristotle’s virtue ethics, how is it that we can reach for being better than we are? What does that look like? I think this is an important question, and there are a number of obstacles to seeing our way to a good answer on it.

 

VW: What are you looking forward to for the upcoming seminar?

JR: The topic for this summer’s meeting, self-transcendence, is right in the center of my current project. Part of what I want to understand is what it is to reach beyond ourselves—the internal and external resources we need for this, and the structure of that kind of aiming and transformation. I am excited about coming together with other scholars to see what we can figure out. I am also especially interested in the resources of accounts other than Aristotle’s (in particular, that of Aquinas).

 

VW: What are your interests outside of academia?

 

JR: As the mother of a young baby, I would say sleep ranks right up there on my list of shiny goods. Does that count? I like to cook, and eat, and go new places whenever I can. I am one of those people who always has big plans for a new hobby that I never seem to get around to taking up: this summer, for example, I plan to get my boat captain’s license and learn to make mosaics (among other things, of course).

Interview with Jane Klinger, Summer Session Participant

Jane Adair Klinger.jpgThis post is part of a series of interviews with our incoming class for the “Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence” 2017 Summer Seminar. Jane Klinger is a graduate student in psychology at the University of Waterloo at Ontario and visiting scholar at The Ohio State University. Valerie Wallace is Associate Director, Communications, for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

 

Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?

Jane Klinger: I’m originally from Washington Grove, Maryland, and am currently a grad student at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario- though I’ve been working from Columbus, Ohio (at OSU) since the Fall.

VW: Tell me about your research.

JK: My research is in social psychology and focuses on self-regulation and motivation and, especially, how these relate to well-being outcomes like perceived meaning and authenticity. A central question of my research is about the trade-offs of top-down control: when does it keep us in touch with our values versus actually alienate us from our values? The latter is most interesting to me, partly because it so often goes unrecognized- how the same processes that allow us to succeed in self-control conflicts can also make us rigid and insensitive to our own values; essentially, reinforcing the letter rather than the spirit of our own laws. I’m coming to appreciate more and more how much insight on this topic comes from areas far outside my own discipline (e.g., Taoism, management science)- and indeed this is a large part of what excites me about learning from this multi-disciplinary group.

VW: What are you looking forward to for the upcoming seminar?

JK: I’m looking forward to a lot about this seminar, but most broadly: thinking in a different way (learning the language of other disciplines), challenging my assumptions, and meeting thoughtful people with common interests.

VW: What are your interests outside of academia?

JK: Other things I like to do are run, write, and make art. I also recently started a book club, which has thankfully gotten me to make more time for leisure reading.

Interview with Andrew Christy, Summer Session Participant

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This post is part of a series of interviews with our incoming class for the “Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence” 2017 Summer Seminar. Andrew Christy is a graduate student in social  and personality psychology at Texas A&M University. Valerie Wallace is Associate Director, Communications, for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

 

Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?

Andrew Christy: I am from the small town of Greenwich in upstate New York. I lived in Greenwich all my life until going to college at SUNY Geneseo in western New York, and I am now doing my graduate work at Texas A&M University.

 

VW: Tell me about your research.

AC: My research broadly deals with existential psychology and the psychology of well-being, with a particular focus on self- and identity-related processes by which people deal with existential concerns and experience well-being. I study these topics using the methods of social and personality psychology. I ended up in this research area because I was very excited by the questions of meaning and the good life that I encountered in my undergraduate philosophy minor, but I was not optimistic about my ability to provide substantive philosophical answers to these questions. Instead, I study how laypeople answer these questions for themselves, and I have found this to be a very satisfying union of my interests in philosophy and psychology.

 

VW: What are you looking forward to for the upcoming seminar?

AC: This summer, I am most looking forward to meeting other scholars who take different approaches to studying the same topics that interest me. I think I will learn a lot and I hope to come away from the seminar with some new friends in addition to new knowledge!

 

VW: What are your interests outside of academia?

AC: My non-academic interests include cats, hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities, and playing blues and folk music on the lap steel guitar.

Interview with Candace Vogler: “You don’t have a beautiful soul if it’s useless to everyone around you.”

AdobeStock_103214271.jpegOur Co-Principal Investigator Candace Vogler spoke with journalist Richard McComb  when she was a keynote speaker at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues’ annual conference at Oriel College, Oxford. For the full article, click here.

Excerpt:

At a time of socio-political upheaval and uncertainty, both in Europe and the United States, it is perhaps not surprising that public interest has focused on the project’s pursuit of happiness.

Prof Vogler is wonderfully candid in her responses when asked about the secret of happiness.

“Stage one is, ‘Get over yourself!’” she says. “Don’t worry so much about self-actualisation, self-expression, self-development, self-this, self-that.

“See if you can break the fascination of your own ego for a little bit. See if you can turn your attention to something that is genuinely self-transcendent, that connects you to a world bigger than your intimate circle – and engage there. That is likely to be where you will develop in virtue and character. Your character develops when you get opportunities that are expressive and productive of goods bigger than you are.

“Do you engage at the soup kitchen a couple of times a week because you know you are supposed to be charitable? No, you volunteer at the soup kitchen by opening yourself up to the possibility that you could be drawn out of yourself rather than affirmed in a sense of your own goodness. The self-transcendence provides the context in which virtue is at home.”

Prof Vogler has little time for self-righteous navel-gazing, adding: “You don’t have a beautiful soul if it’s useless to everyone around you. You don’t have a beautiful soul if you can’t be bothered to think about how to engage more effectively in the world that you find yourself in, not just for the sake of your own success but for the sake of contributing to what is good in that world and helping it struggle against what is bad.”

 

For the full article, click here.