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.

“Finding camaraderie and illumination from others in the more treacherous passages of human life” – Interview with Talbot Brewer

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Ida Noyes Hall Auditorium at the University of Chicago – photo by Chris Smith
Margaret “Peggy” Ryan Binette is Associate Director of Public Relations for the Office of Communications & Public Affairs at the University of South Carolina; she conducted this interview with Talbot Brewer in advance of his lecture “What Good Are The Humanities?” on December 14, 5:30pm at the University of South Carolina.

Peggy Binette: How can the humanities contribute to happiness and meaningfulness in life – regardless of socioeconomic position?

Talbot Brewer: There is at best a tenuous connection between the humanities and happiness. Serious engagement with literature and art does of course have its pleasures, and we professors would be falling down on the job if our students did not come to know these pleasures. But If you went to a production of, say, Shakespeare’s Othello in hopes of making yourself happier, you’d be making a serious mistake. Seeing Othello can be, and indeed ought to be, a crushing experience. But while you probably would not walk out of the theater brimming with happiness, you might walk out with a deeper understanding of intimate love and the potentially deadly pathologies to which it exposes us. Whether such understanding makes life more meaningful is a complicated question. I think that it does. I would not wish to deny that someone who has never learned to read or write, and never learned to appreciate art, can have an extremely meaningful life, nor would I wish to rule out the possibility that someone with an advanced degree in philosophy or literature might lead a superficial existence. Still, I do think that when pursued in the right spirit, the humanities can deepen one’s experience of life, and that is an enormous gift.

PB: In this chaotic and ever-demanding world, how important is it for people to reflect on the concepts, virtues and values espoused in the humanities?

talbTB: We have devised a world in which mercenary words and images press upon us during almost every waking hour. When amid this clamor of manipulative messages we suddenly encounter something quite different, something called literature, or art, or philosophy, it is not easy to adjust our habits of attention and open ourselves fully to this newcomer. The cultural environment has not encouraged the traits required for proper engagement with the humanities: the habit of sustained attention and of patience and generosity in interpretation; the openness to finding camaraderie and illumination from others in the more treacherous passages of human life; the expressive conscience that cannot rest until it lights upon exactly the right words for one’s own incipient thoughts. By creating a space within which we can nurture such habits of mind and put them to their proper use, we make room for a kind of self-cultivation that has become increasingly rare, despite all the lip service we pay to authentic self-expression.
PB: What is the one point or thought you want anyone who attends your talk to take away?

TB: Some have tried to ground the value of the humanities in their contribution to economic productivity. Others have tried to ground the value of the humanities in their contribution to the health of our democratic institutions. Neither approach seems to me very convincing. What drives so many friends of the humanities to these two options, I believe, is the thought that if the humanities do not boost the economy or strengthen the polity, then their value must be an entirely individual matter, hence not a genuine public concern. This way of framing the issue trades on a mistakenly atomistic conception of human culture. The attainment of a sophisticated level of articulacy about human life both depends upon, and contributes to, a background cultural sophistication about human life. When it comes to the contest between depth and superficiality, we are in it together. At a time when our metastasizing material productivity poses a serious threat to the future of human life on this planet, perhaps we would be well advised to put less emphasis on economic growth and more emphasis on this entirely sustainable shared pursuit, to which the humanities can make an important contribution.

“What Good Are The Humanities?” on December 14, 5:30pm at the University of South Carolina.