Cultivating virtue & living wisely

On the desktop are: a clean white sheet of paper, a simple pencil, old books, pocket watch on a gold chain and a kerosene lamp. Retro stylized photo.This post is an excerpt of “Living Within Reason” on the blog “Virtue Insight”, of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtue, available here.

 

Cultivating virtue helps us to live well within reason. But how are we to understand the kind of guardrails reason provides? Why suppose that reason can govern action and emotion in the way that neo-Aristotelian theorists of virtue seem to suggest that it can?

 

After all, there is an impressive body of empirical research suggesting that people frequently fail to live up to their own ideals. Worse, there is a lot of evidence that resentments, strong and unwelcome desires, and emotional scarring from old psychological injuries—aspects of our inner lives that rarely occupy conscious attention—may have more influence on what we do in some areas of our lives than thinking about what to say or do. And spending a lot of time thinking out what to do can itself be a symptom of a failure of sound self-governance. One of the characters on a popular television series in the U.S. these days is a moral philosopher who is effectively paralyzed by treating all decisions—what sort of soup to order in a restaurant, for example, or what to name his dog—as situations requiring long and careful deliberation.

 

For all that, developing various habits of reflection is likely our best hope of living up to our own standards and leading lives that we find satisfying and meaningful. The very psychologists and philosophers whose work draws our attention to our tendencies to lose track of what we find most important when making concrete decisions at work or at home also provide some guidance on ways of counteracting these problems in practice.

 

TIBERIUS ON THE REFLECTIVE LIFE

In The Reflective Life: Living Wisely With Our Limits, Valerie Tiberius discusses the importance of developing a core and structured sense of the things that matter to us in life—family and friendship, for example, or health and an acceptable level of material security—that can provide some basic guidance in making major decisions. But Tiberius hopes to bring the study of major life choices down to earth in thinking about the more  mundane business of daily life.

Business cartoon of a wise businessman meditating on a cliff, his coworker is looking for 'some business wisdom'.

She argues that we need to work against tendencies to cynicism, to work toward realistic optimism, to be open to entertaining alternate perspectives on matters of conduct and policy, and to be mindful of our own tendencies to see ourselves in lights brighter and more favorable than will be strictly warranted. Humility and gratitude, she urges, are crucial to the kind of self-awareness we need if our own senses of what matters most to us are to shape our choices. Lively awareness of considerations of fairness can help to counteract our tendencies to acting on self-interested impulses (and to hide such tendencies from ourselves). Tiberius is not a Thomist and Aquinas did not have access to the empirical findings that inform Tiberius’s work on practical wisdom. Nevertheless, the thought that working to develop the habits associated with secondary virtues—cultivating fairness, humility, and gratitude, for instance, and thereby articulating and supporting cardinal virtues—alerts us to the ethically salient aspects of our circumstances and helps us to make wise decisions is in keeping with the spirit of Aquinas’s work on virtue. The job of virtue is to provide us with the frameworks that give us a good understanding of our situations and so guide our choices. Leading reflective lives gives reason the right role in self-governance, not through paralyzing, rigid, and frequently deluded insistence on planning every aspect of daily life—as though it was in our power to prevent the world from confronting us with situations that demand a different response—but by helping us to pause and reflect when that is what we need to do.

 

 

EXAMPLES

Suppose, for example, that like most people I find that I tend to make foolish decisions when things that I take to be in my self-interest look to be at odds with things that I ought to do for the sake of my family or for the sake of my job. It’s not as though I will lose my job if I put my interests ahead of what the larger organization looks to need from me. Nor am I likely to alienate my family members if I seek to gratify myself now and then. But I want to be a better person, so I have decided to try to curb my more unattractive selfish side. Self-critical self-awareness is enough to let me know that some change is in order. Suppose that I start small, by reminding myself to step back and think about others. I could work on kindness and generosity, for example, starting small.

 

I decide to begin my self-improvement regime by getting into the habit of greeting everyone at work each morning—both the people with whom I work closely and the people who make our workplace run smoothly whom I tend not to notice as much—administrative staff, people on the cleaning crew, people at the lunch counter, and so on. I make a point of greeting everyone. This takes almost no time, but it helps me to be aware of my fellow human beings. A habit this small can have a profound effect on my decision-making. Through morning after morning of quiet, cheerful well-wishing, the reality of my fellow human beings begins to be part of my basic sense of myself and my world. Concerns about fairness, willingness to compromise, and more generally some sense for others’ interests can begin to inform my daily conduct at work. I have different material for reflection when faced with the tug of the dear self from one decision to the next on the job. And there is some evidence that even this kind of change in the behavior of one relatively highly-placed person in a busy office can begin to have a positive effect on the larger culture of the workplace. My colleagues might wonder what I’m up to, initially, and think that I might have some nefarious scheme afoot. But if I am cheerful, quiet, and steady in my efforts, my innovation can even begin to help my colleagues cooperate more effectively and productively. Reflective self-awareness taught me that I needed to change something about how I was living. Beginning to make the change began to give me better materials for reflective decision-making at work.

 

Working to become a better member of my own family can be at once more necessary and more difficult. Members of my intimate circle often know me better than I know myself, and if I have been as disappointing to my nearest and dearest as most of us have been, those closest to me will likely have developed healthy defenses against being too optimistic about the likelihood that I will improve much. Here, reflection advises me to be open to understanding the ways large and small in which those closest to me may have suffered from my selfish impulses, may have felt invisible to me, and may have had to adjust to a long history of experiencing me at my worst. I need to be able to see and take seriously the effects that my self-involvement has had on my loved ones. They have at least as strong an interest in seeing me change as I do. But they may not share my optimism. At home, I need to learn to listen very carefully to what my loved ones say, to notice and express genuine encouragement and support for them in their efforts at pursuing what matters most to them, to ask in detail about what they are doing and pay attention to what they say, to do my best to track their moods, and more generally to make each of them more vivid in my own mind. Kindness, patience, fairness, gratitude, generosity, and humility all are involved in becoming a better partner or parent or sibling, and the department of justice that demands that I keep my commitments faithfully—if only to give my loved ones a chance to experience a more reliable and trustworthy version of myself than they may have known in the past—all will conspire to guide me in making better choices at home. Among other things, these habits will help me respond better spontaneously to the demands of my home life and identify situations in which I need to pause and think carefully with others to decide how to respond to the challenges that we face.

 

For those of us interested in thinking about the ways that virtuous activity allows reason to effectively guide us in leading better and more fulfilling lives, work on cultivating virtuous habits is just work on learning to live wisely.

 


Candace Vogler is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago and a Principal Investigator on ‘Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life’, a project funded by the John Templeton Foundation. She is also the Chair in Virtue Theory, a joint appointment with the Jubilee Centre and the Royal Institute of Philosophy. 

Job opening: Senior research fellow at the Jubilee Centre (psychologist, educationist, philosopher)

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We’re pleased to share this jobs posting from our scholar Kristján Kristjánsson, Professor of Character Education and Virtue Ethics, and Deputy Director, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues.

 

Senior research fellow (psychologist, educationist, philosopher) at the level of associate professor to join the Management Team at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham. Applications from outside of the UK are welcome.

Job Summary

A fixed term appointment (24 months initially; this post may also provide the opportunity for a 12 month secondment) to create and contribute to the creation of knowledge by undertaking a specified range of activities within a new multidisciplinary research and developmental programme exploring the psychological, educational, and ethical dimensions of character. The Senior Research Fellow will work across the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues research and development portfolio of projects and contribute to the management of projects and individual staff.

Specifically the post holder will play an important role in planning and developing the research, helping to define the approach, methodology, review the literature, and collect the data. This new phase of work seeks to build on the existing work of the Jubilee Centre in the areas of character, virtues, and human flourishing. The post holder will be expected to be proactive in completing research duties, and to prioritise their own work schedule to accommodate the overall priorities of individuals, project teams and the Centre as a whole. It is expected that the post holder will use their own initiative and judgement to solve problems as they arise, but should report to the Jubilee Centre Director and Deputy Director, as well as other senior colleagues for advice and guidance when necessary. It is expected that this post holder will provide advice and guidance to junior researchers in the Centre on research, publications, and career development.

This post would suit someone who is keen to further a career as a senior researcher in a practiceorientated and policy development environment, and who has substantive experience in higher education management or research management activities. The post holder will be expected to provide academic leadership and to support the management activity of the Centre, and contribute to the delivery of research strategy.

It is important that the post holder has a strong belief in the vision, aims and goals of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues. http://www.jubileecentre.ac.uk

Closing date: March 2, 2018

Full job description

APPLICATION LINK

Abstracts from “Virtues in the Public Sphere”

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Several of our scholars gave talks at the sixth annual conference of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, “Virtues in the Public Sphere,” held at Oriel College, Oxford UK January 4-6, 2018. We’re delighted to share their abstracts with you.

 

Talbot Brewer, Keynote Speaker: Liberal Education and the Common Good

Defenders of liberal education often stake their case on its contribution to reasoned public debate. There is considerable force to this argument. Yet if we set out to design a program of higher education optimally suited to enhance political deliberation, much of what we know and value under the heading of liberal education would be omitted as irrelevant.  This is because the telos of the liberal arts is not the full development of citizens; it is the full development of human beings. The virtues of the university are those qualities and practices that conduce to this comprehensive human good.  Does this mean that liberal education has no claim to public subsidy?  No. The sort of thought that forms and deepens human beings is a public good, one that withers without public investment. Investment in such thought is especially important today, when the social order has become deeply hostile to it.

 

 

John Haldane, Keynote Speaker: Responding to Discord: Why Public Reason is Not Enough

Difference and disagreement, contest and dispute are common features of human interactions and relationships. Insofar as they are confined to the private sphere the inability to resolve them may be a matter for regret, but there are strategies for containing, coping with or evading them. Matters are not so easy when these occur in the public sphere since they generally concern matters of broad public interest and bear on public values and policies, and they tend to ramify and lead to further divisions and sectionalisation. The evidence of this is everywhere to be seen in disputes about beginning and ending of life issues, education, sexual identity and practice, political and cultural identity, even human nature itself. Since these are all closely connected with questions of public values and policy, the scope for containment, coping or evasion is severely limited, and such strategies are themselves contested as instances of resistance to due change. Against this background, we must think more and better about the nature of the private-public contrast, and about the nature of the resources available in the making of arguments about ethical, existential, social and cultural issues. The intention and value of recently advocated norms of ‘public reason’ are themselves matters of contest and we need to think more deeply about what is and what is not reasonable. Beyond that we need in private and public life to identify relevant intellectual and practical virtues and give priority to the advocacy and inculcation of these.

 

 

David Carr, Moral Character and Public Virtue in Public, Professional, and Political Life

There is a strong case for the virtuous professional practitioner especially in relation to occupations where the professional role involves being an example to others of how to be of good character. Perhaps the most conspicuous examples of such occupations are those of teaching and religious ministry. While such exemplification cannot be guaranteed to have the desired modelling effect on others, it increases the likelihood that such modelling may occur and is the only course consistent with the overall aims of teaching and ministry.

In this context, this paper will focus on politics, arguing that there is a compelling case for virtue and character exemplification by professional politicians and that bad political examples can have a deleterious effect on the general moral tone of the societies that politicians of bad character are elected to lead or represent.

 

Nancy Snow, Hope as a Democratic Civic Virtue

I argue for a conception of hope as a civic virtue that is most valuable when democracy faces significant challenges.  In Part I, I sketch an initial conception of hope as a democratic civic virtue.  In II, the stage is set for further theorizing of this conception in the present American context.  In III, I flesh out what hope as a democratic civic virtue could look like in the U.S. today.  Part IV concludes with comments about theorizing civic hope in the context of a modified pragmatism.

 


The Conference Programme and the Oratory School Schola concert programme are accessible by clicking the links  below:

Conference Programme: http://jubileecentre.ac.uk/userfiles/jubileecentre/pdf/conference-papers/Virtues_in_the_public_sphere/Virtues_in_the_Public_Sphere_Programme.pdf

Concert Programme: http://jubileecentre.ac.uk/userfiles/jubileecentre/pdf/conference-papers/Virtues_in_the_public_sphere/TheLondonOratorySchoolProgramme.pdf

The next Jubilee Centre conference will be “Educating Character Through the Arts,” and will be held at the University of Birmingham Conference Centre, July 19th through July 21st, 2018. The call for abstracts for the conference can be found here:

http://www.jubileecentre.ac.uk/1743/conferences/educating-character-through-the-arts

 

 

 

 

Virtues in the Public Sphere, Oriel College, Oxford

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Oriel College Chapel

Our Primary Investigator Candace Vogler recently returned as a delegate to the sixth annual conference of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, “Virtues in the Public Sphere,” held at Oriel College, Oxford UK January 4-6, 2018. Several of our scholars spoke at the conference, including Talbot Brewer, David Carr, John Haldane, and Nancy Snow. Below is a brief summary of the conference and its purpose that appeared on the conference site; in the next few blog post, we will present abstracts of the talks given by our scholars at the event.

In recent years, we have witnessed increased polarisation, not only between, but within societies, and the breakdown of civic friendships, in particular as a result of ‘political earthquakes’ that have hit both sides of the Atlantic. Questions have emerged about the relationship between public and private virtues. Do ‘sinners’ perhaps make better politicians than ‘saints’ – and are certain private vices, such as duplicity, necessary in order for the public sphere to function?

The main aim of this conference was to explore the role of virtues in the public sphere. Is there a virtue of ‘civic friendship’ and how can it be cultivated? Is the language of virtue apt for carving out a discursive path between illiberal radicalism and post-truth relativism? More specifically, does the language of virtue indicate an ethical and political approach that calls into question both extreme illiberal and liberal habits of mind – or does it carry an individualistic and moralistic bias that makes it inapplicable to political disagreements? What are the virtues of a ‘good’ politician or civil servant? Should we care whether a skilled diplomat or surgeon is also a good person? Can virtue be ascribed to collectives and institutions such as universities and schools and, if yes, what would, for example, a ‘virtuous school’ look like? Are character education and civic education comrades or competitors? What is the relationship between an ethos of good character in a school and the ethos of the neighbouring community? How, if at all, does virtue guide civic engagement and a pedagogy towards the public good? How do public virtues inform a social ethos of moral responsibility? And, at the most general level, what does it mean to talk about the ‘politics of virtue’?

The aim of the 2018 Jubilee Centre annual conference was to bring together experts from a range of disciplines to explore those questions and many more.

The London Oratory School Schola Cantorum performed in the Oriel College Chapel on the evening of 4th January.

The Jubilee Centre Conference site can be found here:

http://jubileecentre.ac.uk/1723/conferences/virtues-in-the-public-sphere

The Conference Programme and the Oratory School Schola concert programme are accessible by clicking the links  below:

Conference Programme: http://jubileecentre.ac.uk/userfiles/jubileecentre/pdf/conference-papers/Virtues_in_the_public_sphere/Virtues_in_the_Public_Sphere_Programme.pdf

 

Concert Programme: http://jubileecentre.ac.uk/userfiles/jubileecentre/pdf/conference-papers/Virtues_in_the_public_sphere/TheLondonOratorySchoolProgramme.pdf

 

 

The next Jubilee Centre conference will be “Educating Character Through the Arts,” and will be held at the University of Birmingham Conference Centre, July 19th through July 21st, 2018. The call for abstracts for the conference can be found here:

http://www.jubileecentre.ac.uk/1743/conferences/educating-character-through-the-arts

 

 

Congratulations, James Arthur of the Jubilee Centre!

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James Arthur, the Director of our partner organization The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, has had bestowed upon him by the Queen in the 2018 New Year Honours List (page N10), the title of Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, for services to education.
In accepting the honor, James acknowledged the contribution of the Jubilee Centre team: ‘I am very honored to be recognized in this New Year’s Honours List. To be awarded an OBE for my work in character education is also an acknowledgement of the incredible team in the Jubilee Centre at the University of Birmingham.’
James will attend a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in 2018 to receive the award from the Queen.
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(from left) Panagiotas Paris, James Arthur, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, Candace Vogler,  Kristján Kristjánsson at our Capstone Conference in October 2017.

CFA: Educating Character Through the Arts

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Educating Character Through the Arts

University of Birmingham Conference Centre, 19th-21st July, 2018

 Open Call for Abstracts

From antiquity to the present, the virtues – construed in terms of such excellences of character as honesty, fairness, compassion and courage – have been widely regarded as integral to human moral life. But how might human agents – particularly the young – come to understand, or acquire, virtuous character? While many might nowadays look to empirical psychology or neuroscience for pathways to understanding and cultivating virtuous character, the arts might seem to offer a more time-honoured source of insight into good and bad human character, its relationship to human flourishing, and the development of the virtues. That said, some might doubt – in an age of science – the potential of works of art to serve as credible sources of knowledge. There are, for instance, both ancient arguments for the view that poetry and other arts are more conducive to moral corruption than improvement, and modern claims to the effect that the aesthetic purposes of the arts have little to do with moral value or concern.

While, perhaps in light of these more sceptical considerations, moral education through the arts in contemporary schooling seems to have been somewhat neglected, the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues has lately sought to uphold and promote such an approach in various projects. Still, there is clearly a need for further clarifying the role of the arts in character education, by considering a variety of questions: Can imaginative art be said to have any moral significance or purpose? In what sense might different art forms contribute to knowledge? How might one distinguish morally insightful from morally dubious art? Can there be character educational value in non-narrative art (such as music)? How might the arts be taught in a moral educational way? And so on.

This Jubilee Centre conference on the arts and character education – scheduled to take place between the 19th-21st July 2018, at the University of Birmingham – will seek to address all of these, and more, questions, with the help of such distinguished keynote speakers as Karen Bohlin, Noel Carroll, Matthew Kieran, and James O. Young (NB. full list of keynote speakers TBC).

To this end, proposals for 30-minute paper presentations or symposia are warmly invited from all interested parties for participation in this important and timely event. We ask interested parties to send an abstract of about 500 words to jubileecentrepapers@contacts.bham.ac.uk (marked ARTS PROPOSAL in the subject line) before 10th February, 2018. We will send out notifications of acceptance by the 5th March, 2018. Details about conference fees, student and/or early-career subsidies, and payment methods will be provided in due course.

This conference is made possible through the generous support of the British Society of Aesthetics and the Mind Association.

Honors for Candace Vogler!

vhml-candace-vogler-photo-by-marc-monaghan20150918_0001_1We’re thrilled to announce two honors for our co-principal investigator Candace Vogler.

She has been named the Virtue Theory Chair for the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham, and now holds an appointment to the Royal Institute of Philosophy.

The Royal Institute of Philosophy is a charity dedicated to the advancement of philosophy in all its branches through the organisation and promotion of teaching, discussion and research of all things philosophical. The Institute is not committed to any particular philosophical school or method or, of course, any ideology.

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The Royal Institute of Philosophy

The Institute’s 1925 ‘Memorandum of Association’ states the objects of the Institute: ‘to organise and promote by teaching, discussion and research the advancement of Philosophical Studies’ and in particular ‘to provide for all classes and denominations, without any distinction whatsoever, opportunities and encouragement’. Throughout its history, the Institute has kept these objects in view.

The Jubilee Centre is a pioneering interdisciplinary research centre focussing on character, virtues and values in the interest of human flourishing. The Centre promotes a moral concept of character in order to explore the importance of virtue for public and professional life. The Centre is a leading informant on policy and practice in this area and through its extensive range of projects contributes to a renewal of character virtues in both individuals and societies.

Jubilee Centre’s Deputy Director, Professor Kristján Kristjánsson, said he is delighted to welcome Candace on board. “Knowing Candace as a person and as an academic, I am certain she is going to make a valuable contribution to the interdisciplinary research on character and virtues conducted in the Centre.”

Read more about the Jubilee Centre here. Read more about the Royal Institute of Philosophy here.