Podcast: “Walt Whitman on hope and national character” | Sacred & Profane Love

In Episode 3 of the podcast Sacred & Profane Love, philosopher Jennifer A. Frey has a conversation with fellow philosopher Nancy Snow, about why she thinks we should be reading the poetry of Walt Whitman in our current political moment.  We discuss Whitman’s, “Song of Myself” and “Democratic Vistas,” and how each of these works touches on the theme of hope as a democratic civic virtue.  We also explore Whitman’s conviction that poetry can help build hope and help to shape the national character more generally.
Works under discussion in Episode 3:
Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”
Walt Whitman, “Democratic Vistas
Nancy Snow is Director of the Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing at University of Oklahoma and was a scholar with the project Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life. Read more here.
Jennifer A. Frey is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina. Prior to joining the philosophy faculty at USC, she was a Collegiate Assistant Professor of Humanities at the University of Chicago, where she was a member of the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts and an affiliated faculty in the philosophy department.  She earned her PhD in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, and her B.A. in Philosophy and Medieval Studies (with Classics minor) at Indiana University-Bloomington. Her research lies at the intersection of philosophy of action and ethics, with a particular focus on the Aristotelian-Thomist tradition.

NEXT Episode: Troy Jollimore discusses Madame Bovary


Preview on iTunes

Sacred and Profane Love is a podcast in which philosophers, theologians, and literary critics discuss some of their favorite works of literature, and how these works have shaped their own ideas about love, happiness, and meaning in human life. Host Jennifer A. Frey is A Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina and co-Principal Investigator at Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life.

This podcast is a project of Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life, and is made possible through a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

Content copyright the University of South Carolina and the University of Chicago.

Music credits, “Help me Somebody,” by Brian Eno and David Byrne, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.5.


“Teaching Virtue”

Our scholar Nancy Snow has co-authored a paper with Dr. Scott Beck on “Teaching Virtue”, and a free draft is available online.
ABSTRACT: Can virtue be taught? The question is a controversial one, harking back to Confucianism and the Platonic dialogues. We assume that virtue can be taught in the sense that teachers can influence character development in their students and explore the challenges and opportunities of teaching virtue from a variety of perspectives. In part I, Nancy E. Snow surveys a number of theoretical perspectives on teaching virtue which have been or are being implemented in schools. Scott Beck, the principal of Norman High School, describes in part II the grassroots approach to character development recently initiated at his institution. In part III we discuss how features of the Norman High initiative illustrate aspects of the approaches discussed in part I, and conclude with general observations about roles for askesis, or disciplined practice, in changing school communities and cultivating character.

Abstracts from “Virtues in the Public Sphere”


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:






Virtues in the Public Sphere, Oriel College, Oxford

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:


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:




New and forthcoming books by our scholars

9781107155329Michael Gorman, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Catholic University of America is the author of Aquinas on the Metaphysics of the Hypostatic Union, June 2017, Cambridge University Press.

Kristján Kristjánsson, Deputy Director in the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues and Professor of Character Education and Virtue Ethics at the University of Birmingham, is the author of Virtuous Emotions, forthcoming in May 2018, Oxford University Press.

Heather C. Lench, Associate Professor & Department Head, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Texas A&M University, is an editor on the volume Functions of Emotion, Springer, in January 2018.


51fVH4MrJuL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg514VAhuihzL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgOwen Flanagan, James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Neurobiology at Duke University is the author of The Geography of Morals: Varieties of Moral PossibilityOxford University Press, 2017 and co-editor of The Moral Psychology of Anger, forthcoming from Rowman and Littlefield.




Nancy Snow, Director of the Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing, edited The Oxford Handbook of Virtue, Oxford University Press; it includes a chapter on Aquinas by Candace Vogler.


 Paul T. P. Wong,Founding President of the Meaning-Centered Counselling Institute, Inc., has a chapter in The Routledge International Handbook of Critical Positive Psychology, edited by Nicholas J. L. Brown, Tim Lomas, Francisco Jose Eiroa-Orosa. London, UK: Routledge.

Capstone Conference Day 2: photos & tweets

Our scholars presented their findings at our “capstone” conference October 13-14, 2017 at the University of Chicago, which we captured in photos and tweets. Visit our Flickr page for the full album and our Twitter page for more observations. Below are highlights from Saturday, October 14.

Screenshot 2017-10-24 13.08.16Screenshot 2017-10-24 13.08.05Screenshot 2017-10-24 13.07.58

Saturday, October 14 – Ida Noyes Hall, Cloister Club

9:00-10:00 am Owen Flanagan, James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy, Duke University

10:15-11:15 am Angela Knobel, Associate Professor of Philosophy, School of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America

11:30 am-12:30 pm Candace VoglerDavid B. and Clara E. Stern Professor of Philosophy and Professor in the College at the University of Chicago and Principal Investigator for the project Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life

2:00-3:00 pm Panel  Transcending Boundaries II

Heather C. Lench, Associate Professor of Psychology and Department Head, Texas A&M University

Marc G. Berman, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology and Director, Environmental Neuroscience Laboratory, University of Chicago

Robert C. Roberts, Professor of Ethics and Emotion Theory at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, and joint Chair with the Royal Institute of Philosophy

3:15-4:15 pm Nancy Snow, Director of the Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing, University of Oklahoma

Magnificence in Renaissance Italy: Vice or ‘Impure’ Virtue?

Statue du condottiere Bartolomeo Colleoni in Venice. Photo by Antoine.

This is part two of a two-part series on magnificence, generosity, and virtue.


We should not decide on the status of virtues – whether they are separate or subordinate to one another – on the basis of theoretical considerations alone. Instead, we should identify and differentiate virtues by examining how they emerge in the contexts of various forms of life. ‘Form of life’ is a well-known Wittgensteinian notion. Its applicability to understanding virtue is owing to the fact that virtues get their purchase in situ – in our daily lives. Virtues are shaped by cultural contexts and the forces of daily living. Anthropologists have studied virtues in situ, and we have much to learn from their investigations. In the spirit of this approach, I will sketch a case that magnificence in northern Italian Renaissance military men who aspired to political power – condottieri — was likely either a vice or an impure virtue. If the latter, it could well have been a distinctive virtue, not a specialization of generosity.


In an interesting study of the rise of art as a consumer product in Italian Renaissance society, Richard Goldthwaite makes the following observation:

In short, Italian society was subject to a dynamic of change unlike that of any other in Europe. Elsewhere wealth was predominantly in land and less subject to instability, it was largely in the hands of a closed caste that experienced less mobility, and it moved from one generation to another over well-charted and confined genealogical routes. . . . In Italy the political, economic, and ecclesiastical elites were much more subject to turnover in their ranks, so that wealth flowed from one’s hands to another’s and kept getting spent over and over again (Goldthwaite 1993, 52).

Goldthwaite goes on to note that Italian princes, especially in northern Italy, being upstarts, were anxious to “. . . establish their credentials by propaganda” (1993, 173). They viewed their courts as public relations agencies, undertook architectural projects, and included humanists, scholars, and artists in their courtly households. Goldthwaite (1993, 173) writes: “With their interest in learning, letters, and the arts, all rooted in the culture of antiquity, the humanists introduced new legitimating values into courtly culture. Scholar, poet, and artist produced the propaganda that glorified and commemorated the prince in terms now of classical history and mythology.” Writing of the northern Italian princes — the condottieri or mercenary soldiers whose armies fought for hire — Goldthwaite remarks: “Their courts had all the trappings of feudal rites and ritual. Inside their palaces despots like the Gonzaga, d’Este, Della Scala, and Visconti surrounded themselves with tapestries and frescoes depicting scenes from courtly romances, chivalric heroes, and the aristocratic pleasures in general” (Goldthwaite 1993, 171). The pettiest of condottieri, Goldthwaite claims, seized on learning and the arts with real passion (Goldthwaite 1993, 173).


Alison Cole (1995) also explores the theme of the union of military might and the uses of art and architecture by the northern Italian princes to project certain images of themselves in efforts to consolidate and maintain power. She notes that Aristotle’s views on magnificence had been revived in the early fourteenth century as part of the political ideology of Azzone Visconti, Lord of Milan (ruled 1302-1339). Galvano Fiamma describes Azzone’s magnificence in his contemporary chronicles. Public buildings attested to Azzone’s concern for the common good; churches and chapels, to his piety; good taste was reflected in the costliness of materials used in the art, the quality of the workmanship, and the exoticism of the objects; and the work of masters in frescoes displayed lofty moral tones (see Cole 1995, 19). Cole observes: “In propagandist terms, magnificence belonged to times of peace, when the lord was free from his enemies and could dedicate himself to making his house ‘glorious’ and secure. Fiamma makes clear the effect that Azzone’s fortified palace was intended to have on subjects: ‘thunderstruck in admiration,’ they were to judge him a prince ‘of such power that it [was] impossible to attack him” (Cole 1995, 19).


The primary exemplar, then and now, of the combination of military skills and humanistic learning among the condottieri was Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino (see Goldthwaite 1993, 173). Through his military skill and love of art Federico transformed Urbino, a small country town, into a fair-sized city and an important center for the arts (Cole 1995, 67). Cole (1995, 69) comments on the complexity of his motives for doing so:

First and foremost, he had an urgent need to assert the legitimacy of his succession and to promote himself as a prince of incorruptible Christian virtue. At the same time, art was used to advertise his military prowess and propagate his image as a just and benevolent ruler. Another key theme was the celebration of the Montefeltro dynasty – Federico’s paternity was the subject of much speculation and it was many years before his wife bore him an heir. The ‘magnificent’ scale of his patronage was also designed to win him esteem both at home and among the kings and princes whom he regarded as his equals as well as his employers.

She continues, “The recurrent qualities of much of the art commissioned by Federico are clarity, order, and dignity” (Cole 1995, 69).


More could be said about how different Italian princes used magnificence to project piety, glory, power, and even diplomatic skills (see Cole 1995). However, I believe that enough has been said to establish that condottieri used magnificence in different ways to consolidate and maintain political power, and this historical trend can be traced, at least in part, to a political ideology that drew on Aristotle’s views on magnificence. So Aristotle had at least some influence, albeit distorted, on actual manifestations of magnificence by the condottieri. Was their magnificence a virtue? At first glance, I think the answer is ‘no,’ — at least, it seems not to have been a virtue in Aristotle’s sense. This is because Aristotle’s virtue of magnificence was apparently distorted by these men, who used it not purely or solely for the public good, but to promote their own power, images, and glory. But this fact opens a range of interesting questions about the possible motivations for magnificence, and when, if ever in the case of the condottieri, it might have been considered a virtue, if not in Aristotle’s sense, perhaps in another, despite initial appearances to the contrary.


Works Cited

Aristotle. 1985. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Terence Irwin. Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company.

Aquinas, St. Thomas. Summa Theologica 2-2, Q. 134, a. 4. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3129.htm. Accessed 28 December 2015.

Cicero. Treatise on Rhetorical Invention, Book II. http://www.egs.edu/library/cicero/articles/treatise-on-rhetorical-invention-book-ii/. Accessed 28 October 2015.

Cole, Alison. 1995. Virtue and Magnificence: Art of the Italian Renaissance Courts. Englewoods Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., and New York: Harry N. Abrams Publishing, Inc.

Goldthwaite, Richard. 1993. Wealth and the Demand for Art in Italy 1300-1600. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Russell, Daniel. 2009. Practical Intelligence and the Virtues. New York: Oxford University Press.

Aristotle’s own conception of magnificence would not have been immune to being distorted or to being an ‘impure virtue’ in its manifestations in ordinary life. We are reminded of this by Russell’s comment that votive offerings were sometimes used to display the wealth of the giver (see Russell 2009, 212).

 Nancy Snow is Director of the Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing at University of Oklahoma and a scholar with Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.