Dynamics of Living Aspirations

Human life in all forms of communal existence can only be understood through a clear grasp of the dynamics of human aspirations. They are the missing link between human creativity and socio-cultural processes of transforming and enriching life. In this lecture, sponsored by the Living Aspirations project at the Neubauer Collegium, Visiting Fellow Günter Thomas (Ruhr-University Bochum) will look at three dynamics of living aspirations. How do living aspirations emerge and why are they a practice of freedom? How are aspirations embedded in our natural environments, and how are they embodied in our social and our built environments like urban spaces and architecture? What are the media for communicating aspirations? In exploring these dynamics, the lecture will shed light not only on the purpose of higher education but also on new and surprising avenues of collaborative research across disciplinary divides.



This project will support the Visiting Fellowship of Günter Thomas from Ruhr-University Bochum. In collaboration with William Schweiker (Divinity), Thomas will explore the place of aspirations from the vantage point of moral philosophy, religious thought, and socio-cultural analysis. The project takes it as intuitively the case that one of the most profound characteristics of human beings is to seek to realize their aspirations in actual life. The experience of aspirations coming alive, really motivating thought and action, is the starting point of all social, religious, and academic creativity. The project will consider aspirations as the key missing link, under-examined in current thought, between human creativity and social and cultural processes of transforming and enriching life. The project raises three fundamental questions: (1) How and under what conditions do human aspirations become powerful drivers of innovation in culture, religion, the sciences, and society?; (2) What are the conditions that endanger human aspirations from motivating thought and action for the sake of enhancing life?; and (3) How do we distinguish between aspirations that are destructive of human life from those aspirations that respect and enhance life?

Image: Tom Friedman, Looking Up (2015) © Tom Friedman. Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York, and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.

Save the date! March 26: Charles Taylor, “Democratic Degeneration: Three Easy Paths to Regression”

We’re pleased to share this upcoming event sponsored by our partner the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society.

Charles Taylor at a news conference after receiving the Templeton Prize, 2007. AP


Director’s Lecture with Charles Taylor

Monday, March 26
5:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Regenstein Library
1100 East 57th Street
Chicago, Illinois 60637

“Democratic Degeneration: Three Easy Paths to Regression”

Charles Taylor (Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at McGill University) is the author of many influential books, including Sources of the SelfA Secular Age, and, most recently, The Language Animal: The Full Shape of the Human Linguistic Capacity. Professor Taylor has been honored with numerous awards, including the Templeton Prize (2007), the Kyoto Prize for Thought and Ethics (2008), the John W. Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity (2015), and the Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Culture (2016).

This event is free and open to the public. Persons with disabilities who need an accommodation in order to participate should contact the Neubauer Collegium at collegium@uchicago.edu or 773.795.2329.

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.



Questions our scholars are asking – round two


This coming week (June 6-10, 2016, at the Neubauer Collegium at the University of Chicago) is the second of four meetings for our  scholars (the first was December 2015 at the University of South Carolina). These meetings are immersive experiences for these scholars, who are philosophers, theologians, and psychologists; the meetings are aimed at generating systematic and integrated knowledge, including ultimately a new construct for empirical research on self-transcendence, new instruments of assessment, and new data.


Here are summaries of the questions and research our scholars will be discussing with each other in the coming week.


Matthias Haase: Can virtue be cultivated like a habit?


Tahera Qutbudden: Can one enjoy a happy and pleasurable life in this world while also preparing for the next?


Jennifer A. Frey: Is selfishness a particular kind of vice, or the nature of vice?


David Schatz: Is ignorance always a vice, or can it also be a virtue?


Heather C. Lench: Can boredom lead us to virtue?


David Carr: Does spirituality have a material dimension, and if so, can it be developed and educated?


Mari Stuart: Can the indigenous knowledge reflected in a moral ecology worldview teach things that climate science cannot?


Jean Porter: Can malice, like virtue, also give meaning to life?


Erik Angner: Is social well-being the same thing as happiness?


Paul Wong: Is it possible to measure Self-Transcendence?


Katharine Kinzler: Can infant food preferences teach us about the social world?


Mark Berman: Do ugly surroundings encourage criminal behavior?


Angela Knobel: Can the notion of virtue as a gift from God have broad appeal?


Father Thomas Joseph White: Can Aquinas help us understand Nietzsche’s ideas about truth and moral freedom?


Michael Gorman: Is a meaningful life also necessarily a good life?


Nancy Snow: Is magnificence—expenditure for the public good—virtuous, or vicious? Can it be both?


Tal Brewer: Are human beings irreplaceable, and due special forms of regard and good treatment?


Dan McAdams: What is the difference between habit and character? Do we narrate these things about ourselves in different ways?


Reinhard Hütter: How do we overcome the lure of self-sovereignty that surrounds us and attain true self-transcendence?


Father Kevin Flannery: What is the relationship between intention, choice, and virtue?



Photos, tweets, and audience response: Anselm Mueller’s leture, “What Do We Live For?”

We will post the recording of Anselm Mueller’s April 11 lecture “What Do We Live For?” when it becomes available, but in the meantime thought you might enjoy some feedback we received on our surveys, photos, some of our live tweets, and first, this article about Mueller’s lecture with an interview with Candace Vogler about our Visiting Scholar program.
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Audience survey responses to Anselm Mueller’s “What Do We Live For?”
  • The tension between well-being and perfection is what living life day-to-day is all about.
  • I have a broadened grasp of the problems in trying to understand virtue.
  • The talk provided a different framework for which to shape my own perception of moral philosophy.
  • The lecture provided clear examples of competing factors and forces that we humans aim for both perfection and well-being, and the difficulties in choosing between them.
  • The lecture has contributed to my understanding of the meaning of life. It provided a framework for understanding personal virtue that I had ever thought of before.
  • The lecture gave me a broader understanding of theories on the dichotomy between well-being/perfection.
  • The event will lead to further exploration of these topics in personal reading and attendance at other events and lectures.
  • The lecture helped clarify the nature of the two specific tele as ways in which to frame my life.
  • I hadn’t considered the importance of the conceptual between well-being and perfection as different tele.
  • The lecture illuminated the function of perfection in relation to a meaningful life and the place of the pursuit of well-being within it.
  • The lecture helped to order the variety of philosophical approaches and their limitations.
  • The lecture helped me to see that the collapse of well-being and philosophical perfection is rife in ableism. The lecture provided with useful material to counter the basic claims in ableism.
  • The lecture certainly inspired me to do further reading.
  • The lecture helped me to see that philosophy is well equipped to clarify the tension between well-being and perfection but that it is not equipped to resolve it.

Photos by Valerie Wallace. For more photos from our events, visit our Flickr page.

Save the date: April 11 4pm Live-streaming Anselm Mueller, “What Do We Live For”

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Detail from The Temptation of St. Anthony by Hieronymus Bosch.

“What Do We Live For?” Lecture by Anselm Mueller

4 pm, April 11, 2016 | University of Chicago | The Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society

For those unable to make this event, you can watch it on live our website https://virtue.uchicago.edu/april11

Ethical conduct is not without its costs—delivering truthful testimony against well-connected murderers in a criminal trial can be dangerous; delivering bad news to good people is painful; facing down and working through a mountain of debt can require tightening your belt in unpleasant ways; and duly courageous action can get you killed.  Unethical conduct, on the other hand, often promises ease, comfort, wealth, and some important forms of success.  Points such as these have led many thinkers to notice that there seems to be a tension between acting well (the stuff of ethical conduct) and faring well (getting things that people generally want to get, and finding ways of holding onto those things).


In this lecture, Anselm Müller will consider the traditional opposition between acting well and faring well, and the kinds of steps that thinkers in different cultural settings have taken to address it.   Some urge that meaningful lives are primarily those centered on pursuit of ethical perfection.  Others urge that the best lives are directed to faring well (sometimes in ways that have nothing to do with satisfying desires for wealth or ease or comfort).  And a few urge that there is no such thing as really faring well unless one also is devoted to acting well.  How are we to understand these responses to the traditional problem?  Which, if any, look like sound ways of addressing the tension?


Visiting Scholar Anselm Mueller

Anselm Mueller is Professor Emeritus, University of Trier, and a Visiting Scholar with Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life and the Department of Philosophy. A student of Elizabeth Anscombe and Anthony Kenny at Oxford in the early sixties, Professor Müller has taught philosophy at Oxford University, Australian National University, University of Trier, University of Luxemborg, and Keimyung University. He has written many books and articles in the following areas: ethics, rationality, action theory, philosophy of mind, and the history of philosophy.


For more details, visit: https://virtue.uchicago.edu/april11


Our Visiting Scholar Program is hosted by the Neubauer Collegeium for Culture and Society and made possible by a grant from the Chicago Moral Project. This talk is also made possible by generous support from the John Templeton Foundation.