Interview with Alberto Arruda, 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. Alberto Arruda is
postdoctoral researcher in philosophy at the University of Lisbon. Valerie Wallace is Associate Director, Communications, for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

Tomorrow’s blog post is by Arruda, “The notion of dependence.”

Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?

Alberto Arruda: I am from Lisbon, Portugal. I am currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Lisbon.

VW: Tell me about your research.

AA: My research interests are mainly in the connections between the philosophies of mind and action, moral and political philosophy, and also Wittgenstein, Anscombe, Marx and Hegel.

More specifically, my most recent research interest is concerned with trying to understand philosophically what ‘worrying about someone’ means. By this expression I simply mean that I have been trying to think about what this characteristic exhibited by humans (worrying about each other) means in virtue ethics and the development of virtues, also regarding the notion of a person.

In relation to this, I have been trying to better understand the notion of perfectionism, especially how in some political systems perfectionism was both destructive of persons and the apparent justification of a higher good for that political community.

VW: What are your non-academic interests?

AA: My main non-academic interest is music.

 

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

AA: I am looking forward to serious and exciting discussions, and to learning about new perspectives that will help me when considering the problems I study.

Interview with Carissa Phillips-Garrett, Summer Session Participant

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This post is part of a series of interviews with our participants for the “Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence” 2017 Summer Seminar. Carissa Phillips-Garrett is Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Houston. Valerie Wallace is Associate Director, Communications, for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?

Carissa Phillips-Garrett: I grew up in San Diego and it still feels like home even though it’s been almost 10 years since I lived there full-time. After undergrad and before starting my PhD, I lived in the Republic of Georgia, South Korea, and Canada, before moving to Houston where I live currently. I am finishing my PhD in philosophy at Rice University, and after living in Houston longer than I’ve lived anywhere else as an adult, Houston feels like home, too.

 

VW: Tell me about your research.

CPG: I work primarily at the intersection of ethics, moral psychology, social and political philosophy, and ancient philosophy. Because of my interest in virtue, flourishing, and political communities, I am naturally drawn to Aristotle, so my work involves bringing Aristotle into conversation with contemporary philosophers.

My research as a whole concerns relationships (both personal and broadly social) and the common good. I am interested in the social ties that bind us to one another, the virtues, emotions, and practices that sustain and undermine these ties, and the moral demands that arise from our relationships to one another. I also explore the role that moral identity plays in sustaining virtue and happiness.

The escalating social and political tensions over the last few years highlight the importance of learning to listen and dialogue with those who are very different than ourselves. My work is now turning to examine the role that mercy, charity, empathy, and social relationships might play in promoting understanding and a commitment to the common good within our social and political communities.

VW: What are your non-academic interests?

CPG: I enjoy traveling and exploring new places, reading (mainly historical fiction and philosophical sci fi), playing board and card games, and visiting museums. I also love the the beach and water sports more generally.

 

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

CPG: I’m really looking forward to participating in interdisciplinary conversations about the relationship between goodness and happiness, how we develop ethically, and the value of friendship. While I really enjoy my own discipline (philosophy), I am looking forward to having discussions and being challenged by participants from other disciplines.

 

What To Do With Aggression?

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Still from the the film Lord of the Flies.

I’m used to Nietzsche’s provocations. Or so I thought. Recently, having taught the Genealogy of Morals to a class of college sophomores—rereading the text through their fresh eyes—I was struck yet again by Nietzsche’s audacity, his willingness to celebrate dark, even heinous, urges—e.g., “the voluptuous pleasure in doing evil for the pleasure of doing evil, the enjoyment of violation.”[1]

 

In my youth, such exclamations felt like a recognition of sorts, a philosophical expression to sides of myself I had been taught to feel ashamed of. Even if it wasn’t evil per se that I was craving, it was evil insofar as we define it, as Nietzsche seems to define, as violation for sake of violation. It was the pleasure of transgression—transgression of social norms—that I fancied. When I read Nietzsche, I was left with an ethical, even political question: What should I do with my ingrained aggression towards social expectations (even if—and perhaps because—I was very mostly obedient)?

 

Not long after Nietzsche’s death, Sigmund Freud claimed a disturbing discovery, one that explained some of the former’s provocations: we are all afflicted by a death instinct, thanatos, which drives us to undo the structures and regulations that civilization, especially our modern civilization, imposes on us. While civilization does its best to suppress aggressions, its success is limited, or rather: it causes these aggressions to burst out in immense spectacles of violence. In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud appeals to the horrors of the First World War as an example, and had he not died in September 1939, he could surely add a few more atrocities to his list.

 

Freud’s diagnosis of modern Western civilization—not unlike Nietzsche’s—was bleak. To the extent that it can master thanatos, the price is growing misery since it bars modern subjects from playing out in-born instincts. I believe, however, that his theory gives rise to an ethically productive question: Can we fashion our lives, as both individuals and members of social institutions, in a way that offers our aggressions non-destructive outlets?

 

The idea that we have inclinations at odds with rational and socially constructive conduct is an old one. In a dominant strand of ethical thought, the imperative is to tame, or—to use Freudian parlance—suppress such inclinations. Immanuel Kant, for example, portrayed moral conduct as a constant struggle between rational duty (expressed by the Categorical Imperative) and our bodily inclinations. Reason must constantly guard against such rebellious forces. It is with this in mind, perhaps, that Nietzsche jabs at Kant: “The categorical imperative smells of cruelty.”[2]

 

Hegel, Kant’s most famous successor, also likes to jab at the apparent Kantian hostility towards the living body, fraught as it is with urges and instincts. “There is nothing degrading about being alive,” he says in the Philosophy of Right, “and we do not have the alternative of existing in a higher spirituality.”[3] I’d like to suggest that Hegel offers both an interesting construal of our seemingly antisocial aggressions—one that prefigures some of Freud’s insights—and a constructive ethical proposal for accommodating them.

 

Hegel characterizes desire [Begehren] as inherently aggressive; it subjugates the desired object to the demands of the desiring subject and thereby asserts the subject’s freedom vis-à-vis the objective world. When I desire an apple, I see it as nothing but a potential meal; when I consume it, I turn it into my meal; I make this formerly independent object a part of my subjectivity.

 

Importantly, this drama of desire has a rational purpose; it is a necessary aspect of attaining individual freedom. Unlike Rousseau, Hegel thinks that man is born unfree. We are thoroughly dependent on the world; we need it. Desire is a step away from dependency, a step towards freedom. It is not a passive need but the active satisfaction of need; moreover, it gives a specific shape to our needs. Feeling hungry, I may need food, but I desire an apple—thereby actively shaping my relationship with the world, asserting a degree (even if limited) of independence.

 

Furthermore, it is our desirous nature that explains, according to Hegel, why we sometimes even destroy what satisfies our needs. In a curious discussion of child development in his Anthropology, Hegel makes a passing comment: “the most rational thing that children can do with their toys is to break them.”[4] While he doesn’t quite explain this claim, his notion of desire could fill in the lacuna. Toys satisfy a toddler’s need at a certain developmental phase, helping him build various skills. But, he must show himself and others that he is not dependent on them; in breaking his toys he attains greater independence.

 

It is not only objects that satisfy our desire. In fact, desiring subjects can be all the more satisfying, insofar as they are able to acknowledge our superiority; we can read in their eyes their recognition of us as free, or rather—as more free than them.

 

Think, for example, about the fictional character of Don Juan, the womanizer for whom seduction is a never-ending task, a repetitive assertion of his masculine power.

 

Such behavior may strike us as unfortunate, and not for moralistic or anti libertine reasons. It hardly seems like a recipe for a good life. After all, the seducer—even the successful one—seems to be a slave of his own desire, perhaps like a toddler reliant on his toys. Hegel would agree. For him, this basic mode of desire—which treats the world, even people, as nothing but an object for proving one’s superiority—must be transcended if we are to attain more enduring and satisfying freedom.

 

However, I think Hegel’s originality lies in the realization that this mode of aggressive desire is not only a developmental stage, one we can ideally do away with. We need a sphere in which we can assert our superiority over others, a sphere which serves as an outlet for our inherently aggressive desire. This outlet is the peculiarly modern sphere of civil society, the sphere of the market economy.

 

In the market economy, the individual is concerned with his self-interest only, “and all else means nothing to him.”[5] He struggles for his subsistence and well-being and accumulates personal property, often by competing with others, outwitting and using them in promoting his own ends. Hegel talks about the modern economic sphere in almost animalistic terms, where “particularity indulges itself in all directions as it satisfies its needs, contingent arbitrariness, and subjective caprice.”[6]

 

This might seem demeaning, as if human society is no better than a jungle. After all, much of ethical thought is concerned with taking us beyond animalistic urges and behaviors. But Hegel’s point is that such transcendence is impossible, it denies essential aspects of who we are as rational animals. Rather than suppress our animality, we are to offer it a socially constructive playground. This stands to benefit society as a whole, insofar as it increases both personal and social wealth and conduces to innovation and progress.

 

It appears, however, that the market economy requires precisely what Freud associated with modern civilization, namely, strict obedience to a set of shared norms. How can it afford, then, an outlet for antisocial aggressions? I think that a Hegelian answer could appeal to an alleged similarity between the economy and a collective game. On the one hand, a game requires us to recognize the other participants as peers; we all follow the same rules. In this respect, we must go beyond aggression as a developmental phase, namely, we must recognize others as equals, rather than only as potential satisfaction for our desires. On the other hand, by acknowledging others as peers, we are given a space in which we can assert our superiority over them. Only one (or some) of the players can win the game. One aggression, then, is converted into another, socially constructive one.

 

It was Marx, Hegel’s most influential critic, who gave us reasons to doubt the idea that civil society—or, specifically, the market economy—is a site of individual freedom. It is not, however, because the market economy is a “jungle” (to use a metaphor many critics of capitalism favor), but because Hegel was still blind to the ways in which the capitalist economy was a site of unprecedented control. For very most of its participants, it is hardly a game—let alone a fair game—in which they can assert their individuality. Nevertheless, even if Hegel’s ethical remedy to our cravings for transgression is a poor one, the problematic that he responded to still calls for attention: What to do with aggression?

 

[1] Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals, Essay 2, §5.

[2] Ibid., § 6.

[3] Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, §123.

[4] Hegel, Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, Addition to §396.

[5] Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, §182, Addition.

[6] Ibid., §185.

 


Gal Katz is a PhD candidate at the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University. His dissertation explores the relationship between individual freedom and modern skepticism in Hegel’s philosophy.

 

Why the Science of Well-Being Needs the Philosophy of Well-Being – and Vice Versa

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We’re presenting a short series of abstracts of the work-in-progress our scholars presented and discussed at their June 2017 Working Group Meeting.

Erik Angner is Associate Professor of Practical Philosophy at Stockholm University.

I argue that the relationship between science and philosophy is symbiotic and surprisingly symmetrical: while science depends on philosophy in such a way that attention to the latter can help us improve the former, the inverse is true too. I make the case by reviewing a number of ways in which philosophy is relevant to science, and science to philosophy. My illustrations are drawn from a real example, viz., the science and philosophy of well-being. Although the two disciplines are pursued largely independently, I will argue that they exhibit a deep mutual dependence and could both benefit from increased engagement with the other. At the end of the day, I paint a picture in which science and philosophy are involved in in a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas for the advancement of the general knowledge.

Interview with David McPherson, 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. David McPherson is
Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Creighton University. Valerie Wallace is Associate Director, Communications, for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?

David McPherson: I am originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, but my family and I now live in Omaha, Nebraska, where I teach at Creighton University. I am a Midwesterner through and through.

 

VW: Tell me about your research.

DM: My research is primarily in contemporary virtue ethics and philosophy of religion. I am especially interested in the ways that these two fields intersect (or should intersect) around issues of spirituality and meaning in life. Although these issues are obviously of great importance in human life, they have tended to be neglected in contemporary virtue ethics. One reason for this neglect, I think, is the stress on an analogy between human flourishing and the flourishing of other living things, which encourages what John McDowell calls a “sideways-on” view of human life, that is, a disengaged, observer standpoint rather than an engaged, participative standpoint.

 

In order to better appreciate the significance of linking virtue ethics with spirituality and self-transcending sources of meaning, I think we need a deeper exploration of the “space of meaning” that arises for us from within our distinctively human form of life as meaning-seeking animals engaged in purposive activities. As part of this project, I have recently edited a book for Cambridge University Press titled Spirituality and the Good Life: Philosophical Approaches, which will come out later this year (http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/religion/philosophy-religion/spirituality-and-good-life-philosophical-approaches?format=HB#q8bAlsC6SIGY3BZq.97).

 

I am also currently working on a monograph in which I situate contemporary neo-Aristotelian ethics within the context of the modern problem of disenchantment, that is, the perceived loss or threat of a loss of meaning or value, which is often connected to various forms of scientism in modern intellectual life. I contend that all neo-Aristotelians seek varying degrees of re-enchantment, but I seek to articulate and defend an even fuller kind of re-enchantment than is found in any of the major views on offer.

 

VW: What are your non-academic interests?

DM: I love playing with my two young children (though I’d call being a parent a “vocation” rather than an “interest”!), and my wife and I enjoy playing Irish, Scottish, English, and American folk music together (I play guitar and she plays fiddle and guitar).

 

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

DM: I am most looking forward to engaging with and learning from the other seminar participants with regard to the central themes of the seminar, which are so closely connected to my own research interests. As an Aristotelian, I am also just interested in getting to know and forming friendships with others who are engaged in the contemplative life and have shared research interests.

 

 

Curiosity as a Virtue

 

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There is little doubt as to the elevated status of curiosity in our modern secular culture. We are surrounded by its praise and by institutions that aim at nurturing and encouraging our desire to know. So natural and integral is this desire to our nature and experience that, bereft of it, human life appears dreary, and human society, dystopian. Indeed, for many, the mere thought of suppressing the fervent curiosity of children is petrifying, akin to depriving them of one of their senses. At times, curiosity seems like the centerpiece of modern education. Parents send their kids to classes to open their eyes to as many realms of knowledge as possible with the hope that their curiosity will be nurtured. Being curious has become not only the benchmark of a happy and promising childhood but also of a vital adulthood. As long as one is curious, one has not lost one’s vitality; one is still alive. In its absence, our life is dry and ossified.

 

The exaltations of the desire to know are by no means a peculiarity of our zeitgeist, but it is worth noting that curiosity was also condemned and even considered a sin by great thinkers like Augustine, Aquinas and Montaigne. The very fact that curiosity has not always been conceived as a virtue should pique our curiosity. How could the desire to know be a sin? What could possibly be wrong with pursuing our curiosity? Though the critique of curiosity offered by these early thinkers partly arises out of religious and social commitments more foreign to contemporary society, many of their concerns are as pertinent to us now as they were. Considering their views affords not only a critical distance from our wholehearted admiration for curiosity, but a more robust and nuanced concept of curiosity; one especially relevant to our understanding of curiosity’s place in education.

 

I first started investigating the virtue of curiosity following a rather mundane academic experience. A special kind of curiosity accompanies the reading of academic books in one’s own field of research. We might call this kind “a sober curiosity”; akin perhaps to the alertness of sense a devout gardener experiences in daily attending her beloved garden. It is an alertness to subtle changes in the familiar paths of her garden, rather than expectant of novelties or unknown marvels. With this “sober curiosity” I turned, not long ago, to reading a book in contemporary ethics. My curiosity, however, gave out not long after, as I found its treatment of subjects dear to my heart overly abstract and technical. After a short break, I reopened the book and noticed the following epigraph:

[…] I flatter myself that I understand all sorts of curiosity – curiosity about daily facts, daily things, about daily men. It is the most respectable faculty of the human mind – in fact, I cannot conceive the uses of an incurious mind. It would be like chamber perpetually locked up.

Joseph Conrad Chance

 

I felt strangely admonished by these words. After all, my own sober curiosity has just been stifled by the very work that followed. What did the author of the work intended by opening with this epigraph? Was it intended as a literary way to obviate accusations concerning the dry nature of his work: such accusations, the epigraph suggests, attest to the reader’s failed curiosity and “useless mind”? Or perhaps, I thought, the point was not to admonish those whose curiosity faltered in the face of a dry academic work, but rather to disclaim: “this work will capture only a mind of prodigious curiosity.”

 

Whatever the author’s intention might have been, curiosity itself then became the subject of my curiosity. The epigraph’s unchecked praise of curiosity in association with the nature of his book seemed wrong to me but I wasn’t sure why. Is any object, even the most boring, worthy of our curiosity? Can curiosity be ‘excessive’? What if desiring to know every fact is a deficiency rather than a virtue? If curiosity is like other psychological virtues—e.g., moderation or courage—we should expect it to be a mean between two extremes. But what are those extremes?

 

As I mentioned above, curiosity has not always enjoyed the elevated status it has today. The history of ideas is scattershot with thinkers who cautioned against the dangers it poses. In a famous part of Plato’s republic we encounter an aspect of curiosity I believe few would encourage:

Leontius, the son of Aglaion, coming up one day from the Piraeus, under the north wall on the outside, observed some dead bodies lying on the ground at the place of execution. He felt a desire to see them, and also a dread and abhorrence of them; for a time he struggled and covered his eyes, but at length the desire got the better of him; and forcing them open, he ran up to the dead bodies, saying, Look, ye wretches, take your fill of the fair sight. [439e]

 

If curiosity is a desire to knowledge, then Leonitus’ is a case of lust, or as St. Augustine put it, the “lust of the eyes”. It is an excessive case of the desire to know, one whose object we consider improper, in this case, we conceive of it as improper because it does not pay respect to the dead and because it leads to a terrifying and painful experience. For similar reasons, it is commonplace to admonish voyeurism and gossiping, and consider them as vices. We might see such vices as types of excessive curiosity, for in them, the desire for knowledge drives agents to compromise other values such as respect for others, their privacy and their good reputation.

 

We see then, that despite curiosity’s positive reputation there are cases where it can be seen as excessive and a vice. Thus, if curiosity can be harmful and sinful it would seem to follow that rather than being intrinsically good, its goodness depends on external circumstances and considerations. If so, then, against our contemporary intuition, it would seem that curiosity is not a virtue at all but rather a psychological disposition that can be either good or bad, depending on the situation. What, then, are we to make of this tension between curiosity as a virtue and its ethical ambiguity?

 

We can begin resolving the tension by distinguishing between the desire to know and the virtuous way of having this desire, i.e., curiosity. As long as we understand curiosity as a desire, i.e., the desire for knowledge, we should expect exactly the odd result we have received, since, in general, desires are not, in and of themselves, virtues. Rather, they are good only insofar as they are exercised in the right way, namely, neither too much nor too little. Consider, for instance, the desire for food: a too vigorous appetite is considered gluttonous, while an overly weak one expresses austerity or apathy, turning eating into a necessary but unpleasant task; neither, clearly, are considered virtues. A moderate appetite, however— neither gluttonous nor insensitive—we conceive as a virtue. Hence, virtue (e.g., moderation in relation to eating) is not a mere desire but rather the right way of having a desire. We can now trace the root of the confusion in relation to curiosity: it is a mistake to define curiosity both as a virtue and as a desire. Conceived as a virtue, curiosity must be the right way of desiring knowledge—the middle way between excessive desire (manifested in vices such as voyeurism) and too little (e.g., apathy).

 

All that said, the above discussion does not yet explain my response to the epigraph of the dry academic book. Though I sensed that having interest in this book would indicate excessive curiosity, being curious about it clearly would not have constituted something like voyeurism or gossiping—both instances where the desire for knowledge infringes on other values; it is hard to see what value is violated by finding a book interesting. As long as our desire causes no harm, it is tempting to think that there nothing is wrong with both having and satisfying it. Indeed, one may suggest, the stronger the desire the better; for a life that consists of prodigious desires is life filled with excitement and pleasure (with the provisos that we can satisfy them and no harm is made by that). On the basis of this position, it follows that the more vigorous the desire for knowledge, the better. Accordingly, she who can take interest in everything—e.g., every stone, every event, every constellation of objects etc.—is a happy person. It was in this vein that John Hobbes and Francis Bacon argued that the desire for knowledge is the greatest gift of man, for it offers man an endless and insatiable source of pleasures, unlike other appetites we share with animals. Understood as a source of pleasure, there seems to be no point in limiting the objects of a desire (with the above provisos).

 

What then is the source of unease with the idea that it is a virtue to take interest (i.e., desiring to know) everything? I think we can find a clue in another Platonic text: in the Gorgias, Calicles claims that the happiest life is one in which there is the greatest amount of desire and satisfaction. In response, Socrates asks him whether “a man who has an itch and wants to scratch, and may scratch in all freedom, can pass his life happily in continual scratching.” [494d] Socrates’ point, I take it, is that pleasures, important as they are, cannot be the sole consideration in evaluating human life. Life spent in scratching one’s back strikes us as eerily empty and meaningless. Generalizing from this Socratic example, we may say that pleasure cannot be the only measure of desire’s goodness. In evaluating a desire, like the desire for knowledge, we ought also to consider what is the good associated the desire. Moreover, as we shall see presently, once we understand the good toward which a desire is oriented, we also see that not all possible objects of a desire are equally of value.

 

Consider the desire for food once more. Surely it is pleasurable to satisfy our hunger, and savoring our favorite dishes is a great pleasure. However, there is more to eating than pleasure. Done properly, eating is also good because it sustains our health; it is crucial to human life; it isn’t merely pleasurable. Furthermore, once we note that health is an end of eating we can also see that not all kinds of food are equally good; desiring unhealthy food makes one’s appetite deficient even though one might still take great pleasure in eating it. Fully understanding a virtue, then, consists of knowing which objects are proper for it and which aren’t.

 

Against this backdrop, we can now understand my uncurious reaction to the book not (necessarily) as a sign of feeble curiosity, but rather (hopefully), as a recognition of its unworthiness as an object of my desire for knowledge. But how are we to determine whether my sense of its unworthiness is valid? As we have just seen, looking for the good associated with the desire to know is the way of tracing curiosity’s proper objects. Of course, answering these questions in any satisfying way exceeds the limits of the present essay. We might begin, though, by imagining the following case: it would be unjust, for instance, to accuse one of a lack of curiosity for not having any desire to know the number of tiles on the roof of a random building one sees. Indeed, showing such an interest would warrant special explanation. In the absence of such explanation, we might consider it a perversion of one’s desire to know—akin to that limitless, gluttonous appetite. But what makes the desire to know the number of tiles perverse? It seems to me that it is perverse since, strikingly, it has nothing to do with our life in general. We neither have a use for this kind of knowledge nor does it bear on any of life’s significant activities. Now, if told that this roof-tile enthusiast was an architect of rooves, we might become more understanding to her interest in the number of tiles; it may still be a peculiar interest, but not entirely outlandish. This example may suggest that objects worthy for one’s curiosity are objects that relate to one’s involvements, concerns and cares in the world; a result supported by the etymological sources of curiosity in the Latin cūra, which means, care, concern, or worry.

 

This short essay has aimed to set up the stage for a deeper understanding of curiosity as a virtue. Specifically, as we have seen, what we ought to admire and cultivate is not the mere desire to know, but the virtue of this desire; the right way of having it. In cultivating curiosity, as in cultivating other virtues, our aim must be to allow it to exist in harmony with other values and goods. Moreover, we need to cultivate the desire for proper objects of knowledge. An encouragement of the desire to know without orienting it to facts and subjects that should matter to us may result in an excessive and alienating desire rather than a virtuous one.

 


Amichai Amit is PhD student in philosophy at the University of Chicago. His research concerns the foundations of ethics and normativity. He also has strong interests in the history of philosophy (ancient and German idealism) and existentialism. He previously received an MA in Philosophy from Tel-Aviv University.

 

VIDEO: Stephen Brock, “Thomas Aquinas, the Bearer of Practical Truth, and the Rationality of Action”

Stephen Brock, Holy Cross University – “Thomas Aquinas, the Bearer of Practical Truth, and the Rationality of Action” at the workshop Practical Truth: Reflections on the Aristotelian Tradition, April 21-22, 2017.

Interpreters of what Aristotle calls practical truth differ about what its bearer is or what it is properly said of.  As a result, they also differ about the distinction between practical and theoretical truth.  It is generally agreed that the bearer of theoretical truth is an assertion or a judgment about some matter, and that such truth consists in the judgment’s describing the matter correctly.  But while some hold that the same account applies to practical truth, others hold that its bearer is an action, and that what it consists in is the action’s conformity with right desire.  Thomas Aquinas thinks the bearer of practical truth is a judgment.  In this paper I present his position, consider some objections on behalf of the opposing view, and suggest what he would think is at stake the issue.