The Virtue Blog

Blog for the Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life project

VIDEO: Fr. Stephen Brock, “Aquinas and the Life of the Mind”

Philosopher Stephen Brock gave the talk “Aquinas and the Life of the Mind” on Friday, May 12, 2017 at the University of Chicago.

Saint Thomas Aquinas regards mind, or intellect, as a form of life. It is even the most perfect form, he says, because it carries the power of free choice. Yet we may wonder how free he thinks we really are. For he insists that our mind’s life depends, intimately, on a cause outside itself. But on his view, freedom of choice would not even make sense without this cause; and our lives are fullest, and freest, when we focus more on it than on ourselves. This is to follow the mind’s deepest urge, which is toward that rather neglected virtue called wisdom.

Stephen Brock (Pontifical University of Santa Croce) is Professor of Medieval Philosophy, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome. He earned a B.A. in Philosophy at the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto. Brock writes widely on Thomas Aquinas and action theory, ethics, and metaphysics. He is the author of The Philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas. A Sketch (Wipf & Stock, 2015) and Action & Conduct: Thomas Aquinas and the Theory of Action (T&T Clark, 1998). Fr. Brock is the 2017 Visiting Scholar with Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

Interview with Marta Faria, Summer Session Participant

image.jpeg

This post is part of a series of interviews with our incoming class for the “Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence” 2017 Summer Seminar. Marta Faria is a PhD student in Philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome. Valerie Wallace is Associate Director, Communications, for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?

Marta Faria: I am originally from Portugal and I am studying in Rome even though I spend half of the year in Lisbon and half of the year in Rome.

VW: Tell me about your research.

MF: I am doing a Ph.D. in Thomistic Metaphysics. My topic is the Common Good of the Universe in Saint Thomas Aquinas. I am mostly interested in the metaphysical foundations of Ethics, Politics and Human Action in general. As a philosophical topic of inquiry, the common good has traditionally been a topic of disciplines like Ethics and Political Philosophy.  When one analyzes the common good from these intermediate perspectives, it calls for a relative definition: it is the good of a certain collective subject such as the family, the city, or the state. Additionally, we see that, in the doctrine of Saint Thomas Aquinas, these intermediate subjects are conceived as parts of a whole (eg: a particular family is a part of civil society) and can only be fully understood as such. This implies that the intelligible character of these intermediate conceptions of the common good needs to be derived from the good to which each is immediately ordered. For instance, the proper good of the individual is ordered to the common good of the family, which is ordered to the common good of the city, which is ordered to the common good of the state, which is ordered to the universal common good. This happens to be the case because the common good is a good and therefore an end. Consequently, the formal character of the common good must be derived from the ultimate end to which all intermediate partial common goods are finally ordered: the common good of the universe.
Along with being fundamental for the understanding of the intermediary common goods, the question of the universal common good is also interesting for another reason. Saint Thomas makes his own the Dionysian adagio “bonum diffusivum sui”, which implies that for the Angelic Doctor the “good qua good” is communicable. Therefore, the comprehension of the universal common good is also necessary to fully grasp the same nature of the good as intrinsically communicable. There is no other good whose communication is more pervasive than the universal common good, therefore, it must be the highest good of all, not just extensively, as that comes from its own definition, but also intensively. My research being mostly metaphysical aims to study the metaphysical foundations of the good, the key concept of any ethical project.

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

MF:  Even though it is obvious that I expect to learn greatly from the talks of the main speakers I also find that the interaction and discussions with the other participants are extremely interesting. I will get to learn different perspectives over topics that I am used to frame in a specific manner and I will have the opportunity to confront my ideas with other people and to test how consistent they are.

VW: What are your non-academic interests?

MF: All sports in general but mainly jogging and volleyball.

The Structural Significance of Pagan Virtue

AdobeStock_58181974.jpeg

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.

Angela Knobel is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America.

 

Augustine is supposed to have said that the virtues of the pagans were no more than ‘splendid vices’. Whether he actually made such a claim and what he meant by it is the subject of much debate.  But on one reasonable interpretation of that claim, Augustine believed that non-Christians could not possess any genuine virtues at all.  Several recent scholars have argued that this was not only Augustine’s view, but Aquinas’s as well.  Many of the scholars who make this claim do so in the context of emphasizing the importance of Aquinas’s (often overlooked) theory of infused moral virtue.  In this paper, I argue that Aquinas not only recognizes the possibility of genuine virtue in non-believers, but that that recognition plays a crucial structural role in his broader account of virtue.  We cannot truly appreciate his theory of infused virtue, that is  to say, unless we see it as building on and presupposing the possibility of pagan virtue.  I conclude by offering a hypothesis about a likely source of contemporary Thomist suspicion of pagan virtue.

Being Well

be-inspired-src

This article originally appeared in Tableau, the Division of the Humanities at the University of Chicago’s quarterly publication, as Being Well | Want a more fulfilling life? Put down your phone and look another human being in the eye by Courtney Guerra.

It’s easy to ignore the sign-offs at the end of email correspondence—they’re essentially content-neutral beyond conveying “message over.” But Candace Vogler, David B. and Clara E. Stern Professor in Philosophy, has a different style. She ends nearly all of her emails with “be well,” and, after talking with her, you get the sense that it’s intended as an actual imperative—albeit a kind and hopeful one.

 

It’s a small, subtle habit, but that’s the point. If you’re seeking to live more meaningfully, you might as well begin by imbuing meaning into the tiniest gestures of your everyday life.

 

As coleader of the Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life project, Vogler is an expert on living meaningfully. She and her collaborators study universal issues: “questions about the relations between being a good person and enjoying your life or having happiness, and having a sense of meaning or purpose,” she says. “We want to think about what it takes for those to line up.” And because the issues are universal, she’s eager to share the project’s work beyond the academy (through a blog, a podcast, a lecture series, and a culminating conference open to all).

 

The alignment of a satisfying and virtuous life, in her view, begins with self-transcendence: “You’ve got to see your life as enabling you to participate in a good that’s larger than you.” She’s not necessarily talking about volunteerism or devotion to a low-paying, labor-of-love type career. “I mean even in most business settings,” she says, “you’re usually working on a team of one sort or another—and in most sectors of the economy that I know anything about, if things aren’t going well on the team, work isn’t going well.” In essence: we’re all in this together, and we’ll all be better off if we keep that more readily in mind.

 

This point seems especially crucial as so many personal interactions are mediated through technology. “I’m really glad I’m too old to have grown up in a world where there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of images of me available this way and any time,” Vogler reflects. “Because it really does put us in a kind of Rousseau world, where we need everything out there to mirror back to us all the time.” She posits that in our post-smartphone reality, a “particular sense of anxiety, tenuousness, and weirdly overpublicized isolation” results from “not having learned many skills about how to connect with other human beings. And it is something you have to learn to do.”

 

While insecurity and awkwardness aren’t newly emergent phenomena, she thinks they’ve gotten worse. “The depth of the hunger to be connected to other people—that doesn’t change. The thought that you might be able to do that at 4 o’clock in the morning on the phone, that’s different. That’s a new thing.”

 

Vogler doesn’t dispute the utility of screen-based communications in certain contexts, but warns against letting them replace face-to-face interactions. Something as simple as saying hello to other people can “reassure your whole body that you’re in a world with fellow human beings”—fulfilling a fundamental animal need and offering a brief respite from whatever obligations you’re running to and from. If you’re chronically overscheduled, Vogler urges, that means “you’re too busy not to stop and say ‘good morning.’ If you’re that busy, it’s critically important that you do these things that don’t actually cost very much time at all.”

 

What’s her prescription for achieving a more meaningful life? “Greet people. You start with things like that. Notice that you’re in a human environment, that there are other people around, that you’re a member of a community that’s doing various things. Slowly, gently, in a friendly way, acknowledge them. That kind of little thing could be enough to make a huge difference.”

Scholarship of Self-Transcendence

DP319704
Allegorical Tapestry with Sages of the Past, The Cloisters Collection, 2014, CCO, 1.0.

This article originally appeared in Tableau, the Division of the Humanities at the University of Chicago’s quarterly publication, as Scholarship of Self-Transcendence: Candace Vogler leads a search for the meaning of life by Courtney C. W. Guerra.

 

Candace Vogler, the David B. and Clara E. Stern Professor in Philosophy, is invested in her fellow human beings, and she’s determined to help them—us—find fulfillment. To tackle such a complex issue, she proposed the collaborative research project Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life, the aims of which are every bit as ambitious as its name implies. With major support from the John Templeton Foundation, this multiyear initiative—jointly led by Jennifer A. Frey, a philosopher at the University of South Carolina—explores self-transcendence: a feeling of connection to something beyond the individual self.

 

Of course, there’s no single way for human beings to attain self-transcendence: it can happen through spiritual practice, professional drive, familial bonds, or any number of commitments to a higher cause. Vogler’s group includes psychologists, philosophers, and religious thinkers from a variety of traditions. Many are UChicago colleagues: assistant professor Marc G. Berman and professor Howard C. Nusbaum in Psychology, associate professor Tahera Qutbuddin in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and, in Philosophy, assistant professor Matthias Haase and Josef Stern, the William H. Colvin Professor Emeritus. The 30-scholar cohort represents institutions throughout the United States, Middle East, and Europe; they have been meeting and teaching since October 2015.

 

When she devised the project, Vogler says, “The ambition was to get a kind of deep integration between people working in very different disciplines” without relegating their work to the margins of less widely read, explicitly interdisciplinary publications. And it worked: the participants are “doing disciplinary work, they’re publishing in the disciplinary journals, and the inspiration for it is coming out of the frame of the project.”

 

These discussions have informed 10 published or forthcoming articles—a figure that “pretty dramatically exceeded” her initial expectations—with many more on the way. One essay that encapsulates the spirit of the project is being developed by Notre Dame theologian Jean Porter, about studies by Cornell University psychologist Katherine Kinzler on early childhood food preferences. Porter finds parallels between contemporary psychology and the views of Catholic philosopher Thomas Aquinas on the influence of group identity on what children choose to eat. (A draft is available on the Virtue Blog, along with other writings and filmed lectures.) This video helps to introduce and contextualize the group’s scholarship.

 

Like Porter’s essay, much of the project is “built on things that ought to be super interesting to people who are not academics,” says Vogler. She hopes a broad audience will attend the culminating conference at UChicago over the weekend of October 14–15. From there, Vogler plans to share her team’s findings with educators—from early childhood through MBA programs and beyond—to help promote self-transcendence at every stage of development. “There’s a big difference,” she points out, “between leading a life that’s super busy and leading a life that’s full.” Her hope is that the group’s work, as it reverberates out into the broader world, will help people achieve the latter.

Photos and Tweets: “Aquinas and the Life of the Mind”

The lecture by our Visiting Scholar Fr Stephen Brock is being close-captioned; as soon as it’s up on YouTube we’ll publish it here and on our website. In the meantime, here are a few photos and tweets from the event.

See more photos up in the album on our Flickr page.

More tweets from this event here.

 

Screenshot 2017-05-15 13.56.26Screenshot 2017-05-15 13.56.03