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.

 

 

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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.

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 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.

The Good Life Through Polarity and Transcendence – part 2

Paradigm of Sacred HuesThis post is part 2 of 2 (see yesterday’s post on the Polarity Principle). We’ve repeated the introduction for context.

In his encyclopedic book exploring the mysteries of science and philosophy, Guy Murchie (1978) identifies polarity and transcendence as the two great mysteries of all life systems.

Murchie’s profound insight is essential to our research and understanding of virtue, happiness, and meaning—the three constituents of the good life. Contrary to the predominant binary thinking of only pursuing what is positive, Guy supports the dialectical approach of second wave positive psychology (PP 2.0). That is, we need to accept the principle of polarity that permeates every aspect of human existence—good and evil, God and the devil, happiness and sadness, life and death…

Transcendence is also necessary because it integrates the opposites and moves towards greater connectiveness and higher consciousness. In terms of evolution, it is the inevitable process of moving from single-celled organisms towards more complex living systems, and from simple ideas such as “positive is good; negative is bad” towards more complex concepts like yin-yang.

Thus, the deep secret of the good life is to accept and transcend polarities. From the perspective of PP 2.0, acceptance and transcendence are the essential yin-yang processes. Acceptance represents the yin process of enduring and embracing life in its totality, with letting go and humility; transcendence represents the yang process of growth and self-expanding to the point of losing oneself in something greater and grander.

 

The Transcendence Principle

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Murchie (1978) defines transcendence as “going beyond common experience” (p. 494). This common daily experience encompasses our sensory-perceptual experiences, space-time limitations, our struggle for survival, and the pursuit of creature comforts and pleasures. Transcendence occurs when we become aware of the spiritual dimension of meaning (Frankl, 1985; Wong, 2012) or, metaphorically, stumble upon a staircase to the spiritual realm (Haidt, 2012).

 

Citing Thomas Browne’s statement, “We are more than our present selves,” Murchie (1978) sounds the optimistic note that we are all capable of growing and expanding ourselves through “the natural law of cooperation” which is the spiritual “golden rule” (p. 513), which reorients our way of living from egotistic concerns to altruistic caring for others, from earthly strivings to spiritual pursuits (Emmons, 1999).

 

Referring to Aristotle’s statement “spirit prevailing matter,” Murchie (1978) comments, “So the spirit-mind associates itself with finity in order to grow” (p. 519). Thus, one individual expands to humanity, and one individual consciousness becomes absorbed in the “all pervasive, if hypothetical, superconsciousness called the universal mind” (p. 500).

 

In a poetic flash, Murchie (1978) writes, “Our earthly life then, in simple terms, is a tentative tuning in on a particular collection of human cells—a transcendent resonance of protein molecules with intangible awareness in an illusory space-time continuum—a harmonic, a geometric interval, a note in a song of eternal and incomprehensive mystery” (p. 519).

 

To such majestic mystery, our only response is a sense of awe and wonder. It is a realization that life is much, much more than our mundane daily “common experience,” and we are more than “our present selves.” True virtue, happiness, and meaning all hinge on the principle of transcendence at all levels of our existence—from each situation and life as a whole, to the cosmic realm (Wong, 2014b).

 

In a world full of violence and conflicts, it is worth repeating that transcendence is inherent in the polarity principle. It takes something different, something better, to integrate or bridge the opposites, creating a new unity, a new reality. Thus, polarities lead to harmony and a higher order, rather than conflicts and chaos, because of the process of transcendence.

 

The inescapable moral dimension of true transcendence stems from its relational orientation—loving God and loving your neighbour. According to Aron and Aron’s (2012) self-expansion model, love is the process of expanding oneself by including others. This expanding connectiveness grows from marriage, family, and community, to transpersonal realms.

 

The principle of transcendence helps us understand why gratitude is so essential to ourwell-being. The reason is that gratitude reorients us from selfish concerns to the selfless appreciation of blessings from other people, external circumstances, and the Source of all life.

 

Thus, the positive psychology of the good life consists of accepting and transcending the dark side of human existence. The process of transcendence transforms the isolated self to a community and transforms evil, suffering, and tragedy to the spiritual experiences of grace, compassion, and serving the greater good.

 

In sum, PP 1.0 is a product of the privileged land of peace and prosperity; it is represented by a happy face. PP 2.0 is a product of the real world of polarities—peace-war, prosperity-poverty, and good-evil; it is represented by the symbol of yin-yang. Sustainable success needs to be built on integrating and transcending polarities.

 


References

Aron, A., & Aron, E. N. (2012). The meaning of love. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd ed.; pp. 185-208). New York, NY: Routledge.

Emmons, R. A. (1999). The psychology of ultimate concerns: Motivation and spirituality in personality. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Frankl, V. E. (1985). Man’s search for meaning (Revised & updated ed.). New York, NY: Washington Square Press.

Haidt, J. D. (2012). Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence. TED. Retrieved from www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_humanity_s_stairway_to_self_transcendence?language=en

Kwee, M. G. T. (2012). Relational Buddhism: A psychological quest for meaning and sustainable happiness. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd ed.; pp. 249-276). New York, NY: Routledge.

Murchie, G. (1978). The seven mysteries of life: An exploration of science and philosophy. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.

Reker, G. T., & Wong, P. T. P. (2012). Personal meaning in life and psychosocial adaptation in the later years. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd ed., pp. 433-456). New York, NY: Routledge.

Ryff, C. D. (2012). Existential well-being and health. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd ed., pp. 233-248). New York, NY: Routledge.

Schneider, K. J. (2013). The polarized mind: Why it’s killing us and what we can do about it. Colorado Springs, CO: University Professors Press.

Wong, P. T. P. (2009). The depth positive psychology of Carl Jung. In S. J. Lopez (Ed.), Encyclopedia of positive psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 545-546). Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Wong, P. T. P. (2011). Positive psychology 2.0: Towards a balanced interactive model of the good life. Canadian Psychology, 52(2), 69-81.

Wong, P. T. P. (2012). What is the meaning mindset? International Journal of Existential Psychology and Psychotherapy, 4(1), 1-3.

Wong, P. T. P. (2014a). From attunement to a meaning-centred good life: Book review of Daniel Haybron’s Happiness: A very short introductionInternational Journal of Wellbeing, 4(2), 100-105.

Wong, P. T. P. (2014b). Viktor Frankl’s meaning seeking model and positive psychology. In A. Batthyany & P. Russo-Netzer (Eds.), Meaning in existential and positive psychology (pp. 149-184)New York, NY: Springer.

Wong, P. T. P. (2016, July). PP2.0 Summit explores the new vistas of second wave positive psychology: How to embrace the dark side to make life better. Positive Living Newsletter. Retrieved from http://www.drpaulwong.com/inpm-presidents-report-july-2016/

Wong, P. T. P., Reker, G. T., & Gesser, G. (1994). Death Attitude Profile – Revised: A multidimensional measure of attitudes toward death (DAP-R). In R. A. Neimeyer (Ed.), Death anxiety handbook: Research, instrumentation, and application (pp. 121-148). Washington, DC: Taylor & Francis.


Paul Wong is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Trent University and a Scholar with Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

The Good Life Through Polarity and Transcendence – part 1

Sacred Hues

In his encyclopedic book exploring the mysteries of science and philosophy, Guy Murchie (1978) identifies polarity and transcendence as the two great mysteries of all life systems.

Murchie’s profound insight is essential to our research and understanding of virtue, happiness, and meaning—the three constituents of the good life. Contrary to the predominant binary thinking of only pursuing what is positive, Guy supports the dialectical approach of second wave positive psychology (PP 2.0). That is, we need to accept the principle of polarity that permeates every aspect of human existence—good and evil, God and the devil, happiness and sadness, life and death…

Transcendence is also necessary because it integrates the opposites and moves towards greater connectiveness and higher consciousness. In terms of evolution, it is the inevitable process of moving from single-celled organisms towards more complex living systems, and from simple ideas such as “positive is good; negative is bad” towards more complex concepts like yin-yang.

Thus, the deep secret of the good life is to accept and transcend polarities. From the perspective of PP 2.0, acceptance and transcendence are the essential yin-yang processes. Acceptance represents the yin process of enduring and embracing life in its totality, with letting go and humility; transcendence represents the yang process of growth and self-expanding to the point of losing oneself in something greater and grander.

The Polarity Principle

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Murchie draws heavily from Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 535-c. 475 BCE). Heraclitus is best known for his doctrines that things are constantly changing (universal flux) and that opposites coexist (unity of opposites). “The way up and the way down are one and the same… It is sickness that makes health pleasant… And evil leads to good.” (Murchie, 1978, p. 472).

Evidence of the polarity principle is everywhere—positive-negative, subject-object, predator-prey, action-reaction, stress-relaxation… However, there is an underlying harmony and unity below the surface reality of opposites, as symbolized by yin-yang. Awareness and acceptance of the sameness of opposites result in transcendence.

This polarity principle sheds a new light on our understanding of positive psychology. Happiness is no longer the presence of positive affect and the absence of negative affect, but the acceptance of the inevitable polarity of feelings, and being attuned to the ebb and flow of emotions with a sense of contentment (Kwee, 2012; Wong, 2014a).

Maturation means the acceptance of inevitable losses that come with aging (Reker & Wong, 2012; Ryff, 2012) and personal mortality (Wong, Reker, & Gesser, 1994). Furthermore, virtue is no longer the absence of vice, but the triumph of virtue in spite of the reality of the dark side (Wong, 2016).

Similarly, meaning in life takes shape through the endless process of transforming and assimilating absurd and meaningless moments into a larger meaningful design. This process of personal growth is made possible only through the constant struggle and stretching to overcome challenges and obstacles (Wong, 2011).

The end result of accepting the polarity principle is that we are more likely to develop the practical wisdom of moderation or the “middle way” and less likely to develop radical beliefs and the polarized mind (Schneider, 2013). It will also contribute to what Jung saw as the individualization process of balancing and integrating all the opposites within one’s self-system (Wong, 2009).

Such dialectic thinking opens up many new frontiers for research and applications. For instance, gratitude exercises are no longer limited to the good things that have happened to us; we are challenged to express gratitude for the bad things as well, because of the valuable lessons and benefits that come from suffering. This type of spiritual gratitude exercise may be more helpful to those suffering from trauma. The Psalms are full of examples of a voice beginning with complaints and ending with thanksgiving.

In sum, the best way to increase the well-being of individuals and organizations is to accept and transcend the pervasive polarities of life such as success-failure, happiness-sadness, and virtue-vice. This perspective is similar to the medical practice of assuming that we live in a world full of bacteria, viruses, and illnesses that we can acclimate ourselves to and survive. Thus, positive psychology is no longer a refocus away from disease to well-being, but a broader focus on the reality of polarities.

Tomorrow – part 2, The Transcendence Principle


References

Aron, A., & Aron, E. N. (2012). The meaning of love. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd ed.; pp. 185-208). New York, NY: Routledge.

Emmons, R. A. (1999). The psychology of ultimate concerns: Motivation and spirituality in personality. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Frankl, V. E. (1985). Man’s search for meaning (Revised & updated ed.). New York, NY: Washington Square Press.

Haidt, J. D. (2012). Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence. TED. Retrieved from www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_humanity_s_stairway_to_self_transcendence?language=en

Kwee, M. G. T. (2012). Relational Buddhism: A psychological quest for meaning and sustainable happiness. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd ed.; pp. 249-276). New York, NY: Routledge.

Murchie, G. (1978). The seven mysteries of life: An exploration of science and philosophy. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.

Reker, G. T., & Wong, P. T. P. (2012). Personal meaning in life and psychosocial adaptation in the later years. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd ed., pp. 433-456). New York, NY: Routledge.

Ryff, C. D. (2012). Existential well-being and health. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd ed., pp. 233-248). New York, NY: Routledge.

Schneider, K. J. (2013). The polarized mind: Why it’s killing us and what we can do about it. Colorado Springs, CO: University Professors Press.

Wong, P. T. P. (2009). The depth positive psychology of Carl Jung. In S. J. Lopez (Ed.), Encyclopedia of positive psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 545-546). Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Wong, P. T. P. (2011). Positive psychology 2.0: Towards a balanced interactive model of the good life. Canadian Psychology, 52(2), 69-81.

Wong, P. T. P. (2012). What is the meaning mindset? International Journal of Existential Psychology and Psychotherapy, 4(1), 1-3.

Wong, P. T. P. (2014a). From attunement to a meaning-centred good life: Book review of Daniel Haybron’s Happiness: A very short introductionInternational Journal of Wellbeing, 4(2), 100-105.

Wong, P. T. P. (2014b). Viktor Frankl’s meaning seeking model and positive psychology. In A. Batthyany & P. Russo-Netzer (Eds.), Meaning in existential and positive psychology (pp. 149-184)New York, NY: Springer.

Wong, P. T. P. (2016, July). PP2.0 Summit explores the new vistas of second wave positive psychology: How to embrace the dark side to make life better. Positive Living Newsletter. Retrieved from http://www.drpaulwong.com/inpm-presidents-report-july-2016/

Wong, P. T. P., Reker, G. T., & Gesser, G. (1994). Death Attitude Profile – Revised: A multidimensional measure of attitudes toward death (DAP-R). In R. A. Neimeyer (Ed.), Death anxiety handbook: Research, instrumentation, and application (pp. 121-148). Washington, DC: Taylor & Francis.


Paul Wong is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Trent University and a Scholar with Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

Transcendence in Positive Psychology

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It is not true that every time I act justly, or honestly, or generously, or courageously, the goodness of what I do somehow ripples out to touch every human being. Rather, the cultivation and exercise of virtue enables me to participate fully in the intentional production and reproduction of sound modes of human social life in light of the nature I share with all of my fellow human beings. In my previous post I discussed how the cultivation and exercise of virtue in this way enables individual human beings to share in human social life ordered to the collective pursuit of the highest good humans can secure, promote, and protect, individually and collectively. Indeed, the cultivation and exercise of acquired virtue actualizes and expresses the best human beings can manage under their own steam. On this understanding, there is no problem about demonstrating the sense in which I can do right by (or wrong) a fellow human being with whom I have nothing else in common. That we are fellow human beings suffices to make it possible for us to interact justly or unjustly.[1]

In both Aristotle’s understanding of the political and social dimensions of the cultivation and exercise of virtue and Aquinas’s expansion of the significance and reach of virtue to the human community more generally (through an account of human nature and our place in creation), we find accounts of virtue as inherently bound to understandings of human good that outstrip the good of personal achievement, self-expression, and whatever might conduce to merely individual satisfaction in life. In this sense, both of these varieties of virtue ethics point to aspects of what contemporary empirical research treats under the rubric of “self-transcendence.” Virtue in both Aquinas and Aristotle requires modes of self-improvement and personal development that are inherently self-transcendent. The cultivation and exercise of virtue turns on intrapersonal coordination that enables individuals to participate in the production and reproduction of sound modes of social life by directing their efforts to common good. “Self-transcendence” in this connection signals practical orientation to an overall good that an individual cannot attain alone, the benefits of which go beyond measures of personal welfare or the welfare of the virtuous person’s own immediate family, circle of friends, or other small community.

Some contemporary empirical research on self-transcendence comes close to being research on these aspects of practical orientation to overall good. In their classification of virtues (understood as “signature strengths”), Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman treat appreciation of beauty, gratitude, hope, humor, and spirituality as “Strengths of Transcendence.”[2] They explain the grouping this way:

The common theme running through these strengths of transcendence is that each allows individuals to forge connections to the larger universe and thereby provide meaning to their lives. Almost all the positive traits in our classification reach outside the individual—character, after all, is social in nature—but in the case of the transcendence strengths, the reaching goes beyond other people per se to embrace part or all of the larger universe. The prototype of this strength category is spirituality, variously defined but always referring to a belief in and commitment to the transcendent (nonmaterial) aspects of life—whether they be called universal, ideal, sacred, or divine. How do the other strengths classified approach this prototype? Appreciation of beauty is a strength that connects someone directly to excellence. Hope connects someone directly to the dreamed-of future. Humor—admittedly the most controversially placed entry—connects someone directly to troubles and contradictions in a way that produces not terror or anger but pleasure.[3]

One of the strong points of the Peterson-Seligman classification system is its emphasis on the ways in which virtues orient their bearers to distinctively human goods. As they understand the category, transcendence virtues orient their bearers to immaterial goods available to human experience and at issue in some of our activities. Presumably, a material connection to the troubles and contradictions heighted by humor brings negative, rather than positive, emotional states. A material orientation to the future will have less to do with dreams and more to do with live options and the means available to realize these. If I understand them, the kind of orientation to beauty or excellence that they see as transcendent is one that is detached from personal desires or goals and is, to that extent, immaterial. And their understanding of spirituality has more to do with the cosmos as a whole (or some sacred or divine aspect of the cosmos) than my relation to myself and my fellow human beings. In a sense, Aquinas also understands virtue in terms of human orientation to human good. Aquinas’s approach, however, is unlike the work on virtue found in positive psychology.

As a theologian who understands natural law as our participation in eternal law, and acquired virtues as equipping us to participate in collective pursuit of human good (in light of our nature as creatures), Aquinas of course sees human life in relation to creation in general and to the divine. For all that, he recognized pagan virtue[4] and did not classify virtues in quite the way suggested by research informed by the Peterson and Seligman scheme.[5] Aquinas, like Aristotle, held that the acquired virtues form a unity—no one of them can operate fully as a virtue in isolation from the others—and all such strengths of character operate in the context of self-transcendence, not as a transcendence of the human, but as enabling the fullest expression of the human that we can manage under our own steam. Virtues, for Aquinas, are self-transcendent strengths that promote inwardly and outwardly harmonious, reasonable pursuit of the good that it belongs to rational animals to pursue. There is nothing especially immaterial (in the Peterson-Seligman sense of that term) in the cultivation and exercise of virtue, where the immaterial is understood as properly distinct from the sphere of thought, feeling, action, and response to the social world in which we find ourselves. The common good at issue in virtuous activity for Aquinas is not something other than our concrete, collective pursuit of good (material or immaterial) from one generation to the next.


Transcendence in Positive Psychology[1]

[1] I am grateful to Liz Gulliford at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues for urging me to address the place of transcendence in positive psychology and for letting me read her doctoral thesis, An Interdisciplinary Evaluation and Theological Enrichment of Positive Psychology.

[1] On Michael Thompson’s diagnosis, the hurdle that such a neo-Aristotelian account must surmount is epistemological—we need a good story about how the human being comes to recognize what he owes fellow human beings simply in virtue of their shared human nature. Again, Aquinas’s response to this difficulty takes us into the heart of his account of the way in which the natural law is promulgated to us in and by nature. Again, Stephen Brock’s account offers what I take to be exactly the sort of story needed for Thomist neo-Aristotelianism to meet the challenge Thompson sets for any account of justice. For the challenge, see Thompson, “What is it to Wrong Someone? A Puzzle about Justice,” pp. 376-379. For Brock’s account see The Legal Character of Natural Law According to St. Thomas Aquinas, pp. 96-175.

[2] Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

[3] Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, p. 519.

[4] See, e.g., Angela McKay Knobel, “Aquinas and the Pagan Virtues,” International Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 51 (2011): 339-354.

[5] Some such research treats “transcendence” as a category of virtues; other research treats “transcendence” as the name of a distinctive virtue. Neither use of the term corresponds with self-transcendence in the way that seems most in keeping with Aquinas’s understanding of virtue.


Candace Vogler is the David B. and Clara E. Stern Professor of Philosophy and Professor in the College at the University of Chicago, and Director and Principal Investigator for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.