Abstracts from “Virtues in the Public Sphere”

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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:

http://www.jubileecentre.ac.uk/1743/conferences/educating-character-through-the-arts

 

 

 

 

Virtues in the Public Sphere, Oriel College, Oxford

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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:

http://jubileecentre.ac.uk/1723/conferences/virtues-in-the-public-sphere

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:

http://www.jubileecentre.ac.uk/1743/conferences/educating-character-through-the-arts

 

 

Capstone Conference Day 1: 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 Friday, October 13.

We’ll post highlights from Saturday, October 14, tomorrow.

Friday, October 13

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9:15 am Welcome by Principal Investigators Jennifer Frey and Candace Vogler

 

23944290488_a05d70b234_z.jpg9:30-10:30 am Kristján Kristjánsson, Professor of Character Education and Virtue Ethics; Deputy Director of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, University of Birmingham

10:45-11:45 am Dan P. McAdams, Henry Wade Rogers Professor of Psychology and Professor of Human Development and Social Policy, Northwestern University

1:45 – 2:45 pm Panel: Transcending Boundaries I

37765192702_9ccb0c79ab_z.jpgTalbot Brewer, Professor of Philosophy, University of Virginia and Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture

Michael Gorman, Associate Professor of Philosophy, School of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America

Jean Porter, John A. O’Brien Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

3:00 -4:00 pm Tahera Qutbuddin, Professor of Arabic Literature, University of Chicago

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4:15 – 5:15 pm Panel: Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life Visiting Scholars

Fr. Stephen BrockProfessor of Medieval Philosophy, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome

Anselm Mueller, University of Chicago

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7pm – Keynote: Jonathan Lear, “Gettysburg”

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Photos of our June 2017 Working Group Meeting

Twenty of our scholars met in Chicago for their final working group meeting to discuss their work in progress with each other across the disciplines of psychology, theology, and philosophy.

Find more photos on our Flickr page.

 

 

More photos from this session can be found on our Flickr page.

 

Dispatches from last day of our final working group meeting

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(from left: Josef Stern, Heather C Lench, Candace Vogler, Talbot Brewer, Stephen Brock, Jennifer A. Frey, Jean Porter, Matthias Haase, Erik Angner, Thomas Joseph White, Michael Gorman, Katherine Kinzler, Kevin Flannery, Reinhard Huetter, Robert C. Roberts, Anselm Mueller (not pictured but in attendence: Tahera Qutbuddin, Angela Knobel, David Shatz)

Not on Twitter? Here’s a sampling of our live-tweeting from our final day:

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Photos and Opening Remarks: Practical Truth and Virtue

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On April 21-22, our co-PI, Jennifer A. Frey, hosted a philosophy workshop at the University of South Carolina titled, “Practical Truth: Reflections on the Aristotelian Tradition.”  Frey hosted an international group of philosophers on campus in Columbia, SC to discuss the importance of the concept of practical truth, both historically within the Aristotelian tradition and in terms of its relevance for contemporary philosophical debates about action, practical reason and virtue.  She is currently pursuing the possibility of publishing the essays in an edited volume.

In her opening discussion of practical truth, Professor Frey discussed her reasons for thinking the concept of practical truth is central to a philosophical account of virtue. What follows is a condensed version of her basic argument.

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Let us start with the claim that the knowledge the virtuous person possesses is a distinctive kind of knowledge, what the ancients and medievals called practical knowledge or practical wisdom. What marks the difference between practical and theoretical knowledge and wisdom?  Well, traditionally the thought was that it is grounded in the distinction between theoretical and practical reasoning, which Aristotle differentiated in terms of distinctive ends or aims (their distinctive work or operation as modes of reasoning).  Theoretical reasoning, Aristotle argued, aims at an understanding of being or what is, and its measure is truth; such reasoning is finished (i.e., its work is done) when truth is grasped intellectually.  Theoretical wisdom, the perfection of theoretical reasoning, aims to know general and timeless truths about the highest or best objects of contemplation.  But practical knowledge, by contrast, aims at praxis, at realizing or making actual a good human life through deliberative choices of certain actions and activities; it aims to realize what is truly good in particulars, in human actions.  If we say that its measure is also truth, it must be truth of a special kind, one that somehow hooks up with realizing what is truly good.  It cannot be a truth that ends with an intellectual grasp of what is; rather, it would have to be a truth that is achieved in the living of a certain life, in a praxis.

It is worth noting, in this regard, that Aristotle thought one could possess theoretical but not practical wisdom—theoretical but not practical truth.  Suppose, for instance, that someone excels in math, physics, chemistry, biology, and general cosmology.  Such a person grasps the way things are ordered at the most basic and fundamental level, and he can apply these most general principles to explain much of what happens in the world.  Suppose he has devoted his life to this kind of knowledge.  Of course, this in no way guarantees or even tends to the cultivation of his moral virtue. Perhaps he is lascivious with women outside of the lab; perhaps he is willing to lie, steal, and cheat when it allows him more time and grant money to pursue his passion for science, perhaps he is a coward and incapable of helping others in need; and so on.  None of this necessarily impacts his ability to do great science; and, more importantly, nothing about doing great science inoculates him against developing a gross moral character.

It wouldn’t change anything, I suspect, if we added theology to the list of studies to which our imagined knower dedicated himself.  Being able to argue about the metaphysics of the Trinity does not necessarily make you a loving or good person either.  A mere change of topic won’t cut it.  For the same reason, one might even be a great moral theorist and have a bad moral character; that is, one might have theoretical knowledge about practical subject matters but not the practical dispositions that lead to making good decisions and living well.

This goes back, once again, to the different inherent teleologies or inherent aims of the two different kinds of reasoning.  Practical reasoning is not practical in virtue of having a special kind of content; it is not ordinary theoretical thought and inference suddenly turned to the topic of human good. Practical reasoning is practical because it aims to realize some good or end that the agent desires—most especially the desire to live well or to flourish.  Such reasoning depends on the agent wanting to realize some end or objective or good; thus desire for some good is essential to practical reasoning, it is the arche or starting point of such reasoning.  This explains why Aristotle defines practical truth as “truth in accordance with right desire.”

Now, if practical knowledge and reasoning essentially aims at action, and if such thought depends for its teleology upon a certain appetitive orientation, then it can only be successful when the agent brings about the goods in question through the use of this very thought and reasoning.  So it is somewhat misleading to say that the practically wise man knows how to live, because again, he may know this as a theory rather than as a praxis.  To come to know the praxis would require a different kind of training that the one the moral theorist typically receives.  What we might strictly speaking say of the practically wise man, if he is really practically wise, is that he knows he is living well, not simply that he knows how to live well, generally speaking.  For the knowledge is operative in the practically wise and is the explanation of what he does—of his choices and actions.  The manifestation of the knowledge is primarily in what he does rather than what he says.

Thus it seems to me that there is a difference between a theoretical conception of living well, which the moral theorist might possess, and a practical conception of living well, which only the practically wise possess. It also strikes me that the good or happy life is one that displays a kind of truth about human nature and human beings—a truth about what our good is.  But again, this is a distinctively practical kind of truth that is displayed in living well, not simply in the possession of correct general propositions or principles.  One sees practical wisdom and practical truth principally or paradigmatically in action, as it were, not standing behind it.

In contemporary virtue ethics, there is almost no discussion of practical truth.  But if the line of reasoning I have outlined is roughly correct, virtue ethics needs an account of a distinctively practical notion of truth just as much as it needs a distinctively practical account of knowledge and wisdom.  The point of the workshop (and eventually, the collected volume of papers) is to begin to advance such an account in light of our understanding of the Aristotelian tradition, broadly construed to include Aquinas and the work of Elizabeth Anscombe.