VIDEO: Talbot Brewer, “What Good Are The Humanities?”

On Wednesday, December 14, 2016, at the University of South Carolina Law School, our scholar and philosopher Talbot Brewer, gave the talk, “What Good are the Humanities?”

The president of University of South Carolina, Harris Pastides, delivered the introductory address, and a Q&A followed the talk. To view the talk, click the image below or go to

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talbTalbot Brewer is Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Philosophy Department at the University of Virginia and a Scholar with Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life. He specializes in ethics and political philosophy, with particular attention to moral psychology and Aristotelian ethics. He is the author of numerous essays, including “Reflections on the Cultural Commons” (in Nestor García, ed, Being Human in a Consumerist Society, 2014), “Two Pictures of Practical Thinking” (in Jost and Wuerth, eds, Perfecting Virtue, 2011), “Is Welfare an Independent Good?” (Social Philosophy & Policy 26, 2009), “Three Dogmas of Desire” (in Chappell, ed, Values and Virtues, 2007), “Virtues We Can Share: A Reading of Aristotle’s Ethics” (Ethics 115, 2005), “Two Kinds of Commitments (And Two Kinds of Social Groups)” (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 66, 2003), and “Maxims and Virtues” (The Philosophical Review 3, 2002). He has been a visiting professor in the Harvard University Philosophy Department and has authored two books, the most recent of which is The Retrieval of Ethics (Oxford University Press, 2009). He is currently at work on two books, one on Aristotelian action theory and its intersection with ethics, and another on a phenomenon that he calls “tragedies of the cultural commons”.

Holiday Greetings from our Scholars

December 2016 Working Group Meeting with (most of) the scholars of VHML: (from left) Josef Stern, Heather Lench, Kristján Kristjánsson, Jennifer Frey, Fr Thomas Joseph White, Dan McAdams, Candace Vogler, Marc Berman, Darcia Narvaez, Owen Flanagan, Angela Knobel, Reinhard Huetter, Michael Gorman, Paul Wong, Talbot Brewer, David Shatz.
Photo by Valerie Wallace.

What is the role of friendship in human flourishing?

For our December 2016 Working Group Meeting, the question I’m asking is, What is the role of friendship in human flourishing?

“friendship”. Photo by Mario Mancuso

In the Aristotelian-scholastic tradition, moral or ethical goodness is understood to be crucially related to the flourishing or full actualization of human persons: the idea, to a first approximation, is that a fully good human is a human who is fully carrying out a full range of human operations. This proposal could be understood in a rather individualistic way, as the thought that the good person is the one who is doing best for himself.

That this has not been the traditional understanding is fairly easy to show, if only by pointing to the fact that of the ten books of the Nicomachean Ethics, one is devoted to justice and two to friendship. Nonetheless, I think there is an under-explored aspect of the tradition’s non-individualistic side, and exploring it is the goal of my research for our next meeting.

I am interested in the idea that some of the activities that one can engage in as part of living excellently are, in a very strong sense, activities that cannot be engaged in individualistically. In some cases, that is, the activities that contribute to goodness are not merely activities that an individual can’t do well without others, and also not merely activities that an individual can’t do unless other individuals are doing them too, but activities that can’t be done by individuals at all, but only by two people or more.

Michael Gorman is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America and a Scholar with Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

What work does anger do across moralities?

For our December 2016 Working Group Meeting , the questions I’m asking are, What work does anger do across moralities? and  What work ought anger to do in a particular morality?


The first is a question in psychology, sociology, anthropology, and politics. It calls for thick description and explanation. The second is a question in ethics. It calls for reasons and normative justification.  How are the two questions and their answers connected?  Here I discuss one substantive and one methodological way the questions and the answers connect.  Substantively, anger, as we do it, is neither necessary for moral life nor normal in any robust psychobiological or statistical sense.  Methodologically, the method of reflective equilibrium whereby we bring our enacted norms of anger into alignment with our ideals can work in homogeneous cultures to recalibrate our practices, and to provide internal normative justification for our ideals.

photo by Patrik Nygren

In a culture that is Aristotelian about anger the process of reflective equilibrium permits us to remind ourselves of the kinds of anger that are justified, which abide the doctrine of the mean, and so on.  It is not clear how reflective equilibrium works in multicultural ecologies where there is disagreement about whether any kind of anger can be virtuous, unless it is performed as a method of settling on a majority norms and a common set of expressive or communicative tools.  The method of reflective equilibrium does not seem suited for radical critique, for asking questions about whether, in the present case, we should ever be angry, but only on fussing about how anger is done around here, by us, most of us.


Owen Flanagan is James B. Duke University Professor of Philosophy at Duke University,  and a Scholar with Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life.