June 2017 Summer Seminar "Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence"


Topic: "Virtue, Happiness, and Self-Transcendence"

June 18 (arrive) - 23, 2017

Location: University of Chicago, Hyde Park campus

CLICK HERE for photos, live-tweeting from the seminars, reflections, interviews with participants, and more.

The Seminar is intended for outstanding middle- and advanced-level graduate students and early career researchers in the areas of Philosophy, Psychology, and Theology/Religious Studies. Our aim is to involve participants in our innovative and collaborative research framework within these three fields, and to provide an engaged environment to deepen and enliven their own research.

The Seminar is highly intensive, meeting twice a day for one week on the topics below and continues in conversations informally over meals.

Participants are housed on the University of Chicago campus and eat communally in a nearby dining hall.

The 2017 seminar is supported by  a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation and our institutional partner the Hyde Park Institute, and includes lodging, meals, tuition, and reimbursement up to $500  for travel. Accepted participants are asked to pay a $200 registration fee.

Accepted Participants for the 2017 Summer Seminar

Faculty leaders and topics for the 2017 seminar "Virtue, Happiness, & Self-transcendence":


Fr. Stephen L. Brock 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). 

Session 1: Friendship. The topic of friendship takes up approximately a fifth of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (Books VIII and IX).  Aristotle judges friendship an essential factor in human happiness, and moral virtue an essential condition of true friendship.  And although he does not use the expression “self-transcendence,” he famously defines a friend as “another self.”  Thomas Aquinas fully endorses Aristotle’s account of friendship, and he gives it a fundamental role in his own account of the virtue of charity.  In this session we will look at some of the more salient passages in Aquinas’s commentary on Books VIII and IX of the Ethics.

Session 2: Law. According to Thomas Aquinas, all law tends toward constituting friendship, either among human beings, or between human beings and God (Summa theologiae, I-II, q. 99, a. 1, ad 2).  He also says that law regards “common happiness” (I-II, q. 90, a. 2), and that it aims to render those who are subject to it virtuous (I-II, q. 92, a. 1).  Aquinas’s conception of law thus brings together the themes of virtue, happiness, and self-transcendence.  In this session we will examine his general notion of law, his way of distinguishing various kinds of law, and especially his account of natural law.


Talbot Brewer is Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Philosophy Department at the University of Virginia. 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”.

Session 1: Culture and Meaningful Activity. One thing it might mean to say that meaningful activity is self-transcendent is that it depends for its very possibility on a stable and healthy cultural context.  In this session we will explore this dependence, with special attention to the role of culture in sustaining the conceptual tools through which we frame our most central life activities.  We will draw upon excerpts from Jonathan Lear's book Radical Hope, a provocative account of the "cultural devastation" endured by the nomadic Crow people in the moment of their confinement to a reservation, as a point of departure for our conversation.

Session 2: Socialization and the Acquisition of Virtue. Learning to be good is strikingly different from learning almost anything else.  It differs from learning math or science in that one cannot simply forget the difference between good and bad, or right and wrong.  And it differs from other, more focused practical skills and competencies in that one cannot voluntarily deviate from what one has been taught without thereby revealing that the learning has gone badly.  What then is learning to be good, and what sorts of social conditions tend to promote or discourage such learning?  We will examine these questions in light of Aristotle's reflections on them, as interpreted by the eminent scholar Myles Burnyeat.


Jennifer A. Frey is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina and principal investigator with Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life.  Prior to joining the philosophy faculty at UofSC, she was a Collegiate Assistant Professor of Humanities at the University of Chicago, where she was a member of the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts and an affiliated faculty in the philosophy department.  She earned her PhD in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, and her B.A. in Philosophy and Medieval Studies (with Classics minor) at Indiana University-Bloomington. Her research lies at the intersection of philosophy of action and ethics, with a particular focus on the Aristotelian-Thomist tradition.

Session 1: Self-Love and Self-Transcendence. A great deal of empirical and humanistic research suggests that human beings are happier and find their lives more meaningful when connected to common goods that go beyond the self.  The broadly Aristotelian philosophical tradition also suggests that self-love is the foundation of a happy and meaningful life.  This session will address how self-love and self-transcendence are mutually illuminating concepts, and how each can figure in an account of virtue.

Session 2: Happiness and Human Action. Happiness is a neglected topic in action theory.  In this session, we will explore the role that happiness plays in the account of human action advanced by Thomas Aquinas, with an eye to its relevance for contemporary questions and debates about the nature of practical reason, practical knowledge, desire, and practical intelligibility. 

 Dan P. McAdams.jpg

Dan P. McAdams is the Henry Wade Rogers Professor of Psychology and Professor of Human Development and Social Policy at Northwestern University.  A personality and life-span developmental psychologist, Professor McAdams has explored the role of life narrative in human development, and how themes of agency, redemption, and generativity shape American biography, politics, society, and culture.  He is the author most recently of The Art and Science of Personality Development (Guilford Press, 2015) and The Redemptive Self:  Stories Americans Live By (Oxford University Press, 2006/2013).

Session 1:  Psychological perspectives on virtue and morality.  We will consider classic and contemporary understandings of what it means to live a good life, as expressed in the literature of empirical psychology.  Our emphasis will be on developmental conceptions, which lay out a series of psychosocial stages, tasks, experiences, or challenges that shape human virtue over the life course.  One increasingly influential perspective on the current scene suggests that virtue and morality may be construed as following three developmental lines over time:  the development of (1) moral traits and habits (the person as a social actor), (2) moral values and goals (the person as a motivated agent), and (3) a moral vocation in life (the person as an autobiographical author).

Session 2:  A virtue aimed at transcending and expanding the self:  Generativity.  In that the survival of the human species has traditionally been regarded as an ultimate concern, it is difficult to think of a more important virtue in human life than a commitment to promoting the survival, development, and well-being of future generations.  Erik Erikson named this virtue generativity.  We will explore classic theory and contemporary psychological research on the concept of generativity.  We will pay special consideration to the paradox that lies at the  heart of the concept – the contradictory idea that generativity is both narcissistic and altruistic, that a commitment to promoting future generations promotes the expansion of the self even as it challenges the generative adult to transcend the self.      

VHML Candace Vogler photo by Marc Monaghan20150918_0001_1.jpg

Candace Vogler is the David B. and Clara E. Stern Professor of Philosophy and Professor in the College at the University of Chicago, and a principal investigator with Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life. She has authored two books, John Stuart Mill's Deliberative Landscape: An essay in moral psychology (Routledge, 2001) and Reasonably Vicious (Harvard University Press, 2002), and essays in ethics, social and political philosophy, philosophy and literature, cinema, psychoanalysis, gender studies, sexuality studies, and other areas. Her research interests are in practical philosophy (particularly the strand of work in moral philosophy indebted to Elizabeth Anscombe), practical reason, Kant's ethics, Marx, and neo-Aristotelian naturalism.

Topics for sessions: Goodness and Common Nature and Happiness and Social Life


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Accepted Participants for the 2017 Summer Seminar, "Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence"

Alberto Arruda, University of Lisbon
Samuel Baker, University of South Alabama
Maureen Bielinski, University of St. Thomas, TX
Sarah Bixler, Princeton Theological Seminary 
Andrew Christy, Texas A&M University
Ellen Dulaney, DePaul University
Marta Faria, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome
Andrew Flynn, University of California – Los Angeles
Madison Gilbertson, Fuller Graduate School of Psychology  
Craig Iffland, University of Notre Dame
Anne Jeffrey, University of South Alabama
Jane Klinger, University of Waterloo   
David McPherson, Creighton University
Samantha Mendez, University of the Philippines- Diliman
Elise Murray, Tufts University
Omowumi Ogunyemi, Institute of Humanities of the Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos
Cabrini Pak, The Catholic University of America
Carissa Phillips-Garrett, Rice University
Timothy Reilly, University of Notre Dame
James Dominic Rooney, Saint Louis University
Jennifer Rothschild, University of Florida 
Theresa Smart, University of Notre Dame
Joseph Stenberg, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Sanaz Talaifar, University of Texas at Austin 
Andrea Yetzer, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs 

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Read about last year's Summer Seminar: Virtue & Happiness (June 2016)

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Application information for the 2017 Summer Seminar

Applications, including letters, were due by January 15, 2017 and the application portal is now closed to new submissions.


Application Materials:

  • Writing Sample (25 pages max)
  • Email addresses for letter of recommendation writer(s) (at least 1 and no more than 2) (Letters are due by January 15, 2017)
  • CV
  • Statement of Research and Interest in Seminar (2 pages max)
  • Cover letter (optional)

There is no application fee.

Accepted participants are asked to pay a $200 registration fee.

For more information or questions, email virtue@uchicago.edu.

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