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January Seminars - 2012 - Virtues and Vices

China Values and Virtues


What is character, and how does one create it? Perhaps more importantly, how should one create it? The topic of virtue and character played a key role in Western ethical theory from Plato and Aristotle through the mid-18th century. Focus shifted in the 19th and 20th century to what constitutes a right action or motivation, but virtue ethics is again garnering serious attention in contemporary discussions.

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In general, the difference between virtue ethics and more action-based ethical theories is the difference between wondering about what sort of person I should be and wondering what I should do in a particular situation. Virtue ethics’ focus on character forces an agent to consider not just how her action will affect others and whether it is morally right or wrong, but also how her action will affect her future self. The goal of most virtue theory is to promote the agent’s flourishing—a goal this theory sees as requiring good moral character. But what is a good moral character? And how can we best attain it? To answer these questions, it is necessary to look closely both at the nature of virtue itself and at philosophical proposals for acquiring it.seminar

In this course, we will take a broadly historical approach to the question of creating character. We’ll begin by examining the single most influential theory of virtue ethics—that of Aristotle, and then we’ll discuss how Aristotle’s theory is developed in the Middle Ages by his most famous follower: Thomas Aquinas. After considering the reasons virtue ethics fell into disfavor with Kant and Mill, we’ll turn to the re-introduction of virtue theory in the 20th century with such works as MacIntyre’s After Virtue and Rosalind Hursthouse’s On Virtue Ethics. We will look at Linda Zagzebski’s proposal that reference to exemplars of virtue functions both as the key to acquiring virtue, and the foundation of a comprehensive virtue ethical theory. Finally, we will expand the scope of our discussion from moral to epistemic virtues, looking at recent work in virtue epistemology and speculating about the future of virtue theory in contemporary philosophy. Each three-hour seminar class will include time for lecture, discussion, and student presentations.

Seminar Directors

Description: C:\Documents and Settings\nmk5\Local Settings\Temp\XPgrpwise\Van Dyke publicity shot_1.jpg Dr. Christina Van Dyke

Dr. Christina Van Dyke
Associate professor of Philosophy
Director of Values and Virtues

Dr. Van Dyke specializes in medieval philosophy (particularly metaphysics, ethics, and the philosophy of mind) and the philosophy of gender. She has co-authored Aquinas’s Ethics: Metaphysical Foundations and Theological Context (with Rebecca DeYoung and Colleen McCluskey) and co-edited The Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy (with Robert Pasnau), as well as publishing articles in the intersection of gender studies and Christianity. She is Executive Director for the Society of Christian Philosophers.

Description: C:\Documents and Settings\nmk5\Local Settings\Temp\XPgrpwise\publicityphoto.jpgDr. Linda Zagzebski

Dr. Linda Zagzebski
George Lynn Cross Research Professor of Philosophy
Kingfisher College Chair of the Philosophy of Religion and Ethics
University of Oklahoma.

Dr. Zagzebski is past President of the Society of Christian Philosophers and past President of the American Catholic Philosophical Association. Among her many endowed lectures, she has given the Romanell Lectures of Phi Beta Kappa, the McCarthy Lectures at the Gregorian University in Rome, the Wilde Lectures in Natural Religion at Oxford, and the Kaminski Lectures at the Catholic University of Lublin, Poland. Her books include The Dilemma of Freedom and Foreknowledge, (Oxford University Press, 1991), Virtues of the Mind (Cambridge University Press, 1996), Divine Motivation Theory (Cambridge University Press, 2004), Philosophy of Religion: An Historical Introduction (Blackwell, 2007), and On Epistemology (Wadsworth, 2008), as well as many edited books and articles in virtue epistemology, philosophy of religion, and virtue ethics.


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Program Complete

Rome, Italy

Virtues and Vices

January 9-19, 2012

This seminar is generously funded by the John Templeton Foundation.