Saturday, March 12, 2011
For the past few years, I have been a "Project Council" member for an interdisciplinary research program, funded generously by the John Templeton Foundation, of the Arete Initiative at the University of Chicago, on "A New Science of Virtues." My duties have involved, basically, reading piles of fascinating proposals by really smart people, and then learning from these smart people as they proceed through their funded projects. (The program is being headed up by Jean Bethke Elshtain, who I greatly admire, and whose recently published Gifford Lectures, "Sovereignty: God, State, and Self", are a must-read.)
The funded projects are, to put it mildly, diverse -- from studies involving slices of rat brain and dopamine to meditations on aging, mercy, and forgiveness. (I'll confess to considerable skepticism about whether we really learn much about "virtue", as I understand it, from research with hard-core "mind-is-brain" reductionist premises. At some point, it seems to me, "virtue" thinking requires the embrace of a richer moral anthropology.)
One of the funded projects -- the "Stuck with Virtue" conference series -- is being coordinated by a wonderful thinker and writer, Peter Augustine Lawler, author of (inter alia), "Aliens in America: The Strange Truth about our Souls." The project is really interesting. (There was a write-up on one of the events, here, at the First Things blog. Learn more here.) I suspect that many MOJ readers -- especially those with any attraction to / interest in the whole "postmodern conservative" / crunchy-Catholic / Wendell Berry / Walker Percy / Front Porch Republic thing -- will be interested in "Stuck with Virtue" and the associated events. I'd also welcome any thoughts readers have about the larger "Science of Virtues" project.