Interdisciplinary Summer Seminar on the Morally Exceptional

“Character and the Morally Exceptional: Empirical Discoveries and Moral Improvement”

June 18-28, 2018

Wake Forest University

Seminar Leader:

Dr. Christian B. Miller

A.C. Reid Professor of Philosophy

Philosophy Director, The Beacon Project

Past Director, The Character Project

 

Becoming a virtuous person is one of the central goals of the ethical life. But how good of a job are most people doing in becoming virtuous? And are there any strategies for cultivating the virtues and becoming morally exceptional which can help us to do better? This seminar will examine these two questions in detail. In the first half, we will see whether character traits even exist in light of various results in psychology. If they do exist, how good do they tend to be? Here we will look at the situationist literature in philosophy, drawing on the work of Gilbert Harman and John Doris. We will also consider the cognitive-affective personality system approach in thinking about character traits (Nancy Snow, Daniel Russell), as well as the whole trait approach (William Fleeson) and my mixed trait approach.

The second half of the seminar will turn to various strategies for trying to bridge what I call the ‘character gap’ between the character we actually have, and the virtuous character we should strive to obtain. Developing and justifying such strategies is one of the most underexplored areas of ethics, although in recent years it has gained increased attention. Here we will look at brand new work by Nancy Snow, Jonathan Webber, Julia Annas, and Alan Wilson, among others, some of which has not appeared in print yet.

Potential Readings:

Articles by Gilbert Harman, Rachana Kamtekar, Gopal Sreenivasan, John Sabini and Maury Silver, Nancy Snow, Alan Wilson, Ernest Sosa, Jonathan Webber, and others.

John Doris, Lack of Character, Cambridge University Press, 2002 (selections)

Dan Russell, Practical Intelligence and the Virtues, Oxford University Press, 2009 (selections)

Christian Miller, Character and Moral Psychology, Oxford University Press, 2014 (selections)

Snow, Nancy. Virtue as Social Intelligence: An Empirically Grounded Theory. New York: Routledge Press, 2010 (selections)

We expect to have several leading philosophers working in this area visit the seminar to each lead one meeting.

Participants will have their travel, meal, reading materials, and lodging costs covered. They will be housed at the Graylyn Conference Center (www.graylyn.com), one of the nicest facilities in the entire country. Seminar meetings are expected to last roughly three hours per day, and will conclude on Thursday, June 28 so that all participants can attend the Beacon Project Final Conference on June 28-30.

Application Deadline: December 15, 2017.

Application Instructions:

Participation is limited to graduate students or faculty who have had their Ph.D. for ten years or less. Participants must be trained in philosophy or religion/theology, but can be doing work in any area of philosophy or religion/theology. A background in virtue ethics or the philosophy of character is definitely not required, and those who have worked extensively on the empirical adequacy of character are strongly discouraged from applying.

Please send a CV and a cover letter with (i) contact information and (ii) a discussion of your interest in and background familiarity with the topics of this seminar, to beacon@wfu.edu on or before December 15, 2017. The cover letter should be no longer than two pages single spaced. If you do not receive an acknowledgement of your submission within one week, please write to millerc@wfu.edu. Applicants will be chosen on the basis of demonstrated interest and likelihood of future productivity.

Requirements for the Seminar:

  • Participants are expected to arrive by Sunday, June 17, and to depart no earlier than Sunday, July 1, 2018 unless exceptional circumstances arise.
  • Participants are expected to attend and actively participant in the final Beacon Project conference on June 28-30. All expenses associated with the conference will be covered.
  • Participants are expected to notify the Beacon Project at beacon@wfu.edu of any publications during the subsequent three years which benefitted from participation in the seminar.

Any questions should be sent to beacon@wfu.edu.