THE ART & SCIENCE OF VIRTUE

by Louisa McCune, Artdesk

In 2015, philosopher Nancy Snow, PhD, was recruited from Marquette University to the University of Oklahoma to do one thing, one really big visionary thing—teach Oklahomans and Oklahoma students about the importance of a virtuous life as a means to human happiness. Under her watch and using a combination of measurement, definition, research, and outreach, the disciplines of philosophy, psychology, and education have fluidly merged at OU’s Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing. Today, in the land of the free and home of the brave, Nancy Snow advances the cultivation of virtue and hope, universal subjects that never grow old.

Louisa McCune: You’ve written and presented on a vast number of subjects. Please tell us your favorite and what you are working on now.

NANCY SNOW: I’ve written on some matters pertaining to bioethics, such as stemcell research and germ-linegenome editing, but my work is mainly focused on the virtues,especially at the intersection of philosophy and psychology. Several years ago I wrote a book titled Virtue as Social Intelligence: An Empirically Grounded Theory and am co-authoring a book on virtue measurement with two developmental psychologists.

I tend to be a neo-Aristotelian; that is, I follow Aristotle’s lead in matters pertaining to virtue and flourishing. I think it’s very important to show Aristotle’s relevance for our lives, and so I think it’s essential to show that his moral philosophy can be empirically grounded. That has been the gist of a great deal of my work.

I’m also working on a book on hope as a democratic civic virtue and have promised a publisher to write a book on virtue ethics and virtue epistemology—the study of the intellectual virtues, which are needed to reach the truth, such as open-mindedness, intellectual humility, curiosity, and perseverance. Finally, I am often invited to give talks on specific topics. This spring, among other things, I’ll be presenting a paper on chastity, and giving the keynote lecture on virtue ethics at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

LM: I’ve heard you talk about eudaimonia. What is that?

NS: Eudaimonia is a word that has its home in ancient Greek philosophy. It is roughly translated as “flourishing” or “happiness.” Eudaimonia means to live well or to thrive.

There were two very interesting conceptions of eudaimonia in ancient Greek thought (among others). One was held by Aristotle, and another by the Stoics, a group of philosophers from another, later school of Greek and Roman thought. According to Aristotle, we flourish or live worthwhile lives while being virtuous, plus having certain external goods. Virtues such as generosity and courage were on Aristotle’s list of the virtues, and are considered by him to be the stable and controlling elements of eudaimonia. But we cannot live flourishing lives by virtue alone—we need external goods. For Aristotle, these were wealth, family, friends, good children who haven’t died, noble birth, and being good-looking. The Stoics, by contrast, thought that we don’t need external goods to flourish. We can flourish through virtue alone. That is, even if we are set upon the rack, we are still flourishing, provided our virtue is intact.

I think Aristotle has a lot to offer in our day and age. We can update his conception of external goods to suit contemporary needs. For example, we no longer think that noble birth or being good-looking is necessary to flourish, but no one can flourish if they are hungry, or lack clean water, or don’t feel safe and secure. We see this in our schools today. The institute that I direct works with schools to promote virtue in children, but these efforts won’t result in their leading flourishing lives if they aren’t well-fed, clothed, and safe and secure.

LM: If you could wave your magic wand over all of us, what would you endow us with?

NS: First and foremost, I’d endow everyone with loving, compassionate hearts. I’d also give them penetrating intellects and the ability to discern things correctly. Finally, I’d give them strength of will, resilience in the face of adversity, and the wherewithal to go gracefully through this life.

Learn more at ou.edu/flourish

Read the article: McCune, L. (2019, April). The art and science of virtue. Artdesk. Retrieved from https://readartdesk.com/feature/the-art-science-of-virtue?mc_cid=f632222087&mc_eid=cb96f465cf&fbclid=IwAR2cLld1hHZ4qTdRL5bT1qFcTY1Z7TGqLjTjBrGx6ewgGX7K8CEv1F7Y6mo



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  • Ron Krumpos said:

    The following was extracted from New Penguin Handbook of Living Religions:

    Spirituality is sometimes defined as an “attempt to grow in sensitivity to self, to others, to non-human creation, and to God who is both within and beyond this totality.” In practice, spirituality will often “cultivate tranquility, mindfulness and insight, leading to virtues of wisdom and compassion.”


    May 8, 2019 2:08 PM
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