A New Science of Virtues Grant Competition
Researchers in both the empirical sciences and the humanities will work together in search of new ways to understand 'virtues.'
Advancing a New Interdisciplinary Study of Virtues
Jean Bethke Elshtain
Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics
Alexander Campbell Professor of Religious Ethics and the Social Sciences
Professor, Chair, Department of Psychology
How can we, as a society, strive towards the collective good? In many ways, we have inherited outdated moral, political, and religious systems that continue to inform our ethics and laws. Today's world however, requires both theoretical and practical structures that enable an increasingly multi-cultural society to live together peacefully while simultaneously recognizing and valuing moral and ethnic diversity. The Science of Virtues Request for Proposals (RFP) grew out of a consultation in May 2007 sponsored by the Templeton Foundation called "A New Science of Virtue," designed to confront and propose solutions for just such issues. Organized and chaired by Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago, the consultation brought together an interdisciplinary group of the world-class scholars and scientists to think through the possibilities of a new "science of virtues."
One consensus of the consultation was that a key to advancing the study of virtue lay in developing fruitful interrelationships between the sciences and the humanities. For example, among philosophers, which questions would benefit from scientific research, or a more thorough integration of our understanding of human neurophysiology? Among scientists, which scientific theories or programs require perspective and guidance from the humanities, such that scientists know they are asking the right questions in the first place?
The "Science of Virtues" RFP was inspired by theories that synthesize traditional notions of virtue, narrativity, and human psychobiological tendencies such as those of Alasdair MacIntyre's Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues (1999), Paul Ricoeur's Oneself as Another (1991), Owen Flanagan's Varieties of Moral Personality (1991), and Jean-Pierre Changeux and Paul Ricoeur's What Makes Us Think? In the sciences, research has helped clarify the way cognitive capacities and social experience interact to shape moral behavior (Donald Pfaff, Antonio Damasio, John Cacioppo, Michael Gazzaniga). However, researchers such as Jonathan Haidt have argued that there is still a tendency for cognitive and social neuroscience to reduce morality to neural systems that have clear parallels to the dominant moral principles of modern liberal democracies, thereby giving no scientific account of virtue concepts found in the Western past as well as of most of the rest of the world (Haidt, "Moral Psychology and the Misunderstanding of Religion," Edge, 2007). The Science of Virtues project seeks to develop collaborations between the humanities (including theologians such as Stephen Post and Don Browning) and the sciences to allow researchers in disparate traditions to gain new perspective by taking serious the implications of findings within those traditions.
The Virtues Project Council, composed of senior scholars from diverse disciplines, is in the process of selecting approximately twenty of the most compelling and creative proposals from over 600 applicants for how the sciences and humanities might draw from one another to understand "virtues" for modern society. The full project will be launched in 2010.