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Virtues and the Flourishing Life

Virtues and the Flourishing Life

Oriel College, Oxford, January 3–5, 2020

The eighth annual conference of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, University of Birmingham


The call for papers is now closed.


Most of the recent burgeoning interest in the virtues, within philosophy and the social sciences, has been on the role of the virtues in good character and how to cultivate it. However, what is sometimes overlooked is that, historically (for example within Aristotelian approaches), the virtues are seen to be part and parcel of the flourishing life. Flourishing is a wider concept that simply that of good character, and in many ways more complex, politically charged and multi-layered. Terminological disputes abound, for instance, about the relationship between the concepts of ‘well-being’, ‘happiness’ and ‘flourishing’. Even for those who adopt the Aristotelian position of understanding flourishing (eudaimonia) as objective well-being, various theoretical and practical quandaries remain.

The main aim of this conference is to explore some of those quandaries and ask what it really means to live a flourishing life as a professional, student or just as an ordinary human being. What role (instrumental or non-instrumental) do the virtues play in such a life? Is it perhaps possible to lead a decent flourishing life without actualising the virtues, for example by just remaining well self-controlled or ‘continent’ in the Aristotelian sense? What would a flourishing school look like, above and beyond a school that cultivates good character in students? Does the concept of a ‘flourishing professional’ mean anything other than just being a ‘virtuous professional’? What are the socio-political conditions that need to be satisfied for someone to flourish? Finally, there is the question of whether flourishing is too bland or bloated a term to serve any useful purpose in academic or practical discourse. Cannot anyone just populate the term with any variables they happen to like? The aim of the 2020 Jubilee Centre annual conference is to bring together experts from a range of disciplines to explore those questions and many more. Can theorists from philosophy, education, sociology, theology, history and psychology learn from each other’s work? How can insights from theory and practice be integrated?

We hereby send out an open call for presentations falling under the broad theme of the conference. While our focus this time is on issues regarding the flourishing life, we will also look favourably upon proposals that explore other character-related issues from an educational, social scientific, philosophical, religious or practice-oriented perspective. There will be parallel sessions devoted to general topics in the area of character, virtue and character education. We particularly welcome proposals from teachers and other practitioners.

The deadline for the submission of abstracts passed on July 1, 2019. We will send out notifications of acceptance before the end of July. The conference fee is £200 and covers full board at Oriel College (2 nights), including the formal conference dinner. Details of how to pay the registration fee will be provided in due course.

Sarah Banks - What Counts as Flourishing and Whose Flourishing Counts? Exploring the Life and Work of the Social Professions

What Counts as Flourishing and Whose Flourishing Counts? Exploring the Life and Work of the Social Professions

This presentation considers ‘flourishing’ in professional life, with particular reference to the social professions (social work, community and youth work). Arguably, the key purpose of these professions is to enhance and support the flourishing of those using their services, the communities to which they belong and society in general. While the ‘well-being’ of the professionals themselves is important, this may be construed more in terms of resilience to stress and burn-out (for utilitarian reasons of ensuring adequate service delivery), than as a more vocational ‘flourishing’ as part of a whole life lived well. We will consider the scope for professional flourishing in a climate of continued austerity and low public esteem for both social professionals and service users; and the role of virtues in a flourishing professional life.


Jennifer Frey - Human Flourishing and Sacrifice

Human Flourishing and Sacrifice

Neo-Aristotelian ethical naturalists argue that it is practically rational to act virtuously, since the virtues are those states of character a person needs in order to flourish qua human. While this schema may work at the level of justifying the virtues quite generally, it seems to fall apart in particular cases—for instance, in circumstances where justice requires that one sacrifice one’s own life. In this talk, I argue that we need to focus on the transcendent dimensions of human nature and life in order to understand how sacrifice and suffering are essential to living well.


Dan Haybron - The Concept of a Good Life

The Concept of a Good Life

What does it mean to lead a good life, in the most expansive sense of this term? Our question concerns not merely a life that is good for you, or that is morally good, but a life that is good, period. A good life encompasses all the values that matter in human life, whatever those may be: well-being, morality, etc. Before giving a substantive account of what good lives entail, we need clarity on the concept in question, and whether it really differs from the more familiar notion of well-being. In this talk I argue that the concepts of a good life and of well-being are indeed distinct, and that there are good reasons to undertake explicit theorizing about the nature of a good life.


Kristján Kristjánsson - Flourishing as the Aim of Education

Flourishing as the Aim of Education

This keynote presentation has two aims. The first aim is to provide an overview of the main themes from my recently published book, Flourishing as the Aim of Education: A Neo-Aristotelian View. The conception of flourishing elicited here falls broadly within the Aristotelian concept of eudaimonia. Yet it distinguishes itself from Aristotle’s own conception in various ways. While neo-Aristotelians typically offer friendly amendments of Aristotle’s theory in light of contemporary social scientific findings, this book departs further from the Aristotelian script by adding contours to the conception of flourishing that are recognisably un-Aristotelian. Most conspicuously, it argues that the ‘good life’ of the student, to which education should contribute, must involve engagement with self-transcendent ideals and ignite awe-filled enchantment, in ways which go well beyond, and even clash with, traditional Aristotle-inspired conceptions of eudaimonia. The second aim is to introduce 15 remaining problems that need to be addressed for flourishing to become a feasible aim of modern schooling.