5th Annual Conference: Character, Wisdom and Virtue

Character, Wisdom and Virtue

January 5th-7th 2017, Oriel College, Oxford

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

In Aristotelian virtue ethics, the intellectual virtue of practical wisdom, or phronesis, plays an indispensable role in guiding the moral virtues. Phronesis ideally latches itself onto each virtue; we could call this the constitutive function of phronesis. But phronesis is not just responsive to the moral good in ‘some restricted area’, but rather to the whole of what ‘promotes living well in general’ (Nicomachean Ethics, 1140a25–28). Thus, phronesis can be called upon for adjudication when two different virtues, say justice and compassion, collide. We could call this the integrative function of phronesis; it helps us to act virtuously in an overall way.

Phronesis is a tricky virtue. Diverse interpretations of it – as relative or universalist; particularist or generalist – abound, and the question of how to cultivate phronesis over and above the other virtues, either general phronesis in young people or professional phronesis in doctors, nurses, teachers, etc., has not been satisfactorily answered within the confines of Aristotelian virtue ethics. Some scholars even worry that the demand for phronesis-guided virtue creates a ‘paradox of moral education’ for those who believe that we become virtuous by doing virtuous things. In any case, various pressing questions remain about the education of phronesis and how it can be addressed and cultivated in classroom contexts as well as within professional ethics.

Within philosophy and social science, ‘wisdom’ is not exclusively understood as phronesis. Broader conceptions of wisdom are common, where the concept is understood more along the lines of Aristotle’s sophia and/or taken to incorporate other virtues such as perspective, meaning and fellow-feeling. How practical wisdom is related to other intellectual virtues, or to ‘wisdom’ on a wider understanding (for example, in the well-known Berlin Model), is not entirely clear.
The aim of the 2017 Jubilee Centre conference is to bring together experts from a range of disciplines to explore the relationship between character, wisdom and virtue. Can theorists from philosophy, education and psychology here learn from each other’s work? How can insights from theory and practice be integrated?

Please download the Conference Programme by clicking the image below:

Abstracts and papers presented at the conference can be found here.

Download the Character, Wisdom and Virtue Programme