Technomoral Virtues and the Bootstrapping Problem It is widely accepted that the digital age presents increasingly urgent ethical challenges that call for responses guided by collective moral and political wisdom. However, calls for the cultivation of what I have called the technomoral virtues—skilled dispositions to judge and act well in precisely this arena—face a bootstrapping problem. The very models of human excellence most familiar and accessible to us today, are precisely those that led us into the crises we now face. In this talk I confront the problem of cultivating virtues of a new moral shape, and the radical cultural transformations this may entail.  
Designing Digital Technology for Moral Agency  Online platforms and social media have been designed for profit, for addiction, and personal data disclosure (Surveillance Capitalism, Zuboff, 2019). These digital environments are typically not designed to support the development of their users as moral agents. Instead they can easily push ordinary, pro-social people toward evil they would otherwise not have considered (Evil Online, Cocking & Van den Hoven, 2018).  Our capacities to appreciate and respond to moral value are vulnerable in many ways, and living online has compounded these problems. In order to address the problems we will have to learn to design the conditions for moral agency.  
Platonic Insights on the Cultivation of the Virtues in a Digital Age In this paper, I turn to an unlikely source for insights into the cultivation of virtues in the digital age: Plato. Although they were written 2500 years before the digital age, Plato’s dialogues offer contemporary philosophers and educators insights into the ethical perils of the digital age and how we might go about cultivating virtues to respond to those perils. Using the Republic and other dialogues, I argue that Plato anticipated the ways digital media can colonize our consciousnesses and make virtue formation more difficult than it might otherwise be. This is not to say that virtue formation is impossible in the digital age, but we must be aware of the special challenges that face us if we are to cultivate the virtues in ourselves and others.  
Digital Citizenship: Living Well Together in the Information Age Online technologies complicate traditional forms of civic evaluation by shaping our thoughts, emotions, and our collective conduct in unique ways. The aim of this presentation is to offer a character-based response to the key civic challenges that online technologies present. To do this, we develop a notion of ‘digital citizenship’, exploring how this can be cultivated in a pedagogic context. We start by outlining the limitations to current approaches to digital citizenship, showing how this does not adequately prepare young people for their digital lives. After this, we explore the merits (and potential problems) of a character-based approach to digital citizenship.  

Five Stoic Preparations for a Newly Digital World

Could features of stoic virtue ethics prepare agents for the challenges of “digital life?” The incentives anonymity and social media approval provide for negative self-comparison are challenged by a stoic account, which also provides guidance that is missing from other moral theories. Another feature suggests how we should respond to information. Stoicism models a check for actionable information that other moral theories could include. A fourth is how stoicism recommends we assess our use of time. And a fifth stoic preparation is a matter of how we are to “live as on a mountain,” regarding our lives as shared material. 

Professional Virtues in the Digital World: Slow Ethics for Social Work

Covid-19 has accelerated trends towards digital communication in human services. This paper discusses the ethical challenges for social workers, for whom human relationships lie at the heart of their work.  It draws on data from an international survey in May 2020 and an ongoing survey of UK social workers during 2020-21 to examine lessons from digital working during Covid-19 from a virtue ethical perspective. The paper advocates for ‘slow ethics’ in times of fast-moving crisis, and the virtues of courage, compassion and professional wisdom exemplified through the ‘ethics work’  of practitioners struggling to practise ethically in new and difficult circumstances.   

Developing Self-Knowledge and Self-Understanding through Social Media Interactions

A common criticism of social media is that it reinforces users’ views rather than challenging them, leading to ‘echo chambers’ and ‘online epistemic bubbles’, which can hinder the development of self-knowledge and self-understanding. Drawing upon Nancy Sherman’s work on ‘character friends’, Kristján Kristjánsson’s work on ‘e-palship’, and Nietzschean ideas concerning friendship, this paper argues that social media interactions can, if navigated effectively, support the development of self-knowledge and self-understanding, with brief or superficial online acquaintances playing a valuable role in self-reflexivity. This requires exposure to and engagement with a range of views and worldviews in tension with one’s own.

Character Education and Digital Technologies: A Dialogue with Alter, Carr and Turkle

There has been a lot written about the impact of the digital environment on diverse aspects of human development (e.g., Alter, 2017; Carr, 2020; Turkle, 2016), but little direct consideration of its impact specifically on character and virtue development. In this paper we will show the implications of these analyses for character education, focusing our attention on three keystones of Aristotelian virtue development: the experience of pleasure and pain in a moral way, ‘so as both to delight in and to be pained by the things we ought’; the necessary development of phronesis for moral virtue; and virtuous friendship.

Teaching Virtue Virtually: Can the Virtue of Tolerance of Diversity of Conscience Be Taught Online?

This study focused on the virtue of tolerance as it relates to an often-neglected area of diversity—diversity of conscience—defined as “legitimate differences of moral and religious conscience” (Lickona, 2006). This merits exploration because tolerance is essential for fostering civility in our increasingly diverse societies and for promoting the free exchange of perspectives that is central to the mission of higher education. An online workshop taught this concept and presented the cardinal virtues as accountability parameters for civil dialogue. The results from pre- and post-workshop questionnaires support this modality as a useful first step in teaching tolerance of diversity of conscience. 

Aristotle Reloaded: Do We Need New Virtues in a Hyper-Connected World?

The emergence of new concepts such as digital critical thinking, cyber-wisdom, internet privacy, veracity in the transmission of the information on-line, the easy access to the information that allows a new way of researching and getting new knowledge or the very digital citizenship make us think about new horizons for character education. The objective of this paper is to analyze critically the main arguments that demand new virtues for a new world, for an epochal change guided by algorithms and emergent technologies, with significant consequences for development and enjoy of human rights and for the definition of an educated person.

Leading Character Education in Schools: Designing an Online CPD Programme

This paper presents the design approach, programme content and evaluation of the Jubilee Centre’s online character education Continued Professional Development (CPD) programme, Leading Character Education in Schools. The programme forms the concluding part of the Jubilee Centre’s Teacher Education research project, exploring how teachers are prepared and supported to meet the moral and ethical demands of their role. Currently over 2,000 educational leaders have registered from over 60 countries. This paper will make recommendations for how a framework for future research and design methodology for producing large online teacher training programmes can be developed.

Demagoguery and the Virtues in the Digital Age

The paper explores the problem of demagoguery in the context of digital media. Contemporary public debate is often simplified and thus susceptible to demagoguery.  Furthermore, the Internet provides technological means to amplify the impact of demagoguery, it also supports the culture of infotainment and shallow thinking. Demagoguery cannot be eliminated institutionally in a democratic society. Therefore the best antidote to it is education of the moral, intellectual and civic virtues, combined with an adequate media education. We analyse the key relevant virtues (prudence, open-mindedness, critical thinking, humility, civility, moderation and justice), and media skills (verifying, cross-checking information). 

Boredom and Aspiration in Moral Education

So much of modern culture, Walker Percy contends, is a “boredom avoidance scheme.” This avoidance is associated with numerous problems, including stress, addiction, overeating, gambling, and depression. The digital age has complicated and exacerbated, more than alleviated the problems associated with boredom avoidance. In this essay, we make a case for the cultivation of leisure, classically understood, as an optimal response to situational and existential boredom. We illustrate what a leisurely way of being looks like and propose guidelines for how to enact it, at a time when we are, as T.S. Eliot observed, perpetually  “distracted from distraction by distraction.” 

Why We Need Sensibility, Discernment, Demeanour, and Grace

The ‘Digital World’ spans two areas relevant to human formation, social relations, and self-understanding: information and communication media; and enhancement of human capacities. The latter originated with the aim of compensating for diminished functioning, but now seeks to take human capacities to a higher level, and to add to them. This challenges the idea of the ‘normal’, and the traditional role of the virtues. I will argue that developments in information and communication media and in capacity-enhancement pose a threat to human self-understanding and interpersonal relationships that call for currently unacknowledged or neglected aesthetico-ethical virtues of sensibilitydiscernmentdemeanour, and graciousness

Using Positive Design to Create an Educational App Promoting the Virtue of Gratitude in Colombian Children

This paper describes a key product of an educational project promoting gratitude and wellbeing in Colombian preadolescents. As a complement to the main intervention, we created a smartphone/tablet game that children can use to practice principles that they learn in the school-based program. As children explore the 3 levels of the app, they have to complete 3 types of tasks of increasing difficulty: (a) leaving messages for different categories of benefactors; (b) playing interactive word games that encourage the development of ideas about the role of the virtue of gratitude in personal relations; and (c) engaging in flashcard-based mindfulness exercises. 

The Afterlife and Recovery of Logos, Ēthos, and Pathos in K–12 Education

We will examine how digital communication affects children from three major perspectives: (a) the research and arguments lauding and criticizing how social media and other Internet-based speech influences emotional, intellectual, and moral development, (b) how we might use Aristotle’s distinction between logos, ēthos, and pathos (that is, between reason, character, and emotion) in rhetoric to understand what is going wrong and what can be done about it, and (c) how specific classroom and school community practices can prepare young people to navigate the dangers of social media and Internet-based speech.

The Virtues and Vices of Life ‘Close to the Machine’

Much has been written, speculated and predicted about artificial intelligence (AI) and its capacity to replicate and simulate human intelligence. Much less has been said about causation in the other direction. While the advent of humanoid robots and machine learning algorithms modeled on human neurological systems exemplify AI and digital technologies formed in the image of their creators, it is also possible that working on these technologies can form creators in the image of their technological creations. In this paper, we examine the characterological effects of human-machine proximity from a virtue-theoretical perspective. We investigate both the virtues and vices that may be cultivated in those creating and working closely with technology and issue a call for more empirical work on the characterological effects of human-machine proximity, providing greater insight into the urgency and scope of this concern.

Shaping the Future of the Digital World: Virtue and the Doctrine of the Mean in Leadership, Entrepreneur Deal-Making, and Negotiation 

In 350 B.C.E., Aristotle described virtues as the interplay between conditions and one of two vices. The conditions are individually unique, influenced by one’s circumstances, and further mediated by intellectual virtue.  Our paper relates Aristotle’s observations to complex economic behavior, enabling us to better understand business transactions and study globalization initiatives—which previous models have not adequately explained.  We examine virtue through the lens of Aristotle’s “Doctrine of the Mean” and apply it to leadership, management and entrepreneur negotiation.  We take a special look at virtue’s influence on futures foresight and the subsequent impacts on future digital states and globalization.

Practical Wisdom: Using Character Strength Theory to Analyze an Important Virtue Concept 

Aristotle’s concept of practical wisdom is an essential component of virtue theory. Using the VIA Classification as a starting point, this presentation summarizes a model for understanding the relationship between practical wisdom and virtues, and practical wisdom as a combination of three character strengths: prudence, judgment, and perspective. Statistical analyses using VIA Institute data will describe the frequency of this three-element constellation in individuals. This perspective will be compared with others modeling mature decision-making (Darnell et al., 2019; Goleman, 2000; Grossmann et al., 2020), with the goal of providing a comprehensive view of the arc of wise decision-making. 

Extending Intellectual Humility

Responsibilist epistemic virtues – acquired traits such as intellectual humility and diligence – are becoming increasingly relevant for online knowledge acquisition and social interaction, due to the prevalence of misinformation and heated debates on the web. This paper proposes a method to enhance responsibilist virtue by applying the extended cognition framework to epistemic virtues. This results in an example of extended intellectual humility, described as the coupled dynamical system of a hypothetical agent and a hypothetical app, where the design of the latter is based on empirically supported methods to increase awareness of one’s cognitive limitations.

Does the Ethical Training for Cadets in Their Required Ethics and Philosophy Course at the United States Military Academy at West Point Have a Significant Effect on How They Reason About Moral Issues?

This study is the first to measure moral reasoning at the intermediate-concept level before and after an intervention. The aim of this study is to determine if the current ethical training for cadets at West Point has a significant effect on how they reason about and adjudicate moral issues. To achieve this aim, the research design was an intervention to see if cadets would improve their moral reasoning after receiving instruction in normative ethical theories, specifically virtue ethics and just war theory in their required ethics and philosophy course. 

Cyber-Wisdom Education: Proposing a New Framework for Understanding and Promoting Wisdom in the Digital Age

Based on the theoretical work that is currently being undertaken by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, this paper proposes a framework for understanding and promoting via formal education the concept of cyber-wisdom as a multi-component construct, defined as the ability to do the right thing at the right time, when using the internet. Building on three prominent models of wisdom, the framework suggests that cyber-wisdom, which is essential for navigating online risks and opportunities, relies on four components – cyber-wisdom literacy, reasoning, self-reflection, and motivation. Each component is discussed both conceptually and, in terms of teaching delivery methods, practically.

A Virtue Theoretical Approach to Honesty and Online Agency

This paper provides a virtue theoretical framework for understanding the development and use of the virtue of honesty (truth discovery and truth-bearing) in the online context. We first explore how the online context enables new types of agents and agency, and how the virtue of honesty works in each type. We then consider situations where one may be motivated to be honest, but online structures and inequalities make honesty difficult or impossible. We suggest that affected individuals can address this challenge with the kinds of non-Aristotelian virtues called for in situations of structural oppression (the “burdened virtues,” following Tessman 2005).

Cultivating sīla Online: the use of Cognitive Interventions in Systems Design

This paper addresses, from a Buddhist perspective, the burgeoning challenges of living and flourishing with digital technology. At its heart are the principles of human agency and a framework for the cultivation of sīla (moral virtue). These allow us respectively to develop criteria for evaluating new technology, such as artificial intelligence, and to design systems that enhance well-being and human relationships. Accordingly, we apply them to the design of novel online social networks, where we treat the problem of maintaining heedfulness by deploying thinking routines to strengthen cognitive (and hence moral) functioning.

Putting Virtue Ethics to Work for Educational Leaders in Alabama – a First Year Review

According to virtue-ethics philosophy, character development in educational contexts emphasizes student flourishing as the rightful purpose of education.  Leaders at superintendent level are perfectly situated to have a district-wide perspective for putting this into practice.  Since January 2020, faculty at the University of Alabama (UA) in the Leadership for Character Project have been working toward such goals by helping aspiring and actual superintendents to understand what leadership for character through community entails.  The paper reflects on our practitioner focused efforts to 1.) support ethical leaders at superintendent level and 2.) cultivate communities that prioritize character in Alabama Schools.