Discussion Groups


Fall 2017

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The Claims of Beauty

Art is man's nature.

Edmund Burke, An Appeal From the New to the Old Whigs

This graduate seminar will take up fundamental questions and themes in philosophy of beauty and aesthetics. Roger Scruton's Beauty will be the ordering text for the discussion, with selections from John Ruskin, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, Jacques Maritain, Joseph Pieper, and others being assigned throughout the semester. At least one sessions will take place during a viewing at the Yale Center for British Art.

Space is limited; for more information please contact Patrick Hough (patrick.hough@elminstitute.org).

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Classics of Modern Philosophy: After Virtue

There ought not to be two histories, one of political and moral action and one of political and moral theorizing, because there were not two pasts, one populated only by actions, the other only by theories. Every action is the bearer and expression of more or less theory-laden beliefs and concepts; every piece of theorizing and every expression of belief is a political and moral action.

Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue

First published in 1981, Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue has proved one of the most influential works of moral philosophy of the last century and it continues to provoke and inspire readers from across the academic disciplines and outside of the academy. The book offers both a diagnosis of the moral confusions of modernity and a bold case for the contemporary relevance of Aristotle's ethical thought. The discussion will be led by Peter Wicks, co-editor of The MacIntyre Reader (University of Notre Dame Press, 2018).

Space is limited; for more information please contact Peter Wicks (peter.wicks@elminstitute.org).


Past Groups

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How to Argue (and Not Just Quarrel)

What matters is our ability to engage in continuous conversation, testing one another, discovering our hidden presuppositions, changing our minds because we have listened to the voices of our fellows. Lunatics also change their minds, but their minds change with the tides of the moon and not because they have listened, really listened, to their friends’ questions and objections.

Amelie Rorty, “Experiments in philosophical genre: Descartes’ Meditations

Why is it that our attempts to argue about things that are important to us so often end in frustration? Why do our discussions about disputed topics so frequently degenerate into quarreling, acrimony, and mutual accusation? To what extent are these difficulties the result of general features of human nature and to what extent are they symptoms of distinctive features of modern culture? This discussion group will address these questions and examine practical steps that we can take to make our arguments more fruitful and less frustrating. 

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Meaningful Work and the Meaning of Leisure

Leisure is gone—gone where the spinning-wheels are gone, and the pack-horses, and the slow wagons, and the peddlers, who brought bargains to the door on sunny afternoons.

George Eliot, Adam Bede

Among the most important decisions we make are decisions about what work we will do and how we will relate our work to other parts of our lives. But on what basis are we to identify good work? How should we distinguish between an admirable work ethic and an unhealthy devotion to work? What is the best way of understanding the relationship between work and leisure? Readings to be discussed includes essays by Bertrand Russell, C.S. Lewis, Witold Rybczynski, and Matthew Crawford.

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Inequality and Its Discontents

From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.

James Madison, Federalist 10

Concerns about economic inequality are by no means limited to supporters of the Occupy Wall Street movement, but those who regard the gap between the rich and the poor as an injustice do so for a variety of reasons. For some, all economic inequality is unjust, while others take the view that the problem is not with inequality as such, but with the sources and consequences of the vast disparity between society's richest and poorest members. Furthermore, the pursuit of greater equality can sometimes conflict with other important political values, most obviously that of liberty. It is a difficult question how we are to think about this kind of conflict and it is far from obvious what principle(s) should govern the trade-offs between the values of liberty and equality that arise when making law and policy. The authors whose work we will discuss include Michael Walzer, Peter Singer, Tyler Cowen, and Harry Frankfurt.