Leading thinker to examine virtue at St Andrews lecture

Monday 28 September 2015

Leading thinker to examine virtue at St Andrews lecture

How does admiring others help us become moral, and how can admiration teach us what morality is?

A leading philosopher, who has pioneered new theories in virtue and admiration, will deliver a series of lectures on the subject at the University of St Andrews next month (1-9 October 2015).

In the historic series of lectures, Professor Linda Zagzebski, of the University of Oklahoma, will examine how we define our own moral behaviour by imitating the acts of those we admire.

Professor Zagzebski follows in the footsteps of pre-eminent thinkers that have been invited to present the prestigious Gifford Lectures, including Noam Chomsky, Iris Murdoch and Rowan Williams.

In her week-long series of lectures, Professor Zagzebski will examine in-depth ‘Exemplarist Virtue Theory’, a type of moral theory she invented. She will also look at the psychological process of admiration and how admiration can often be painful, leading to envy and resentment.

“The basic idea is that we map all our moral concepts around exemplars of goodness, whom we pick out directly through the emotion of admiration,” she said.

“We point to historical or contemporary or fictional persons who are the most admirable: Confucius, Jesus, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Holocaust rescuers, and ordinary admirable people whom nobody knows but their close friends and family.

“Virtues are the traits of these people. Admirable acts are acts we admire in them. Wrong acts are acts they find intolerable. Exemplarist Virtue Theory is useful for moral education and self-improvement because admiration is an emotion that leads us to attempt to emulate admirable people.”

Established by Lord Adam Gifford in 1888, the lectures are delivered annually, by pre-eminent thinkers in their respective fields, at the Scottish universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews and Aberdeen.

Linda Zagzebski is George Lynn Cross Research Professor and Kingfisher College Chair of the Philosophy of Religion and Ethics at the University of Oklahoma.  She is also President of the American Philosophical Association Central Division.

It will be a return trip to St Andrews for Professor Zagzebski: “I am thrilled to be giving the Gifford Lectures,” she said. “Ever since I first entered the profession of philosophy, I considered them the pinnacle of lectureships in philosophy of religion, theology and ethics. St Andrews is a dream venue for them too. I have only been there once, and it was 20 years ago, so I am delighted to be able to visit again.”

The lecture series has been organised by Professor Mark Elliot, Head of the School of Divinity at the University of St Andrews. Speaking in advance of the event, he said: “Ethics is the place where Philosophy comes to life and where Theology and Religion are put to the test. To follow an expert as she reflects on the wisdom and logic of virtue theory in order to serve the cause of virtuous practice – that is something that belongs at the heart of a university.”

The 2015 Gifford Lectures will be delivered by Professor Linda Zagzebski at 5.30pm on 1, 2, 6, 8 and 9 October at Parliament Hall, South Street, St Andrews. The lectures are free and open to the public. More information on each lecture is available on the Gifford Lectures web pages.

Notes to news editors

Professor Zagzebski is available for interview in advance of the lectures via email: [email protected]

Note to picture editors

Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews. Contact Gayle Cook, Senior Communications Manager, on 01334 467227 or email [email protected]

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