Vice Theory: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

October 18, 2024 - October 19, 2024
Department of Philosophy , University of New Brunswick

Carleton Hall 209
19 Macaulay Lane
Fredericton E3B5A3

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Vice Theory: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

October 18-19, 2024

University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.

Keynote Speakers:

Karen Stohr (Georgetown University)

Andrew Sabl (University of Toronto)


Ron Weed (University of New Brunswick, Fredericton)

Travis Smith (Concordia University, Montreal)

Over the last forty years there has been a renewed focus on virtue theory, especially in its connection to the Aristotelian tradition. But one important dimension of this work that has been under- appreciated and explored is what might be called vice theory: An understanding of how vices and other sub- virtuous states function or fail to function in human life.

In the last several years there has been a flurry of interest on epistemic vice such as through the work of Quasim Cassam and other scholars (Vices of the Mind: From the Intellectual to the Political. OUP, 2019; Vice Epistemology. Ed. I.J. Kidd, H. Battaly, Q. Cassam. Routledge, 2021). But that has not been accompanied by as much distinctive and sustained treatment of ethical or political vice as a problem area, including their structure, motivational fields and relation to other character states.

This interdisciplinary conference aims to draw from new and ongoing work from scholars in philosophy, classics, political science, medieval studies, literature, early modern studies, social thought, or other relevant disciplines.

There are several historical and topical areas that the conference organizers invite papers to explore:

1) Vice Theory in the History of Philosophy. Some papers in this area might focus on a vice treated by a figure within the history of philosophy. Others papers might examine the relationship between particular vices or groupings of them. Are there particular vices that tend favour the growth of other vices? Are there vices that tend to restrain or slow the development of worse vices? (Figures explored might include Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, as well as modern philosophers such as Hobbes, Smith, Locke, Rousseau, Kant).

2) Models for Classifying Vices. Are there new models for the classification of vices and their relationship to one another? For example, Judith Shklar in her famous work Ordinary Vices (Harvard University Press, 1985) provides stimulating and rich reflection on the relationship between particular vices and their implicit ranking in modern liberal thought. Are there other models for classifying vices? Are there promising models that should be developed further or revised?

3) Methodological Insights from Vice Theory. Aristotle famously treats each ethical virtue as a virtuous disposition that falls between vicious dispositions that oppose a virtue. These are ways of failing to realize some important sphere of flourishing or good that the virtue would otherwise enable. But Aristotle’s description of the vicious extremes can also help us understand something about the virtues they seem to oppose. Similarly, an account of a medical pathology is often a starting point for understanding how a biological function is failing and what healthy functioning looks like within that biological system. Papers in this area might examine how vice theory (within a particular historical figure, period of thought or in contemporary philosophy) illuminates some methodological problems in normative ethics, moral psychology.

4) Vice Theory and Contemporary Well Being Research. While there has been thoughtful and rigorous work that brings together contemporary philosophical and empirical work on virtues and human flourishing, there has been less focus on the impact of vicious dispositions and the well being of those agents. Some papers might examine the implications of particular vices for human well being.

Abstracts of 200-300 words are due by May 30th, 2024

Please submit by email to [email protected]

Selected paper presentations should be 30 minutes in length.

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October 11, 2024, 5:00pm AST

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