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Friday, November 21, 2008

A New Science of Virtues

The Arete Initiative at the University of Chicago has launched Science of Virtues, a new research project led by Jean Bethke Elshtain, a political philosopher in the Divinity School, and Don Browning, an emeritus professor of ethics and the social sciences. Howard Nusbaum, chair of the school's psychology department, will act as scientific adviser.
In 2010, the project will award about 20 two-year grants to scholars and scientists who have original ideas that "demonstrate promise of a distinctive contribution to virtue research and have the potential to begin a new field of interdisciplinary study." Projects can focus on a specific virtue like courage, honesty, tenacity, generosity, or integrity (looking at it from various angles), or examine the more general relationship between virtue and evolutionary biology, society, human development, modernity, or theology.
“Virtues such as wisdom, generosity, and gratitude are attributes of human behavior,” Nusbaum told The University of Chicago Chronicle. “A submitted scientific proposal might look for genetic reasons why a person might be predisposed to greater generosity, for instance. Or a research team might examine nonhuman animal examples of generous actions and see how such actions can serve as a model for human virtue.”
A council will review applications and invite 40 finalists to submit grant proposals. The deadline for letters of intent is March 2. —Heather Wax