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Virtues in the Public Sphere

Virtues in the Public Sphere, Oriel College, Oxford, January 4–6, 2018

The sixth annual conference of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, University of Birmingham


 Over 100 abstracts were received as part of the open call for papers for the 6th annual Jubilee Centre conference, ‘Virtues in the Public Sphere’. This fantastic response is the largest number of proposals received for a Jubilee Centre annual conference. With fewer than 50 slots for seminar papers available, the committee considering the proposals had a very difficult task in selecting the papers that will be given at the conference. Demand has been so high for this event that places are now full.

In recent years, we have witnessed increased polarisation, not only between, but within societies, and the breakdown of civic friendships, in particular as a result of ‘political earthquakes’ that have hit both sides of the Atlantic. Questions have emerged about the relationship between public and private virtues. Do ‘sinners’ perhaps make better politicians than ‘saints’ – and are certain private vices, such as duplicity, necessary in order for the public sphere to function?

The main aim of this conference is to explore the role of virtues in the public sphere. Is there a virtue of ‘civic friendship’ and how can it be cultivated? Is the language of virtue apt for carving out a discursive path between illiberal radicalism and post-truth relativism? More specifically, does the language of virtue indicate an ethical and political approach that calls into question both extreme illiberal and liberal habits of mind – or does it carry an individualistic and moralistic bias that makes it inapplicable to political disagreements? What are the virtues of a ‘good’ politician or civil servant? Should we care whether a skilled diplomat or surgeon is also a good person? Can virtue be ascribed to collectives and institutions such as universities and schools and, if yes, what would, for example, a ‘virtuous school’ look like? Are character education and civic education comrades or competitors? What is the relationship between an ethos of good character in a school and the ethos of the neighbouring community? How, if at all, does virtue guide civic engagement and a pedagogy towards the public good? How do public virtues inform a social ethos of moral responsibility? And, at the most general level, what does it mean to talk about the ‘politics of virtue’?

The aim of the 2018 Jubilee Centre annual conference is to bring together experts from a range of disciplines to explore those questions and many more. Can theorists from philosophy, education, sociology, history and psychology learn from each other’s work? How can insights from theory and practice be integrated?

The conference fee is £150 and covers full board at Oriel College (2 nights), including the formal conference dinner. Details of how to pay the registration fee will be provided in due course.