Magnanimity is a virtue that has led many lives. Foregrounded early on by Plato as the philosophical virtue par excellence, it was inscribed in bold into the ethical life by Aristotle when he designated it as the “ornament” of the virtues, and it was accorded an equally central position by many of the ancient schools. One of the most distinctive elements of the ancient tradition to filter into the medieval Islamic and Christian worlds, it would spark important intellectual engagements there and continue life in several of the later philosophies to inherit the traits of this tradition, even as the vocabulary in which they were expressed underwent multiple shifts. Inflected as “generosity,” Descartes would make it pivotal to his ethical theory, on one view identifying it with virtue itself. Inflected as “greatness of mind,” Hume would give it a critical place among his ethical ideals. Under different inflections, under different guises, it would continue to breathe in the philosophies of Kant, Nietzsche, and their successors.
Its many lives have been joined by important continuities. Yet they have also been fractured by important discontinuities—discontinuities reflecting crucial shifts in ethical perspectives and competing answers to larger questions about the nature of the good life, the moral nature of human beings, and their relationship to the social and natural world they inhabit. They have also been punctuated by moments of intense controversy in which the greatness of this virtue of greatness has been repeatedly called into question.
The aim of this conference is to provide a window to the complex life of a virtue whose glitter has at times been as heady as it has been divisive. By exploring the many lives it has lived and the themes and contexts that have shaped it, we will be in a better position to assess its enduring ethical claims.
Terence Irwin, University of Oxford
Christopher Gill, University of Exeter
Jennifer Herdt, Yale University
John Marenbon, Trinity College, Cambridge
Sophia Vasalou, University of Birmingham
Michael Moriarty, University of Cambridge
Ryan Hanley, Marquette University
Emily Brady, University of Edinburgh
Andrew Huddleston, Birkbeck, University of London
Kristján Kristjánsson, University of Birmingham
Robert Roberts, Baylor University/University of Birmingham
Anyone with an interest in the virtues and their history is warmly welcome to attend.
This event has been made possible by the generous support of the British Academy, the Mind Association, the British Society for the History of Philosophy, and the College of Arts and Law at the University of Birmingham.