Happiness, Virtue, and God in Philosophy and Literature

The Houston Institute
June 17-21, 2024

What kind of person should you be? Anecdotally, it seems that a standard answer–perhaps the standard answer–that college students are given is: “you do you.” We might put the standard answer more precisely: there are no objective moral norms, so, as long as you don’t hurt anyone it’s all a matter of subjective preference. Moreover, we are told, what life is ultimately about is not something you can prove scientifically. So what hope is there of giving a meaningful answer?

Drawing from the perennial wisdom of ancient and medieval philosophy–especially figures like Aristotle and Aquinas–this seminar will challenge the standard answer and propose a vision of the crucial elements of a life that is happy in a deep way: virtue or moral excellence, friendship in its various modes (including marriage as a distinctive type of friendship), and knowledge of God. We’ll then engage the experiential dimension of these questions through literary works by authors like Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Faulkner, and Dante, all in pursuit not simply of evaluating the topics of happiness, virtue, and God but of seeking ways to live in deep happiness.

Some of the questions we’ll discuss include:

  • Why think there are objective moral norms? Is science the only or best way of getting at truth?
  • How do we achieve deep happiness? What is virtue and how does it relate to happiness?
  • What is marriage and why does it matter for society? How is it different from friendship?
  • Can we know God by reason? If God is supremely good and powerful, why is there so much suffering in the world?

Readings will be provided over a month ahead of time and students are expected to read them with care. Seminars will involve lively conversation about life’s most pressing questions.

Priority Application Deadline: March 15, 2023