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Edward Harcourt wins AHRC Network Award

Edward Harcourt has won an AHRC Research Network award for a network entitled ‘The Development of Character: Attachment Theory and the Moral Psychology of Vice and Virtue’. The award will fund three international conferences in the course of 2016 and 2017, at the Centre for Advanced Studies, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich; at Oxford; and at the University of California, Davis.

Attachment theory is a huge underexploited resource for the philosophical study of vice and virtue.

Attachment theory correlates genetic endowment, early nurture and other environmental conditions with attachment classifications, and these in turn with character traits like the capacity for intimacy, co-operativeness, and ‘resilience’. It has thus captured the interest of policy-makers who see ‘building character’ as a key to combating social deprivation.

Character is also the focus of virtue ethics, both in the Aristotelian tradition and among its rivals and critics. But – almost alone on the contemporary scene - virtue ethics describes character using the traditional vocabulary of virtue and vice - generosity, fairness, justice, courage.

This mismatch of vocabularies raises questions both for moral philosophy and for the political enterprise of ‘building character’. Co-operativeness is as necessary for organized crime as for the pursuit of good ends. So if secure attachment only predicts co-operativeness, not virtue proper, what’s so good about promoting it? Alternatively, perhaps the traits predicted by secure attachment are necessary for the orderly continuation of social life, but – disturbingly for the moralist – virtue is more than orderly social living requires.

The proposed series of conferences aims to address these questions. It will map the relations between the conceptual vocabularies of attachment theory and of virtue ethics by bringing together internationally distinguished exponents of both, thereby paving the way (in future research) both for further philosophical explorations – for example, of the relationship between the virtues of intimacy and other virtues – and for the philosophically informed empirical exploration of the relationship between (on the one hand) attachment and (on the other) virtue and vice properly so called.

The network Core Group:

Edward Harcourt (Philosophy, Oxford)
Christoph Rapp (Philosophy, LMU Munich)
Jay Belsky (Human Community Development and Design, UC Davis)
Jen Lexmond (Director, Character Counts
Terence Irwin (Philosophy, Oxford)
Marinus van IJzendoorn (Child and Family Studies, Leiden)
Michael Little (Dartington Social Affairs Unit)

Conference 1: Attachment, Virtue, and the Regulation of Emotion
25-26 February 2016, Centre for Advanced Studies, LMU Munich 
Speakers include Terence Irwin (Philosophy, Oxford), Julien Deonna (Philosophy, Geneva), Mario Mikulincer (Psychology, IDC Herzliya), Jude Cassidy (Psychology, Maryland).

Conference 2: Natural Goodness and the Concept of Optimal Development
Oxford, 31 Oct - 1 Nov 2016

Conference 3: Vice and Developmental Psychopathology
UC Davis, Spring 2017

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