16 Value in Virtuous Community: Insights about Valuing the Self and Other from Computational Cognitive and Brain Sciences

Michael Spezio

The moral philosopher Robert C. Roberts suggests that the study of virtue needs the support of a virtuous community. In other words, to understand what virtue is and how it flows in practice, it helps to be in that flow oneself. How can one hope to recognize virtuous formation without entering it oneself, in hope, and in the company of others? I suggest that those seeking a deeper understanding of virtue more broadly, and virtue in the sciences in particular, would benefit from scientific inquiry into the cognitive affections and the affective cognitions of those committed to virtuous community, and of actions that are modeled after their practices. How do people with long-lived commitments in such communities value one another and themselves? How do they remember and describe their formation and transformation? How do they remember their past selves? How do they describe their hope for the future? How important are empathy, theory of mind, and humility in managing the daily challenges of life in community? Can computational models of cognitive and neural systems shed light on the transformations of mind and brain that happen? Drawing on work with communities of L’Arche in the US and in France, and with the community of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, this address relates computational models of mind and brain to narrative accounts of how the self and other are valued within communities dedicated to virtuous formation.

Keynote Video on YouTube: Search “Spezio Value in Virtuous Community”

Further Reading

Spezio, Michael. “Corrigibility and Trust in the Practices of Science.” Philosophy, Theology and the Sciences 5.2 (2018): 265–80.

ABSTRACT In the context of crises in science, understanding what virtue in science is requires attention to virtue studies and virtue science themselves. Within and beyond the study of practices in laboratories and in scientific collaborations held up as exemplary or noted for being less so are core beliefs about what trust in science is or should be. Prevailing conceptions of trust in science and scientists are at the root of the crises in science. Virtue science and studies can help to identify the noxious tendencies of some conceptions of trust and suggest possible new ways of thinking. This article reviews evidence for sciences in crisis before drawing on Bayesian thinking to propose ways of thinking about trust, reliability, and validity in relation to science. Corrigibility, rather than fallibility, is the defining feature of science, calling for a trust in the persons, systems, and institutions of science as ever error-probable-plus-corrigible.

Spezio, Michael. “Humility as Openness to Others: Interactive Humility in the Context of l’Arche.” Journal of Moral Education 48.1 (2019): 27–46.

ABSTRACT: Exploring the concept of virtuous humility helps to highlight paths of human flourishing. Yet humility is difficult to study because it is often stereotyped as shame or self-abasement, it tends to defy uniform conceptualization across contexts and cultures, definitions are difficult to justify, and operationalizing humility challenges standard approaches in the social sciences. The present work develops a theory of interactive humility as openness to others (IHO) by foregrounding interaction and interpersonal context. IHO theory builds on a previously published theory of humility as the absence of the vices of pride and tests the new proposal against research done in conjunction with l’Arche communities. Conceptual networks from core l’Arche texts showed that openness ranks second among concepts most similar to humility (0.85), while humility ranks first for openness. These networks support the view that humility as openness in the context of l’Arche is primarily interactive and interpersonal, rather than intellectual.

MICHAEL SPEZIO is Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Scripps College, where he mentors undergraduate scientists in the Laboratory for Inquiry into Valuation and Emotion (The LIVE Lab), and is Visiting Researcher at the Institute for Systems Neuroscience (University Medical Center Eppendorf, Hamburg). He was a resident fellow of the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton. He co-directs an international interdisciplinary project on cognitive and neural computational models of theory of mind and valuation in interaction, funded by the US National Science Foundation and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. He also co-directs interdisciplinary teams investigating models of valuing self and other in exemplary communities such as l’Arche and Homeboy Industries, work funded by the John Templeton Foundation, the Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing, and the Templeton Religion Trust. He is a co-editor of Philosophy, Theology, and the Sciences, and he has published in BiochemistryJournal of NeuroscienceProceedings of the National Academy of SciencesJournal of Autism and Developmental DisordersJournal of Moral Education, and Ex Auditu. He is also co-editor of The Routledge Companion to Religion and ScienceTheology and the Science of Moral Action and Habits in Mind.