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Becoming Virtuous with Nancy Snow

Dr. Nancy Snow is a philosophy Professor and the director of the Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing at the University of Oklahoma. She co-directed the Self, Motivation, and Virtue Project, and is the principle investigator of the Self, Virtue, and Public Life Project. She has edited six research volumes, and authored two books, including one written with Jennifer Cole Wright and Michael Warren, titled Understanding Virtue: Theory and Measurement, which is set for publication next year. In this podcast, we discuss Dr. Snow’s account of how people develop virtue through the natural course of their everyday lives.

APA citation: Cazzell, A. R. (Host). (2020, February 18). Becoming Virtuous with Nancy Snow [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from


Note: This transcript was generated automatically. Please excuse typos and errors.

Nancy Snow (01:15):

It's kind of a long story. I mean, it goes back. My interest in philosophy goes back to my undergraduate days and I did my undergraduate work at Marquette university in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And I I did a lot of things that I wasn't supposed to do. One of them was to take a philosophy course of my first semester. Those courses were supposed to be taken by sophomores and above, but I jumped right in and I loved the philosophy course, but I, I really at that time couldn't see myself being a philosopher. So it took me a couple more years to actually make the shift to philosophy. In the meantime, I had a Spanish major, but in my senior year sorry, my junior year abroad, I was in Spain and I decided I wanted, I didn't want to go into Spanish. I wanted to go into philosophy.

Nancy Snow (02:04):

So I ended up basically getting as a philosophy major during my senior year and then went on to get a master's at Marquette and a PhD and at Notre Dame. And it just has worked out for me. So it's one of those things where you, you kind of eventually find your way into something. And then in ethics, I knew from my master's program that I was very interested in ethics and virtue ethics. I got interested in specific virtues when I was publishing, when I was in my tenure track positions and gotten more interested in virtue ethics with the situationist debate Oh. In philosophy. And so I read some of those and those arguments and didn't think they could be right. So I spent a year or two reading of the psychology, I've got a very different perspective on it. So that was that was the deal with me.

Amber Cazzell (03:14):

That's really interesting. So were there specific, you mentioned there were a set of specific virtues you became interested in first. What were those?

Nancy Snow (03:23):

Well, I got interested in compassion and humility and empathy, which is not a virtue, but it's a close cousin of close cousin of compassion. So, you know, there was work to be done on specific virtues. And then from there I sort of went on into other, other issues. But part of this was not an artifact of my interest. Part of it was an artifact of being in an article counting department. And so I was an assistant professor at Arizona state university for two years and then came back to Marquette and Marquette was the article counting department. So in order to get tenure and be promoted, it had to, the unwritten rule was an article a year. And so that was, that was what I was working with and my methodology was never to put the brakes on an idea once it got going. So that, that resulted in some, I don't know, some fairly scattershot publications, but I got me tenured and promoted and then, then I started to work on virtue ethics more seriously.

Amber Cazzell (04:24):

Yeah. I, it's interesting to me that the situation is to challenge is one of the things that caught your attention. It was for me as well, but, but not from a scholarly side. I think just from a personal side, I just sucked at living up to my own values and felt bad about that and was curious what was going on. But for, so for listeners who might not be familiar with what the situationist challenge is, could you just give a brief backdrop of what you're referencing?

Nancy Snow (04:54):

Yeah, the the situation was challenge really came into its own or around 1999 or 2000 uh the work of two psych, two philosophers in particular, Gilbert Harman and John Doris brought brought situation ism into the forefront of a philosophy, at least in the, into the forefront of virtue scholarship. The, those those folks went to social psychology in particular and made the case that there are troves of studies in social psychology that show either that there aren't any virtues in the strict Aristotelian sense or that they're so scarce as to have little, if anything, to do with producing behavior and neo-Aristotelian or Aristotelian virtues are conceptualized as entrenched dispositions to perceive, think, feel and act in particular ways. So, for example an honest person can be upon to be honest when under oath in court on her tax returns and conversations with their spouse and so on, so that she can be honest across many different types of situations.

Nancy Snow (06:10):

And Situationists denied this. So they said empirical studies show only at best that we have very local or narrowly indexed traits. And John Doris in particular made the case that we could have something like answer key honesty or finding lost change and returning it, honesty, that sort of thing. So the the traits or virtues that we have are narrowly indexed to the objectively describable features and situations. And I thought that was probably wrong, but at any rate, there were some things about the situation as debate that didn't ring true to me. And that was one of them. Another one was that they referred the situation as referred to a very narrow swath of studies. And so I knew there had to be defenders of global traits that is traits that you know, are cross situationally consistent across situations. But that literature wasn't referenced by the situationists, and I thought that was kind of odd. And when I did my own reading, I found resources in empirical psychology that I believe support the notion that Aristotelian virtues can and do exist and can be empirically verified.

Amber Cazzell (07:27):

Yeah. And I know that you have written a book that will be coming out with Jen Cole Wright and Michael Warren as well, kind of on the topic of measuring virtues and also, you know, getting clear on how to conceptualize, how to conceptualize virtue in order to measure it. I'm curious because this was, this was back a while ago, what sorts of studies or things caught your attention back then before the whole trait theory kind of came out that indicated to you that that situation, the situationist challenge was incorrect?

Nancy Snow (08:05):

Well, I I did a lot of reading for the book virtuous social intelligence and empirically grounded theory. I did a lot of reading on the caps system, cognitive effective personality system as developed by Walter Mischel and Yuichi Shoda. And I thought that was very promising and made the case in the book that that framework is amenable to conceptualizing virtues in the Aristotelian sense. Now I know that Michelle and showed her don't do that themselves. They're they've, they follow the data, their data, which, you know, which tells us that there can be local traits that are index to the subjective meanings that situations have for people as opposed to their objective describable features. But I went ahead and I made an argument that was not data-driven, that those local traits could be generalized and applied to other situation types.

Nancy Snow (09:07):

I don't know if Mischel and Shoda agree with that. But that was my approach in the book. And then many years later I was prevailed upon by a couple of psychologists to to look to whole trait theory is a more promising model for thinking about how virtues could be given an empirical basis.

Amber Cazzell (09:27):

Yeah. So could you tell me, and then, and then I wanna jump into the folk development of virtue. But first I'd love to hear a bit about this whole trait theory as it applies to to virtue.

Nancy Snow (09:42):

Well, the whole trait theory is a pretty complex theory. It was developed by a Will Fleeson and Eranada Jayawickreme and it's got two sides to it, the explanatory side and the descriptive side. And by that they mean, or I should say, I mean that traits can be conceptualized both in explanatory and in descriptive terms. And the descriptive side is captured by what a whole trait theorist would called density distributions.

Nancy Snow (10:10):

So this idea is that we can do different measurements of virtue States at particular times and then the more a person exhibit those days of particular times, the stronger the evidence is for inferring that there is a trait. And so that's a sort of very quick and dirty explanation of the descriptive side. But the explanatory side goes into some depth about explaining how how traits come about. That there are a number of different systems that combine to form a trait. For example, the interpretive system, the motivational system perception comes into play very much of, it resonates quite a bit with Aristotelian theory and the the authors themselves, Fleeson and Jayawickreme have indicated in some publications that they think that there is a a nice coherence between a traditional virtue theory and their view. And in the book that is now in press at Oxford university press two developmental psychologists and I really pushed that envelope. And so that book is coauthored by myself, Jennifer Cole, right. And Michael Warren. And so we make an extended case for the use of whole trait theory in terms of being a promising framework for measuring both individual virtues and for measurement measurements of character as a whole for character as a whole consists of a constellation of different virtues that are integrated into a personality plus other factors such as other kinds of traits, other systems and temperament and so forth.

Amber Cazzell (11:54):

Yeah, yeah. Well, very cool. So let's go ahead and shift gears into the intended topic of the day. I want to hear your account of how the average person develops virtue since usually they're not sitting around a coffee table thinking about ethics all day. How is it that the average person comes to develop what we tend to think of as virtue?

Nancy Snow (12:22):

Well, I give, in the paper that I sent to you, which is from ordinary virtue to Aristotelian virtue, I give an account that is really goal-based. Okay. So, so the idea there is that now we might not sit around coffee tables asking ourselves how we can be more virtuous, but we do live lives. We've got some the living of the life that we encounter, situations that enabled us to develop virtue. And we, I expand on this a little bit in the, in the forthcoming book where the account is not specifically goal-directed, but it's, it's it's really the notion that the development of virtues is embedded in the fabric of our lives. So we encounter situations, some of which involve the pursuit of goals and some of course don't. But through those situations we develop virtues. So just to give an example of the goal dependent account, you can imagine a new parent who is really concerned with being a good parent.

Nancy Snow (13:18):

And so, so it's that desire, the desire to be a good parent, the goal of being a good parent that motivates that individual to develop traits which can count as virtues, the virtues of a parent. So this person might not have been all that concerned to be generous or compassionate or patient. But then when you have a child and you love that child, things get a little bit more complex. So you know, you have to have the motivation to be virtuous. And desiring a goal is something that provides that pathway. Also being in situations where you know, you need to you need to act or address some difficulty you might say. So in the book, you know, we talk about playground situations as a way in which children might develop virtues concomitantly. And then certainly virtues would cluster together. So you can imagine a playground situation in which there's a fight over a toy or a fight over a game. And you want to, you know, kids want to continue playing the game so they have to develop forgiveness or fairness or something like that. And that's a starting point. The starting point is that there is some personal quality or characteristic that is needed either to attain the goal or to reach an outcome in a particular situation. And so that is what kind of starts us in a very rudimentary way on the road to developing virtue.

Amber Cazzell (14:49):

Yeah. Yeah. So as you've also written some about how habits make us virtuous, in fact, I think that might be a title of a chapter, a paper, how habits make us virtuous. What is the role of habits in, in virtue? I know that habits provide sort of that, that density distribution that we're looking for in terms of recurring behaviors. Is there more to it beyond that?

Nancy Snow (15:18):

Well, you know, Aristotle thought that we learn virtue through habituation and through and through guided habituation guided practice. And so Julia Annas is a contemporary philosopher who, who likens virtue acquisition to the development of a complicated skill. And her, her preferred skill is something like planet piano playing, right? So, you know, you do need to practice to get good at something and habit helps us to do that. Getting into the habit of doing something helps us to do that.

Nancy Snow (15:49):

So habits are very interesting concepts and a lot of work has been done on habits and habituation. And where I use habits in my work is in terms of goal dependent automaticity. So you know, goals are important parts of how we develop virtues and how do we develop virtues in a way that makes them second nature to us. That's an important question. And so goal dependent automaticity provides us with a psychological framework for explaining that. So according to John Bargh and other researchers, we can develop different, how shall I put it? We can develop habituated behaviors that are triggered by or activated by cues that we receive from our environment that then after a while go below the level of conscious awareness. Right? So one illustration of this is that when we're driving, right, or when we're typing, we've been typing for awhile. You know, when I'm driving, having driven for a while, I don't need to say to myself now I need to put my foot on the gas pedal, or no, I need to put my foot on the brake.

Nancy Snow (17:10):

I just do it. And it's because I'd become habituated into that behavior through the practice of driving, which then serves my goals. And so similarly, we can become habituated into the practice of virtue. And at first we might need to think about what we're doing, but then it becomes second nature after awhile. So second nature to help somebody that we see in need, that kind of thing. We see somebody struggling with a heavy suitcase while you go in and offer to help them. And you don't have to do a lot of thinking about that. It's just something that has become habituated for you. Now the habituation in question isn't mindless. It's intelligent and it's flexible. So it's not a matter of simply wrote blind action. It's not a stimulus and response kind of kind of response. Right. So the model is a pretty sophisticated, I think, cognitive model of how we develop a routinize behaviors.

Amber Cazzell (18:13):

Hmm, yeah. And, and so, I mean, I, I want to dig into that a little bit. Teasing apart the difference between routinized behaviors and mindlessness and whether they're, and, and I guess one of the questions that I've been really interested in lately is about the relationship between self control and virtue. Because from an Aristotelian perspective I tend to kind of follow in like Blaine flowers and some other, some other researchers thoughts that okay, well self-control, Mmm. Self-Control in, in certain specific circumstances like self-control is as a means of maintaining temperance is a virtue. But yeah, other scholars like ride Baumeister and some others have suggested that self control is like the master virtue in that if you have self control, you have all the other ones. When it comes to habits, I usually and automaticity, I usually think of self control as being removed out of the process of behavior. And I'm wondering in the distinction that you're kind of making between mindless behaviors and routinized behaviors, what your thoughts are on the relationship between self control and virtue. I was kind of a vague question, but I just love to get your sense on that.

Nancy Snow (19:50):

Okay. Well it's a very complicated question, so thanks for handing me that softball.

Amber Cazzell (19:56):

You're welcome.

Nancy Snow (19:57):

Um just a couple of a couple of points. Self-Control is interesting. I don't think it's all there is to virtue. I think it's very important. Of course, you know, in sort of a broad sense that you're always in control of yourself. You're not running a muck, right? Surely that is the kind of basic necessity for her to, but stuff control smacks a little bit of something that Aristotle calls continents, right? And so continents, I don't know if you're familiar with the Aristotelian categories, but virtue, virtue occurs when you know what is good and you desire to do what is good. Continence occurs when you know what is good and you don't desire to do it, but you do it anyway. Incontinence or akrasia is weakness of will.

Nancy Snow (20:51):

And that occurs when you know what to do, what is good and you don't want to do it. Then you give in to your desire not to do it. And then advice is really having a, having a mistaken conception of the good and acting in accordance with that. So desiring to do something that is wrong. Now there's a lot of complexity and vice that I just want to skip over, but my point really is that self-control smacks a little bit of continence. So it smacks a bit of this notion that, okay, I know what I should do, I don't want to do it, but I have a self control and I do it anyway. And so that's my, my concern about the self control language. Does that make sense?

Amber Cazzell (21:32):

Yes. Yes. I love that. That's so eloquent.

Nancy Snow (21:37):

The other, thank you. The other, the other point is a really more directly to your question and that is routinized behavior is not irrational and it is susceptible to being interrupted, right? So you know, if I routinely turn it a certain corner, I can interrupt myself. Or if I routinely type certain keys, I can always interrupt myself. So even if a behavior becomes routinized, it's not thereby blind, at least not according to the bargain framework. Right? Can indeed interrupted. And that's where self-control comes into play. So of course, you know, if I'm virtuous, I have self control, but I have it in a pretty sophisticated sense, right? So I have what is called phronesis or practical wisdom. And that phronesis or practical wisdom in the context of virtue allows me to interrupt my behaviors, which might ordinarily be sort of routinized, take a step back and determine whether I want to do it or not. Right? So there is an example and it's a sort of corrective. This is sort of corrective. And there's an example from Adam Smith that might help with this.

Nancy Snow (22:52):

And Adam Smith's example is not about virtue per se, but it illustrates a point and it's about sympathy. Sympathy in the sense of what, what really we would call empathy. So there are a couple of complexities here. One is it Smith is using the term sympathy as we would use empathy. And another is that the example doesn't pertain directly to virtue, but can illustrate the point that I want to make. Okay. And Smith's example is of a person we see a person being beaten, right? I remember Smith was, you know, writing back in the day, 18th century we see a person being beaten and we empathize with that individual. We want to step in and stop the beating, right? So that could be our automatic response, right? We see someone who is being hurt and our automatic response is to intervene. And so we then find out that the beating is just punishment for a crime.

Nancy Snow (23:51):

And so Smith says that knowledge should correct our tendency, right? We should then stop with our desire to intervene and let the punishment go forward. So similarly with virtue, this might be a more straight forward example, right? I see someone struggling with a large suitcase, I might want to intervene to help, but then I start to intervene and the person says, Oh no, I'm okay, thank you. I need to do this. Right? So there is that sort of sense in which I can indeed stop myself. You know, somebody else can prompt me to stop, but I could prompt myself also. Right? We kind of come upon these situations, you know, in everyday life for example, where you see a young parent struggling with a number of kids and one might be misbehaving and you just, your, your gut instinct or your, your automatic responsibility to step in and try to help correct the child and then, you know, common sense prevails and you think, no, no, no, just stay out of this.

Nancy Snow (24:53):

It's, it's, it's their situation, you know, you cause more trouble by helping. So those are the kinds of situations in which, yes, we do exhibit self-control. We can check our tendencies to virtuous behavior in situations where they might not be completely warranted, that sort of thing. Okay. Whereas if you're working sort of from a, a sort of blind habituated model or blind tendency, you wouldn't necessarily have that kind of check.

Amber Cazzell (25:23):

I see. Yeah. Really interesting. So we've been talking a lot about Aristotle and I wanna I wanna now move to how folk virtue, you can develop into fully fledged Aristotelian virtue. So first I'm, can you kind of distinguish between the folk account of virtue and Aristotelian virtue? What is missing from folk virtue that is driven by goal dependent automaticity. What's missing from that model to get to fully fledged Aristotelian virtue?

Nancy Snow (26:04):

I think two things are missing from the model. First, what is one thing that is missing from the model is phronesis or practical wisdom. Okay. So practical wisdom is a kind of reasoning that is intrinsic to an integral to virtue. And the young parent, the young Parent who wants to be a good father for example. Might not have that right because that's, excuse me phronesis develops along with virtue and virtue develops along with phronesis. So the young father who is a first time dad say that person is not going to have a lot of experience with dealing with children, at least his own kids, which makes things different. So phronesis or practical wisdom and that gets kind of blurry. I mean what, what is that? We're not sure. Even people who study for nieces and study Aristotle are not entirely sure. I mean, we could give you a very highly theoretical answer, but I don't know if that's really helps.

Nancy Snow (27:04):

What we want to just right here. So in, in my work on how ordinary virtue develops into Aristotelian virtue. I leave aside the theoretical discussions and I, I lean on what I call phronetic capacities and those are capacities that we can get from the work of theorists knowledge. What does it knowledge, I'm sorry, I'm blanking on the acronym now and I'm sorry it cut out from the which theory there is that the KAPA theorists Dan Cervonne's work. Okay. Knowledge and appraisal mechanisms. Okay. But, but the idea there is that there are certain forms of self knowledge and self appraisal that can be very helpful in developing virtue. And I'm going to just go into the other aspect that I think is missing from ordinary virtue and try to illustrate how the knowledge and appraisal mechanisms work together with the other aspect, which is awareness of the various kinds of value that virtue can have.

Nancy Snow (28:13):

Okay. So there are, in my opinion, three different kinds of value that virtue can have. I should say can and does have in a very early stages of virtue development, a person comes to appreciate virtue only as instrumentally valuable to the achievement of a desired goal. So a young parent might value patience, for example, only because patience helps, gets his kid to eat vegetables, right? Right. Or patience help some way in the relationship. And if patience didn't have that role, then the parent wouldn't value patience. But then later on a more sophisticated grasp of the value of patience can come about. And that is the value of patient patience as constitutive of valuable relationships. So well certain virtues that we have in fact constitute part of what is valuable about our lives. So generosity constitutes part of what makes our lives worthwhile. Patience constitutes in part good relationships, that kind of thing.

Nancy Snow (29:24):

So it isn't just that they help to bring it about or that they help to bring about a certain goal in terms of which we can speak of instrumental value. It's that they are part and parcel of that relationship. So you know, constitutive value is the second level on the road to attaining Aristotelian virtue. Right. And then you can move to a recognition of the intrinsic value of virtue. You might say that even if this virtue doesn't have constitutive value in my life, I can recognize that it has value anyway. It has its own kind of value. And you can do that by looking at certain values. Sorry, certain virtues that you might not need to have. I don't often need to have physical courage, right? I don't need to buck myself up and run into a flaming building to save people. I don't need to have courage on the battlefield.

Nancy Snow (30:27):

Yet I can recognize not only that it has some constitutive value in other people's lives, but also that it's intrinsically valuable. But it's a good that if we didn't have it in the world, our lives would be impoverished. And so the meaning of intrinsic value is it's contested in philosophy. It's elusive. But to me that the notion is that something is intrinsically valuable, if without it, we would recognize that our lives would be worse or lives would be impoverished. Once you recognize that level of value as pertaining to virtue, then I think you've got you've got the sort of motivational orientation toward Aristotelian virtue that puts you in the camp of being pretty high up in terms of your virtue development, pretty close to having an Aristotelian conception of virtue. And in order to get there, you need to have those knowledge structures and appraisal mechanisms.

Nancy Snow (31:29):

So for example, and you think of back to our parent, the parent is not going to develop patience or generosity or so forth, even at the get go without having a schema of the good parent that he himself can see fitting into. So it's not only that there is this sort of abstract knowledge schema of what a good parent is, but also he can see how that applies to his life or that schema can shape his life. And then once he gets that in mind, he'll have a standard which can give him a basis for appraising his progress toward that the ideals that are embedded in that schema. And all of that helps to facilitate the realization of these various forms of the values that virtue can have. It doesn't happen in a social vacuum, right? So it's very rare. I would think that an individual acting on his or her own could do that. And even though we don't sit around a coffee table talking about this, we certainly talk to each other about relationships. And so you can imagine the parents, the father's spouse saying to him, you're really doing well with with our son, right? Or, you know, you're really doing well with those kids in little league or you know, you've become a lot more patient with other people. You can see how that sort of observation could give the parents some affirmation and encouragement moving forward.

Amber Cazzell (33:06):

And how, how does having that external input and that schema help progress the person through the three different types of value recognition?

Nancy Snow (33:21):

Well, it can help a person most obviously to go from instrumental to gain station of value, right? Because any of the kinds of remarks I just made really are saying to, the parent, Oh look, you know, this is not only a good goal to have, but this is part of life. This is something that's now making your life go better. And we might not conceptualize it that way. We might not put the point that way, but I think that's what's going on. You really did a good job with this, right? Which is to say you should do more, right? So that is a part of recognizing constitutive value. And you know, part of the issue with philosophers trying to explain these things is that we use a certain jargon.

Nancy Snow (34:04):

And so nobody talks about instrumental constituent of or intrinsic value at home, unless you're a philosopher, right? So you know, you don't use those terms. Nevertheless, I think people have them and they make them, you know, they make them from a part of their lives, right? So think about, think about a relationship in which you know, somebody somebody does something only for the sake of instrumentality, right? I want you to, I mean, you're my friend say, and I want you to do something, so I give you a gift in order to induce you to do it. Well, that's a pretty thin friendship, right? It gets richer when I give you a gift because I value you in my life. Okay. And then it becomes, generosity becomes even better or richer to conceptualize when we think, well, you know, if we didn't have conventions of gift-giving, we would have to find other forms of expressing our, our friendship and our fondness for each other.

Nancy Snow (35:04):

So the transition from constitutive to intrinsic is trickier. It's much trickier, but we do find it. We do find examples of it. And you know, an example that I, I think I gave him the paper was an example of the immigration policy that Angela Merkel had in, in Germany, right? Of having kind of an open door welcoming immigration policy. Well, I got her into a lot of trouble politically, but one might be tempted to step back from that and say, yeah, that's intrinsically valuable. That even if it doesn't work right, that is a good way to be toward other people.

Amber Cazzell (35:43):

Yeah. Interesting. So one of the things that I was wondering as I was reading through your paper is about the degree to which the types of goals people start with matters on their trajectory for developing virtue. So we could imagine like it, we could imagine that the goal of being a good father seems like it's, it's already positioned to help a person more on their journey towards virtue than a person who has a goal of becoming rich. Now you did mention, and I think it's, I think it's a important point that even along the journey towards pursuing these goals, our reflection and others' input can kind of change the content or at least the meaning that we give those goals. But I am curious about your thoughts on whether the sorts of goals we start with matter and to what degree and how those can morph over time.

Nancy Snow (36:59):

I think it's a very important point and it's kind of, to me, it's sort of obviously true that some goals are not going to be helpful to developing virtue. So if I want to have the goal of being a mafia don does not going to help because that's a morally bad goal. Great. If I have a goal of becoming rich, that is highly problematic. If I have a goal, even if being a politician in today's day and age, that's also highly problematic. And the reason for that is because things you need to do to get rich and the things you need to do to be a politician require traits, which don't seem to be virtues, right? So at some point or other people have to make choices or they have to modify their goals. I'm not saying that people who have the goal of being rich or people who have the goal of being a politician can't become virtuous, but some goals are more conducive to development of virtue than others. And that's because the kinds of actions and behaviors needed to attain those goals seem to require traits that are not virtues or they're antithetical to the development of virtue.

Amber Cazzell (38:18):

Yeah. I mean, do you think that it is possible for a person to start with a poor goal and in the process of trying to pursue it, to actually wind up developing virtue as they self-reflect? So for instance, let me think of an example here. Let's, let's say that they have the goal of becoming rich, but as they pursue, as they pursue climbing up the social climbing up the ladder at their workplace, they find that they feel icky after having some sort of anti social behaviors to try to win out in the promotional race and can self reflect and think, well, that didn't feel good. That didn't seem right. I lost some friends over it. Maybe that's not the right thing, and have their goals slowly morph over time. Does that make sense?

Nancy Snow (39:30):

Yeah. And I think that's exactly what happens. I mean, you know, I don't know that there are psychological studies of this, but I think anecdotally we can recognize many cases of that, no cases in which somebody does something that then she, she's not comfortable with. Right? So you're not comfortable with how you feel in that situation. You're not comfortable with what you did. You had this have this lingering feeling of doubt or guilt or something like that. And that's a a warning sign that what you're doing is, is not compatible with what you might call your deep values. Right? So, you know, people might have goals like the goal to get rich that operate at one level of their conscious awareness, but then they have a, you know, a deep structure or they might have a deep value structure that they've picked up somewhere, maybe from education upbringing.

Nancy Snow (40:24):

And that deep structure, you know, provides them with sort of a gut negative reaction to certain things that they do. Now that's all pretty complicated. I don't want to be interpreted as endorsing a kind of social intuitionism and making that claim because I don't, you know, the gut negative reaction doesn't have to be only gut. It can certainly be cognitive. But you know, the fact that we sometimes have those feelings I think is very interesting. So that would be my response to that situation. And certainly, you know, input from others can can help with with what we do. So you can imagine somebody who is, you know, trying to climb the corporate ladder and has to do some fairly sleazy things to get there and, you know, friends or relatives or somebody being sort of shocked at that, that kind of thing.

Nancy Snow (41:20):

You can imagine something like what Joseph Joseph, sorry, Jerome Bruner calls turning points. And so, you know, those are points in one's life when one just kind of stands still and does a pivot, you know, takes a, takes a turn in the example that he gives a couple of examples, but one that's very telling is one of an athlete, high school athlete. This was during the Vietnam war. And the high school athlete was, you know, appalled by what was going on in the war. But he was also, I think I don't know if I'm remembering this correctly, but, but the coach of the football team really wanted him to hurt people right win by hurting your opponent. And he didn't like that. And so he quit the football team. He took a stand, he became a pacifist. He he rebelled against the Vietnam war.

Nancy Snow (42:15):

So there's a, there's also a sense in which sometimes other people are pushing you in a direction toward the achievement of a goal and you rebel against it. So there are many mechanisms I think that can kind of provide a, a break on the, the tendency to sort of blindly develop a goal or blindly go for a goal in ways that are not virtuous. Yeah.

Amber Cazzell (42:44):

Are you, do you have any sort of a framework for categorizing or teasing out what sorts of goals are more amenable to virtue development than others?

Nancy Snow (42:58):

Well, I don't, other than common sense, and it just sort of reflection on the kinds of goals that our society promotes. I mean, it isn't necessarily the case that having the goal of being a politician or having the goal of being rich would result in behaviors that cut against virtue development.

Nancy Snow (43:19):

It's a, the social situation that we find ourselves in today seem to have seems to have that characteristic. Right? Right. But there's nothing necessary about wanting to be a politician, right? That can be a very noble calling and getting rich, wanting to get rich. That doesn't have to be evil either. One, you know, thinks about the Protestant work ethic and how, you know, people sometimes are encouraged to do well for themselves and yet also give to others. So there are many conceptualizations of goals that don't necessarily result in, you know, having to cultivate vicious behaviors to achieve them. So I don't really have a framework. I mean, I don't think you can really list off goals other than ones that are straightforwardly immoral right. Straightforwardly a moral goal of being the best assassin I can be. No, no, that's just, that's out.

Amber Cazzell (44:14):

It's funny as you're talking about politicians, it just made me think of how Aristotle thought that politicians were, had sort of the noblest profession back in his day.

Nancy Snow (44:27):

Yeah. We've fallen a bit since then.

Amber Cazzell (44:30):

Um okay. So I'm, I'm, I'm curious how you're hoping that other scholars or, or just any other listeners will kind of pick up on your work and apply it to their own, to their own scholarship and their own lives.

Nancy Snow (44:47):

Well, that's, that's really up to up to people, you know, I'm, I mean, if, if other scholars find my work wild, that's great. If they don't like it, that's fine too. I just hope they find it to be useful and constructive and moving their own thinking along. In terms of people listing, I hope that it gives people the sense that really you don't need a lot of expert training in order to become virtuous, that people and do this on their own. And there's no big mystery about it. The Institute directly work with teachers to cultivate virtues in schools. And so much of it is common sense. I mean there's just a lot of commonsensicalness about virtue development that is built into the, and you know, teachers when they first approached this work, they're a little skiddish and then they figure out, well, this is what we do anyway.

Nancy Snow (45:39):

Which is true. I mean, good teachers already teach virtue. Good people are already virtuous. It's, it's thinking about it and deliberating about it, you know, finding out why you want to be this way. What are the benefits what are your values and beliefs? I mean, it's just adding a sort of layer of re reflection onto what people are already doing that I think is, would be needed today. And I also, you know, want to say that I think that in sort of the, the sort of self-help literature that we find out there, there's a certain superficiality that abounds. I mean, we have books like, I don't know, seven habits to highly effective people. I don't know. There's always a number. It's like three, five, seven, you know, it's kind of a checklist. Do this, do that, do the other thing, you'll be fine. Well, it's not so easy, right?

Nancy Snow (46:27):

I mean, you do have to think about what you do. You do have to reflect, but it's not so the hardest to be impossible. It's just that we have to slow down a little bit and take some time to think about our lives and think about it in the context of, Oh, what I would call profound ideas. So, you know, I don't think it hurts whatsoever for people to pick up one of the great books and read it and find out about characters from literature or even look at the Nicomachean ethics and see what they can make of it or look at the Bible. Right? So I think personally, instead of getting these self help books that are coming out, what people should do is take a look at great literature and be inspired by the characters of the past. Or are the parables of the Bible or you know, even philosophy. Yeah.

Amber Cazzell (47:18):

Yeah. And I, you'd mentioned your work with the center. I'd love to hear more about that and what you are working on now and how you are, I mean you really are applying these concepts into the real world and trying to make lives better out there.

Nancy Snow (47:38):

What we've been doing most recently is working with schools here in Norman. So we have six schools in Norman, Oklahoma, six public schools, and we partner with them. And what we've been doing is preparing some guides, like we're preparing a teacher's guide to civic virtues and we'll be preparing a teacher's guide to intellectual and civic virtues that teachers can use these exercises in the classroom with the work they already do. So we don't want to be one more thing that teachers have to add onto what they're already doing. And we don't want to be the next big thing either because there are lots of fads in education. So our philosophy is that good teachers already teach virtue, and so let's bring it to conscious awareness and make it more deliberate for that. Provide them with resources and guidance and help them do that. And we're also working with the Oklahoma center for nonprofits who are giving workshops to nonprofit leaders.

Nancy Snow (48:34):

And I did co, you know, did a couple of workshops with some of the folks from the Oklahoma center for nonprofits and other doing it on their own. So you know, some of these virtues, there is a very high level of theoretical development in philosophy and psychology, but that's not needed in the workplace or in teaching in schools. What they need is more hands on sort of resources. So that's what we're trying to develop and to give them enough of a flavor of what virtue is and it's a highly intuitive sort of thing. So it's not really all that difficult, you know, once you get used to what you're doing.

Amber Cazzell (49:12):

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, so do you, I mean you said you kind of come alongside what teachers are doing already. Do you use this concept of goal striving in those materials that you give them?

Nancy Snow (49:26):

I would have to check because there's a lot of material in there, but I mean, part of the, part of the framework is goal striving. And so, you know, there are exercises, class exercises in which, you know, some sort of a goal is postulated and then the, you know, the, the students would be challenged to say, well, you know, how would civility come up in achieving this goal or how it fairness come up into achieving this goal? Or what do you think civility and fairness mean, that sort of thing. One of the art teachers at Norman high school had a wonderful, wonderful exercise in which she asked students to paint a picture of portraying civility. And some of the students, at least one of them, you know, had depicted a, an individual going to the library and looking up civility, right. And finding out what civility is. So typically what I do is I give the, we give them materials to teachers and they run with it and they have run with it in ways that I never could possibly have imagined. So, you know, they, they know what they're doing, they really do. So that's a fundamental basis of respect that I have for them.

Amber Cazzell (50:33):

Yeah. Very cool. All right. Well Nancy, thank you so much for your time. Thank you so much for going through, gosh, I think quite a few threads of your, of your work that kind of coalesced into this conversation. I appreciate it a lot and I look forward to the book that's going to be coming out soon.

Nancy Snow (50:55):

Okay. Well thank you very much, Amber, for your invitation.


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