Upcoming Events Santa Barbara

Endless Happiness: Confessions of a Recovering Addict 889 1024 Tom Carlson

Endless Happiness: Confessions of a Recovering Addict

November 1, 2019 at 2 p.m.

Robertson Gymnasium 1000A

I set out to write about how to be happy, and my questions about happiness led me to a consideration of addiction because I began to notice a fundamental similarity: Like addicts, we mortals suffer a dependence on finite substances for our happiness, and their passing away always brings a comedown. To think through the implications of this parallel, I went to Augustine’s Confessions—one of the most poignant and impactful reflections on the relationship between death and happiness in the Western tradition. My original research question, “What does it mean for a human to be happy?” transformed through my readings of Augustine into “If being human is a ‘condition’, then what are its symptoms, and, furthermore, what would it mean to recover from it?” In this essay, “Endless Happiness,” I analyze Augustine’s own attempt to come to terms with the fact that, for us mortals, being happy means having something to lose.


Luke McCracken is a PhD student in Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, specializing in existential philosophy and the history of Christian thought. His research focuses on questions of happiness, mortality, coping with loss, and nihilism. His published work includes, most recently, an article with the Journal of Cultural and Religious Theory, “A Note on Pre-Positions: Methodology in the Continental Philosophy of Religion,” and a translation of Emmanuel Falque’s The Loving Struggle: Phenomenological and Theological Debates.

With the World at Heart: Studies in the Secular Today 682 1024 Tom Carlson

With the World at Heart: Studies in the Secular Today

October 18, 2019 at 2 p.m.

Robertson Gymnasium 1000A

Based on a reading of key chapters from Thomas A. Carlson’s With the World at Heart: Studies in the Secular Today (University of Chicago Press, 2019), and touching on a range of thinkers from Saint Augustine through Martin Heidegger to more recent theorists of “secularization,” this seminar discussion with the author will aim to explore and elucidate 1) the different understandings of time—and especially of the future—that most decisively shape contemporary debate about the meaning of “secular” modernity; 2) the role of human affection, and of love specifically, in the human enterprise of world-building; and 3) the work of education in shaping our affective relations to the world and its futures.

The seminar will be followed by a reception.


Thomas Carlson, With the World at Heart: Studies in the Secular Today, Introduction, Ch. 5, Ch. 7 & Conclusion.

Those pressed for time should focus on Chapter 5 and the concluding “Last Look.”

For those interested, the entire book is available on reserve in the Davidson Library under the call number BD 436 .C375 2019.

The Law and Love in Schelling’s Pauline Anthropology 460 288 Tom Carlson

The Law and Love in Schelling’s Pauline Anthropology

May 31, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.

Robertson Gymnasium 1000A

Schelling’s late philosophy is rightly held to have a strong, if not simply one-dimensional, connection to the question of the religious, and a particular investment in Christianity. Here I will investigate one particular aspect of that connection: Schelling’s philosophical reappropriation of the Pauline critique of the Law.

By the Law, Schelling understands the moral law, and so the condition of possibility of any universal normative ethics. Such an ethics, Schelling seeks to show, is irreconcilably at odds with the concept of personhood. But only as persons can we hope to live lives well-pleasing to God – lives, that is, in which our estrangement from the world, our fellow man, and God is overcome. It is thus only by striving to establish a relationship from person to person, from individual seeker to personal God, that consciousness can hope to be reunited with God in actuality and attain what one might call blessedness or, in more everyday terms, genuine happiness.

Schelling’s Pauline anthropology thus forms the hinge between the two halves of his late system, that is, between his purely rational, a priori negative philosophy on the one hand, and the historical movement which consciousness goes through in its relation to the divine in his so-called positive philosophy on the other. This anthropology, elaborated in the 24th lecture of the late text known as the Philosophical Introduction to the Philosophy of Mythology, thus forms not merely a poignant but a privileged site for thinking through what meaning the religious has for Schelling’s metaphysical and ethical thought.


Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, Philosophical Introduction to the Philosophy of Mythology, Lecture 24.

A Defense of Reading at the End of the World 795 1024 Tom Carlson

A Defense of Reading at the End of the World

May 13, 2019 at 2:30 p.m.

Robertson Gymnasium 1000A

In 1936, Wallace Stevens argued for the need for a poetic response to the crises of his age, writing that “[t]he poet who wishes to contemplate the good in the midst of confusion is like the mystic who wishes to contemplate God in the midst of evil.” And what of the prosaic academic who wishes to read literature in the midst of our contemporary crises? In my talk I will present a theory of literature and reading as a mode of knowing the (normative, narrative, and historical) conditions of our humanity, based on Michael Polanyi’s work on tacit knowledge and his conception of reality as the condition of inquiry and discovery. I then invite seminar participants to collaborate in putting this theory into practice with a consideration of Robert Lowell’s apocalyptic 1946 poem “The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket.”


Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension, Ch. 1 (“Tacit Knowing”), pp. 1-26.
Robert Lowell, “The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket.”


Michael Polanyi, “Meaning” Lectures 1 (“From Perception to Metaphor“) and 2 (“Works of Art“).

Lindsay Atnip is a PhD candidate in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. Her recently-submitted dissertation is entitled “From Tragic Form to Apocalyptic Reality in Four American Works: Toward an Epistemological Theory and Practice of Reading.” She also teaches in the University of Chicago Graham School’s Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults.

Lee Bontecou, Sixth Stone I, 1964. Color lithograph on paper, 93 x 71.

The Ethics of Powerlessness 700 525 Tom Carlson

The Ethics of Powerlessness

Keynote Presentations

Tuesday, April 16
Robertson Gymnasium 1000A, 4 pm

The Idea of the Theological Virtues   
Daniel Watts, University of Essex

The doctrine of the theological virtues holds that faith, hope and love are virtues of a special kind. Being divine gifts, and directed towards our supernatural telos, these virtues differ in kind from those on the classical lists, not least the ones Aquinas called ‘cardinal’. This doctrine gives rise to a dilemma. Either the theological virtues are capable of being cultivated through human agency, in which case they do not in this respect differ in kind from those on the classical lists – or they are incapable of being cultivated through human agency, in which case they are not really human virtues. In this paper, I chart possible responses to this dilemma and advance what I call a non-theological solution to the problem it articulates. Developing Alasdair MacIntyre’s notion of ‘virtues of acknowledged dependence’, I argue that there is a cogent way of thinking of faith, hope and love as virtues of a kind, without recourse to Aquinas’ views about human teleology or to any special theory of divine agency. On the approach I develop, faith, hope and love are virtues of a kind because of the way in which they express the distinctive stance involved in owning up to our human dependence and vulnerability. My overall aim is to show that ethicists still have much to learn from the idea of the theological virtues, even if they do not accept the Thomistic framework in which this idea is traditionally advanced.

Wednesday, April 17
Robertson Gymnasium 1000A, 10 am

Love’s Telos: Kierkegaard’s Critique of Preferential Love    
Daniel Watts, University of Essex

Kierkegaard’s Works of Love is often associated with a harshly dismissive stance toward ordinary human love, as measured against an ascetic ideal of pure, Christian, non-preferential love. Despite a number of recent attempts to give it a sympathetic hearing, the worry persists that this text denigrates most what we ordinarily call love in ways that are extreme and implausible. My own view is that, on a standard, moralizing reading of Works of Love, this sort of complaint cannot be adequately answered. However, I believe that the moralizing reading misconstrues the overall structure of Kierkegaard’s critique and misses its internal character. My main aim in this paper is therefore to clarify the structure of Kierkegaard’s argument and to develop an alternative interpretative framework. While I shall not try here to offer a full defense of the standpoint of Works of Love, I do hope to indicate why stock criticisms miss their target and how this text offers a cogent overall contribution to the philosophy of love.

Presentations by Humanities & Social Change Postdoctoral Fellows

Wednesday, April 17
Robertson Gymnasium 1000A, 2-5 pm

The Problem of Inherited Guilt in Kierkegaard’s Either/Or
Simon Thornton

Autonomy, Authenticity, and Alterity
Martijn Buijs

Thursday, April 18
Robertson Gymnasium 1000A, 9-12 pm

A Leftist Turns from Marxism to the Poem: On the Soul’s Relationship to Form
Saleem Al-Bahloly

The Lament in Songs and Narratives of Slavery in the Romantic Archive
Catherene Ngoh

Some Concluding Reflections on Powerlessness

Thursday, April 18
Robertson Gymnasium 1000A, 2-5 pm

Watchfulness as a Virtue: Christian and Secular Perspectives
Daniel Watts, University of Essex

Daniel Watts is Senior Lecturer in the School of Philosophy and Art History at the University of Essex, and co-investigator on “The Ethics of Powerlessness” project. His work focuses on Søren Kierkegaard, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and the phenomenological tradition. Author of numerous articles on Kierkegaard, he is currently working on a book titled, Thinking Humanly: Kierkegaard on Subjectivity and Thought.

Regression, Ressentiment and the Crisis of Democracy 900 201 Tom Carlson

Regression, Ressentiment and the Crisis of Democracy

March 22, 2019 at 10 a.m.

Robertson Gymnasium 1000A

In this seminar discussion of her paper “Regression, Ressentiment and the Crisis of Democracy,” Rahel Jaeggi responds to the question, “Are we facing a crisis of democracy?” Engaging a range of thinkers from Friedrich Nietzsche and Max Scheler through Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno to Wendy Brown, Jaeggi argues that the crisis of democracy today is a crisis of addressing and even experiencing crisis.

Recommended Reading

Max Scheler, Ressentiment (1915).

Rahel Jaeggi is Professor of Social and Political Philosophy and Director of the Center for Humanities and Social Change at the Humboldt University of Berlin, Jaeggi is a leading voice in Critical Theory and author of numerous important works including, in English, Alienation (Columbia University Press, 2014) and Critique of Forms of Life (Harvard University Press, 2019).

Moral Grace: On K.E. Løgstrup’s Theory of Expressions of Life 816 1024 Tom Carlson

Moral Grace: On K.E. Løgstrup’s Theory of Expressions of Life

March 15, 2019 at 10 a.m.

Robertson Gymnasium 1000A

K.E. Løgstrup’s (1905-1981) signature theory of “expressions of life” represents the culmination of his ethical thought. According to this theory, some phenomena expressive of human interdependence – such as trust and compassion – are seen to be fundamental for our capacity to respond excellently to the needs of others. So construed, on Løgstrup’s view, the expressions of life provide phenomenological attestation of the possibility of agapic love.

In developing this theory, Løgstrup engaged with various philosophical and theological viewpoints, ranging from the analytic British moral philosophy of his day, through to stalwarts of the ‘continental’ tradition (such as Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Sartre), as well as with strands of dialectical theology and Lutheran natural theology that were prominent in Denmark at the time Løgstrup was writing. Unfortunately, Løgstrup’s thinking in this area remained unfinished at the time of his death. Consequently, interpreting and assessing Løgstrup’s theory of expressions of life is doubly difficult: Firstly, it demands that readers become oriented to Løgstrup’s specific way of thinking, which not only resists easy categorization into either camp of the so-called analytic/continental divide, but also resists any sharp distinction between the religious and the secular. Secondly, given its unfinished and fragmented state, Løgstrup’s theory places further interpretive burdens on the reader to parse and elucidate the sometimes under-determined and sometimes even contradictory analyses that it comprises.

Nonetheless, Løgstrup’s ethical thought is currently enjoying a revival of interest, especially within Anglo-American moral philosophy. In this revivalist spirit, I will, in this seminar, canvass one plausible interpretation of Løgstrup’s theory of expressions of life. Specifically, I will suggest that Løgstrup’s theory of expressions of life can be fruitfully understood as representing a version of moral internalism, which is in many respects comparable to that contained in the thought of Iris Murdoch. I shall term the distinctive version of moral internalism promoted by Løgstrup as moral grace. Then, I will consider two objections to Løgstrup’s theory, so interpreted: (1) I defend Løgstrup’s position against a general falsifying objection that has been levelled against moral internalism; and (2) I defuse a worry that emerges in light of this defence – namely, that Løgstrup’s theory precludes the possibility of moral progress.


K.E. Løgstrup, The Sovereign Expressions of Life” in Beyond the Ethical Demand (Notre Dame, 2007), 49-81.