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Herdt Challenges How Freedom and Virtue Exist Together at Orr Forum

Byline: by Shin Young Lee

Posted: July 8, 2012

A woman with curly brown hair sat on a chair in the Harry R. Brooks Complex for Science, Mathematics and Technology's auditorium. Her purple jacket and scarf matched well and looked cozy. Her dark brown eyes focused on her book. She raised her frameless eyeglasses. She seemed to be reading a serious journal. She looked like the perfect image of a college professor. Who is she?

"Hello, I’m Jennifer Herdt." She stood up and walked toward to the podium. Her face appeared friendly and she had a nice, big smile. She is a professor of religion and ethics at Yale University. Herdt was a guest speaker for the Orr Forum 2012. She studies early-modern and modern moral thought, classical and contemporary virtue ethics and contemporary Protestant social ethics and political theology.

Asst. Prof. of Religion, David True invited Herdt. "She had recently written a highly acclaimed book on virtue ethics, the resurgence of which has been a significant trend in religious ethics and philosophy," he continued. "I also thought her work on tradition and authenticity spoke to the core of Wilson’s identity and mission," True said.

As an annual event, this year’s Orr Forum held three sessions on Mon, April 16 and Tues, April 17.

A conflicting identity from tradition and autonomy

The Orr Forum focused on Herdt’s question: "Two values, tradition and autonomy, often make for creativity, but they also make for tension and even confusion about our identity. How do we pursue our own dreams or a sense of calling and embrace a tradition? How do we practice critical thinking as a member of multiple traditions?"

The gap between self-directed life and tradition was the most interesting concept for the audience who were community members and students.

"I feel like individual’s freedom and doing good things, I mean virtue, are sometimes contradictory. But true virtue doesn’t conflict according to her [Herdt]," Jamie Race ‘15 said.

Herdt’s thesis was advice for students. "I like the words ‘Look beyond self-interest.’ There is no perfect way to get a perfect virtue. It is up to my self-discovery. I believe we avoid extremes, as she said," Race reflected.

The Orr Forum gives students and community members an opportunity for critical thinking. "Given that religion is sometimes too controversial for polite conversation or anti-intellectual, the Orr Forum is to my thinking a special practice that brings its own intrinsic rewards," True said.

Last Updated: February 23, 2013

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