Veritas Forum: Laurie Santos
& Jennifer Frey
#GOALS: Life Hacks, Moral Virtues, and the Desire for Happiness
This is a free event. Tickets may be reserved at www.veritas.org.
Yale’s most popular class to date, “Psychology and the Good Life,” has captured the attention of not only the Yale campus, but also of the nation. And yet we cannot be surprised at the interest in this class on happiness, not when the 50%+ of Yale students seeking treatment for mental health issues is but a microcosm of the spiking trend in depression and anxiety we see sweeping across the entire nation. This trend is revelatory: despite our innate human desire to live a “good life,” we are demonstrably inept at knowing what is good for us, remaining unhappy amidst all our various pleasures. What is the reason for our unhappiness? How do we grapple with the subtle but nagging feeling of unhappiness—or the uglier, more visceral reality of evil? Does practicing virtue under the guise of religion offer just one among many means of coping with unhappiness, or does it teach something different altogether? In this year’s Veritas Forum at Yale, we’re joining in this important and timely conversation on Yale’s campus, exploring the role that moral virtue plays in pursuit of the good life. Dr. Laurie Santos, professor of Yale’s “Psychology and the Good Life,” and Dr. Jennifer Frey, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina, will discuss whether moral virtue, religious belief, and religious practice are superfluous to the good life—or possibly essential to it.
Laurie Santos: Professor of Psychology at Yale University
Laurie Santos received her Ph.D. in Psychology, with a focus on Cognition, Brain & Behavior, from Harvard University in 2003. Laurie’s research explores an age-old question: what makes the human mind unique? She and her research team test this question by studying the cognitive capacities of non-human animals. By comparing the cognitive abilities of non-human animals to those of humans, they are attempting to determine which domains of knowledge are unique to the human mind. At the Canine and Primate Laboratory (aka CapLab), Laurie and her team study the origins of human cognition by focusing on two different groups of non-human animals. First, they test the phylogenetic origins of human cognition by studying our closest living evolutionary relatives, the non-human primates. By testing field-living non-human primates using methods from cognitive development, it is possible to directly compare the capacities of non-linguistic primates with those of preverbal human infants. In addition, their lab tests the role of human experience by testing the non-human species that lives most closely with humans: the domesticated dog. By studying dog cognition and comparing it to that of other canids, they explore the role of experience in a species built to pick up on human cues and training. Some of their current projects explore whether non-human animals possess aspects of a human-like a theory of mind, the representations that dogs and non-human primates reason use to navigate cooperative and moral problems, the nature of human-unique constraints on pedagogy and social-learning in non-human animals, and whether other animals share human-like decision-making biases. Laurie’s research interests include the evolutionary origins of human cognition, core knowledge of physical and social cognition in human infants and other animals, the origins of decision-making heuristics and biases, social cognition and theory of mind in non-human primates, inequity aversions and moral cognition in non-human primates, and social cognition and theory of mind in domesticated dogs.
Jennifer Frey: Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of South Carolina
Jennifer Frey is currently an assistant professor in the philosophy department at the University of South Carolina. Prior to joining the philosophy faculty at UofSC, she was a Collegiate Assistant Professor of Humanities at the University of Chicago, where she was a member of the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts and an affiliated faculty in the philosophy department. She earned her PhD in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, where she worked under the direction of Michael Thompson and John McDowell. She earned her B.A. in Philosophy and Medieval Studies (with Classics minor) at Indiana University-Bloomington. Jennifer’s research lies at the intersection of philosophy of action, ethics and meta-ethics. She is the co-PI on a major three year research project, titled “Virtue, Happiness, and Meaning of Life.” She has further research interests in the history of ethics, especially medieval and early modern. She is also doing some work at the intersection of philosophy of action and the philosophy of law. The philosophers who have most positively influenced her work are the three A’s: Aristotle, Aquinas, and Anscombe. In spite of her better judgment, she is also obsessed with Kant.