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Minors and Programs: Phronesis

Phronesis Lectures,  from Economics to Fairness

by Safa Ansari-Bayegan, Kelly Campbell, and Emily Zinsitz

This spring, the Phronesis Program concluded the “Progressivism and Conservatism in America” series with a lecture by William Galston, a former advisor to President Clinton, and introduced a new series titled “Economic Crisis: Causes, Consequences, and Remedies,” which welcomed guest lecturers Menzie Chinn, of the University of Wisconsin and John Allison, former CEO of Branch Banking and Trust and Professor of Practice at Wake Forest University’s School of Business. Audiences at the events were large and involved, and reactions to the lectures were thoughtful. Kelly Campbell, Phronesis Fellow and economics major, said that in both lecture series, “in a logical and straightforward way, the speakers presented the basic errors of many politicians and economists alike.” This lecture series will continue in the fall; the first lecturer will be Stephen Rose from Georgetown, who will speak about income inequality in the U.S.; Lawrence White, from George Mason University, will speak about his book The Clash of Economic Ideas in the spring.

Capping off the academic year, Lence Master Teacher Robert Bartlett brought the dialogues about American conservatism and progressivism and the current economic crisis back to their theoretical roots in a discussion of his new translation of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics with co-translator and director of the Phronesis Program, Dr. Sue Collins

Collins and BartlettThe topic, translating the Ethics in the Modern Age, provided insight into the process of translation, the careful and sometimes contentious selection of particular English terms that best embody ancient ideas, and the effort to make the translation literal while maintaining readability for the modern audience. The talk, including an extended question and answer session with the translators, was particularly effective, allowing students and professors to speak directly with Bartlett and Collins and drawing out not only the specifics of the translation, but also some of the behind-the-scenes anecdotes that contributed humor and color to the event. 

As part of his residency, Professor Bartlett also gave a lecture on ancient and modern thinkers’ attempts to address the problem of chance. The residency concluded with the Lence dinner, at which Bartlett’s keynote on the Five Essential Questions of Liberal Education discussed the importance of liberal education in taking up the questions of love, death, justice, friendship, and God at the heart of human experience. Phronesis Fellow Emily Zinsitz said, “In his lectures, he brought the ancient perspective to life, showing its relevance to the issues that challenge the political and academic world today.”

In the fall, Phronesis and the Hobby Center of Public Policy will kick off a new lecture series titled “What’s Fair? A Lecture Series on Justice and Desert in America.” A great debate is underway in America today about what’s fair: from economic policy and political disputes to educational reforms and the courts, Americans disagree about fairness, asking who deserves what and on what grounds. This debate involves many vexing questions, including: What is a just tax code? What is the right structure of social benefits? Should self-interest be our guide or do we have duties to our fellow citizens? Which punishments are deserved for what crimes? Does our constitutional order achieve political justice? This lecture series brings speakers from different disciplinary backgrounds and points of view to the University of Houston to explore the question of fairness, including Paul Woodruff (ancient philosophy at UT Austin), Ruth Grant (political theory at Duke University), John Tomasi (political theory at Brown University), and Thomas Hurka (moral philosophy at the University of Toronto). Other upcoming planned speakers include author and columnist Anne Applebaum, who will speak on totalitarianism, and Michael Sandel, a well-known political theorist from Harvard University. Finally, in October, Phronesis is co-sponsoring with the Department of Political Science an event on the civil rights movement at the University of Houston, featuring Attica Locke’s novel Blackwater Rising, and a discussion with Gene Locke, a leader of the movement at UH, and others involved with civil rights at the University and in the city.