Virtues of greatness: ​approaches to the past and present of magnanimity

Kingfisher Room, Peter Scott House, University of Birmingham
Saturday 21 January (09:45) - Sunday 22 January 2017 (17:30)

For further information about the conference content please contact Sophia Vasalou (

For questions relating to registration and logistical queries please contact Tamsin Cross ( 


Join the Department of Theology and Religion to explore the complexities of magnanimity.

Magnanimity is a virtue that has led many lives. Foregrounded early on by Plato as the philosophical virtue par excellence, it was inscribed in bold into the ethical life by Aristotle when he designated it as the “ornament” of the virtues, and it was accorded an equally central position by many of the ancient schools.

One of the most distinctive elements of the ancient tradition to filter into the medieval Islamic and Christian worlds, it would spark important intellectual engagements there and continue life in several of the later philosophies to inherit the traits of this tradition, even as the vocabulary in which they were expressed underwent multiple shifts. Inflected as “generosity,” Descartes would make it pivotal to his ethical theory, on one view identifying it with virtue itself. Inflected as “greatness of mind,” Hume would give it a critical place among his ethical ideals. Under different inflections, under different guises, it would continue to breathe in the philosophies of Kant, Nietzsche, and their successors.

Its many lives have been joined by important continuities. Yet they have also been fractured by important discontinuities—discontinuities reflecting crucial shifts in ethical perspectives and competing answers to larger questions about the nature of the good life, the moral nature of human beings, and their relationship to the social and natural world they inhabit. They have also been punctuated by moments of intense controversy in which the greatness of this virtue of greatness has been repeatedly called into question.

The aim of this conference is to provide a window to the complex life of a virtue whose glitter has at times been as heady as it has been divisive. By exploring the many lives it has lived and the themes and contexts that have shaped it, we will be in a better position to assess its enduring ethical claims.

This event has been made possible by the generous support of the British Academy, the Mind Association, the British Society for the History of Philosophy, and the College of Arts and Law at the University of Birmingham.


  • Terence Irwin, University of Oxford
  • Christopher Gill, University of Exeter
  • Jennifer Herdt, Yale University
  • John Marenbon, Trinity College, Cambridge
  • Sophia Vasalou, University of Birmingham
  • Michael Moriarty, University of Cambridge
  • Ryan Hanley, Marquette University
  • Emily Brady, University of Edinburgh
  • Andrew Huddleston, Birkbeck, University of London
  • Kristjàn Kristjànsson, University of Birmingham
  • Robert Roberts, Baylor University/University of Birmingham

 Anyone with an interest in the virtues is warmly welcome to attend.


​The registration fee for the two-day event is £25. This price includes refreshments and lunches.

​A limited number of tickets are available at the reduced rate of £10 for graduate students. In addition, up to four free tickets are available for graduate students who can commit to writing a brief reflection piece about the event (circa 500 words) to be published on the conference website. Please get in touch with the organiser, Sophia Vasalou (, if you would like to apply for a free place. 

Members of the British Society for the History of Philosophy are entitled to a 10% discount on the standard fee. 

You can register for the conference via the University of Birmingham online shopRegistration will remain open until 16 January 2017.

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For further information, please visit the conference website:

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