Academic Year Seminars

Case_for_GreatnessAmbition: Intellectual, Moral, Political
R. J. Snell, The Witherspoon Institute

In this year-long seminar we study and challenge the ironism found in both society and the university, exploring the intellectual, moral, and political foundations for a healthy and reasonable ambition, including the quests for truth, free society, and statesmanship. We orbit around Robert Faulkner’s The Case for Greatness: supplementing this with readings on political glory and fame in Machiavelli, Nietzsche, Aristotle, Seneca, Montaigne, Josef Pieper, Aquinas, Tocqueville, and the life of George Washington. Professor Faulkner will lead one of the sessions. In addition, 4-5 Princeton faculty will be hosted for dinner and conversation about topics related to ambition in their own writings/research and how they think about ambition as individuals. Finally, we plan on two excursions for cultural events, both including great works of art, and dinner and conversation with leaders in business and finance.

Open to all Princeton undergraduates, the seminar will meet twice per month on Fridays, 1:00-3:00pm. For more information, contact at R. J. Snell at


Christianity, Open-Mindedness, and the Intellectual Virtues
John Rose, Princeton Theological Seminary

This reading group will discuss texts and themes that address, directly or indirectly, the place and proper identities of particular academic virtues in the Christian tradition. Using philosophy (mostly Aristotle) and theology (drawing heavily on Augustine and Aquinas), the group will take up such questions as: What is the connection between open-mindedness (or its absence) and social segregation along ideological lines and what are the costs of such social segregation? What is the difference between true and false intellectual humility? Under what definitions would open-mindedness be (and not be) a bone fide virtue—in virtue ethics parlance, what are its “semblances” (e.g. strong fallibilism)? What changes do the infusion of the theological virtues make to the academic virtues such as intellectual charity? Is it a sin to be intellectually boring?

As a result of working through these hard questions, the group members will ideally become better academic citizens, become more effective at handling disagreement with others, gain a better understanding of how these intellectual virtues should relate to their own identities, and perhaps even become more intellectually virtuous themselves.

Open to Princeton graduate students. For more information, contact John Rose at


dante-beatific-visionIncommensurability and the Final End
Greg Brown, The Witherspoon Institute

This two-semester seminar aims to probe a few questions about the pursuit of the good. Specifically, do humans have a single final end, a summum bonum, and if so, what is it? How is it related, or how would it have to be related, to the contingent but real goods enjoyed during the course of ordinary life? Does it make sense to say that some kinds or instances of goods are better than others? If not, how can moral decisions be made? The seminar will approach these questions through texts from Aristotle, on the nature of happiness and the final end, from Aquinas, on beatitude and the natural law, from recent philosophers working broadly in the same tradition.

In addition to familiarizing participants with the “topography” of these issues and introducing them to potential avenues of study, the seminar is intended to be open-ended and constructive. Students will participate in a dialogue initiated by the classical texts and continued by recent commentators with a joint aim of moving toward the truth.

This seminar is open to select Princeton undergraduates and will meet Fridays from 1:00 to 3:00 pm. For more information, contact Greg Brown at