I am an ethicist who works across the boundaries of moral, political, legal, environmental, and educational philosophy, often in ways grounded in my scholarship in ancient Greek philosophy and often collaboratively with colleagues in other disciplines, including law, history, sociology, psychology, psychometrics, and geology. Moral psychological constructs that are important to the fabric of society have long been at or near the center of my interests: well-being, responsibility, negligence (as a legal construct and basis of liability), virtues, rational self-determination, and forms of impaired agency such as weakness of will and states of denial. My 2000 book, Aristotle on the Necessity of Public Education, was a unitary interpretation of Aristotle’s Politics and Nicomachean Ethics, but substantively very much about responsibility and the relationships between education and law. My 2017 book, Living Well Now and in the Future: Why Sustainability Matters, advances a conception of human flourishing or living well that can ground a eudaimonic theory of justice and support a conceptualization of what it would mean to preserve opportunities to live well across generations.
Living Well Now and in the Future: Why Sustainability Matters (MIT Press, 2017)
Aristotle on the Necessity of Public Education (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000).
(Editor) A Companion to the Philosophy of Education (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2003; 2006; Shanghai: East China Normal UP, 2011, Simplified Character Chinese Edition, transl. Peng Zhengmei).
Some Recent Papers
“What Humans Need: Flourishing in Aristotelian Philosophy and Self-Determination Theory,” (R. M. Ryan, R. R. Curren, and E. L. Deci), in Alan S. Waterman, ed., The Best Within Us: Positive Psychology Perspectives on Eudaimonia (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2013), pp. 57-75. This is the paper in which many years of conversations with Rich Ryan began to bear fruit. Rich and Ed, the founders of SDT, describe their theory as a form of eudaimonistic psychology, and they had been engaged in mining Aristotle’s works for testable hypotheses before I began working with them. This paper, written for an APA volume on positive psychology, provides an overview of SDT’s conceptualization of eudaimonic living as revolving around the “positive” fulfillments of human potential in activities that satisfy basic, universal psychological needs for competence, relatedness, and self-determination. I developed and refined the philosophical material, instigated the clarification of some pivotal constructs, and introduced the idea that the satisfaction of each basic psychological need is linked to and marks the fulfillment of a related specific form of human potential. The innovation helps explain why there would be exactly these three needs and why the satisfaction of all three proves to be essential to psychological wellness, positive affect, and satisfaction.
“Aristotelian Necessities,” The Good Society 22(2) (Fall 2013): 247-63; http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/goodsociety.22.2.0247. Drawing on my collaborations in eudaimonistic psychology and the unitary reading of Aristotle’s political science (aka, Politics and Nicomachean Ethics) that I developed in Aristotle on the Necessity of Public Education (2000), I sketch a eudaimonic contractualist theory of justice. It exploits Rawls’s allowance that robust findings in psychology and other sciences are knowable behind the veil of ignorance, and in that way justifies the deployment of claims about human nature and needs in Original Position deliberations about the principles on which just institutions would operate. The theory identifies the three basic, universal psychological needs identified by SDT as “felt Aristotelian necessities” for living well, and makes this a cornerstone of an alternative to Nussbaum’s version of the Capability Approach – also a liberal (freedom-respecting) form of eudaimonism, but a philosophically and textually more attractive rendering of justice as a fair terms of cooperation in living the good or eudaimonic lives Aristotle says we all aspire to live.
“Judgment and the Aims of Education,” Social Philosophy & Policy 31(1) (Fall 2014): 36-59; http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0265052514000107. This paper defends the ancient idea that cultivation of broadly informed good judgment should be regarded as an important, culminating aim of education. That said, it wrestles with what can be saved of this ideal in a world in which the proliferation of esoteric branches of learning and correspondingly complex built environments seem to push its attainment ever further out of reach. This is the most epistemically focused paper I have written, but its attention to sustainability, complexity, and the idea of an epistemically well-ordered society reflect my ongoing concern with the epistemic dimensions of environmental justice and sustainability.
“Motivational Aspects of Moral Learning and Progress,” Journal of Moral Education43(4) (Dec. 2014): 484-499; http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03057240.2014.935306. This is a paper about the possibility of moral progress, and the ways in which the social context of moral learning may shape and limit moral cognition and motivation. Focusing on the motivational core of the puzzle, I show how Self-Determination Theory (SDT) – a systematic body of theory and research in motivational psychology – sheds light on how moral progress is possible and how education can best facilitate such progress.
“Can Virtue be Measured?” (R. Curren & B. Kotzee), Theory and Research in Education12(3) (Nov. 2014): 266-283; http://tre.sagepub.com/content/12/3/266.full.pdf?ijkey=MbMbGMW0KYUrIaK&keytype=ref. This is a revision of my January 2014 JVCC conference keynote lecture, defending a psychological realist and non-reductive stance toward character attributes and their measurement. We explore some general considerations bearing on the question of whether virtue can be measured, including some psychometric fundamentals and the prospective contexts of, and purposes for, measuring or evaluating virtue.
“A Virtue Theory of Moral Motivation,” Varieties of Virtue Ethics in Philosophy, Social Science and Theology Conference, Oriel College, Oxford, January 8-10, 2015;http://www.jubileecentre.ac.uk/userfiles/jubileecentre/pdf/conference-papers/Varieties_of_Virtue_Ethics/Curren_Randall.pdf. This paper sketches a theory of the nature of moral motivation form a virtue-theoretic perspective. Whether it is a virtue ethical perspective is debatable, because I do not regard correctness of action as in any way parasitic on being virtuously motivated. I show how an intuitive but strangely neglected conception of moral motivation can be developed and grounded in the best available science of human motivation.