Practicing Science: Virtues, Values, and the Good Life



August 9-12, 2018

Trafalgar Square

Over the last several decades, virtue has attracted increased attention from philosophers, theologians, and psychologists. However, little of this research has attended to the development and function of virtue within scientific research and practice. This lacuna is surprising given that science has been linked with virtue for much of its history. Philosophers from ancient Greece through to the medieval period saw the study of the natural world as a means to develop particular intellectual and moral virtues. Although the conception of science changed dramatically during the early modern period, scholars continued to see such ties well into the nineteenth century; the study and practice of scientific research was understood both to demand certain virtues and simultaneously to cultivate those virtues. While the language of virtue largely disappeared from discussions of science in the twentieth century, closer inspection reveals that moral dispositions and judgments continue to play a significant role in scientific practice (though perhaps in quite different ways), and that scientists continue to value specific cognitive and behavioral dispositions.

Since 2016, a multi-disciplinary research team at the University of Notre Dame, led by Celia Deane-Drummond, Darcia Narvaez, and Thomas Stapleford and supported by the Templeton Religion Trust, has been exploring the relationship between virtue and scientific practice with a particular focus on laboratory research in biology. As the Developing Virtues in the Practice of Science project draws to a close, we invite other interested scholars to join us to continue the conversation. Potential research questions to be addressed include: How can the language of virtue enrich, change, or challenge our understanding of science? Does the contemporary practice of scientific research require or bolster certain virtues (or vices)? How can ideas drawn from virtue ethics or virtue epistemology illuminate (and perhaps improve) the training and mentoring of scientists?

The conference will include a film screening of Cosmos and Creation: A Twelfth-Century Model, which is based on the art, music, science, and theology of Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179). This interdisciplinary model explores the ways a highly-learned nun viewed the cosmos and how it was made, following the “days” of creation as found in Genesis 1. This digital model uses images found in a spectacularly illuminated copy of Hildegard’s first major treatise, Scivias, and works with her ideas about teaching and learning, as well as featuring selections from her chants sung by students in Notre Dame's Program in Sacred Music. The model has been created by Margot Fassler (Keough-Hesburgh Professor of Music History and Liturgy) and digital artist Christian Jara. This thirty-five-minute full-dome digital model uses Hildegard’s visions of creation and cosmos as expressed in the pages of medieval manuscripts to explore scientific thought in another age using twenty-first-century media. It is supported by funds from the Notre Dame College of Arts and Letters, Notre Dame Research, an ACLS Digital Innovation Fellowship, and the Guggenheim Foundation, which has supported Fassler’s forthcoming book on the subject.  


  • Kristján Kristjánsson, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, University of Birmingham
  • Andrew Pinsent, Ian Ramsey Centre for Science & Religion, University of Oxford
  • Michael Spezio, Scripps College
  • Matthew Stanley, Gallatin School of Individualized Study, New York University

Panelists & Discussants

  • Anna Abram, Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology 
  • Markus Christen, University of Zürich
  • Fern Elsdon-Baker, Newman University
  • Don Howard, University of Notre Dame
  • Antje Jackelén, Lutheran Archbishop of Uppsala and Primate of the Church of Sweden
  • Gerald McKenny, University of Notre Dame
  • Darcia Narvaez, University of Notre Dame
  • Michael Welker, Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg


Notre Dame London Global Gateway

University of Notre Dame (U.S.A.) in England
1-4 Suffolk Street
London, SW1Y 4HG


The registration fee includes evening receptions, coffee/tea breaks, lunch on Friday, and the opportunity to attend a special screening of Cosmos and Creation: A Twelfth-Century Model at the Peter Harris Planetarium.

($100 general / $50 postdoctoral fellows / $25 students)

Registration will close July 1, 2018. UPDATED DEADLINE: July 8

Register Now

Tentative Schedule

Thursday, August 9, 2018

15:30 Arrivals and Registration

16:30 Welcome and Introduction

16:45 Break

17:00 Public Lecture 1: Matthew Stanley, "The Virtue of Productive Uncertainty, or, What to Do When You Don’t Know Something"

          Response: Don Howard

18:30 Reception

Friday, August 10, 2018

09:00 Panel Session

10:15 Break

10:45 Keynote Address: Michael Spezio, "Empathy in Virtuous Community: Insights from Computational, Cognitive, and Brain Sciences"

12:15 Lunch
13:15 Parallel Paper Session 1

16:00 Public Lecture 2: Andrew Pinsent, "A Fragile Inheritance: Science, Truth, and the Broken Covenant" 

          Response: Antje Jackelén

19:00 Film and Reception: Cosmos and Creation: A Twelfth-Century Model 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

09:30 Plenary Paper Session

10:50 Break

11:15 Parallel Paper Session 2

12:45 Break

16:30 Public Lecture 3: Kristján Kristjánsson, "Scientific Practice, Wonder and Awe"

          Response: Darcia Narvaez

18:00 Reception

Sunday, August 12, 2018

09:00 Parallel Paper Session 3

10:30 Break

10:40 Concluding Panel: Anna Abram, Fern Elsdon-Baker, Gerald McKenny, Michael Welker

12:30 Departures
12:30 Mass (optional)


Christina Leblang, Project Program Manager

This conference is made possible by support from the Templeton Religion Trust.