I survived hosting our conference, thanks to the able and efficient assistance of our PR Office, housekeeping crew, and food service (great lunch!). I enjoyed reconnecting with old friends, including one I hadn’t seen since 1979. The Oglethorpe and Berry students and alumni acquitted themselves well as presenters, commentators, and questioners.
From my rather idiosyncratic point of view, the two most interesting issues broached during the course of the day were these. First, while many argue that liberal education is in substantial tension with civic education (raising and examining questions that the latter has to regard on some level as settled or closed), is it not the case that the former depends upon the latter, not only materially but intellectually? We always begin within an horizon constituted by moral and civic education, even if we engage with it critically. And our critical engagement itself can’t be sustained unless its material conditions are protected. We professors and students can’t do what we do without those who are protecting our freedom. I’m always grateful for the risks they take and the sacrifices they make.
The second issue, which hovered around the whole conference was crystallized by a question Peter Lawler posed to our Cicero’s Podium debaters (video will be posted soon at this site). Jim Stoner and Jerry Weinberger agreed that a free society requires something, Jim arguing for the traditional virtues (courage, moderation, justice, and prudence) and Jerry for self-interest properly understood, which is to say somewhat as Benjamin Franklin would have understood it. Both conceptions of "virtue" seem to operate within an horizon that recognizes human finitude, but Franklin and modern biotechnology both look forward to the infinite expansion of human life and power. Would the freedom from human limitations promised by biotechnology liberate us as well from the demand to be virtuous, certainly in Stoner’s but also in Weinberger’s sense? If we become creators, not creatures, above all, why must we be courageous, moderate, just, and prudent? If we explode all our limitations, what would it mean to understand our self-interest properly? Good questions.