Issue 4: June 2012

Letter from the Director

Dear CCSR Community,

We are delighted to announce that Steve Ellenwood has agreed to follow his 30 year career as Chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction by becoming the Faculty Director for the Center.  In that role, he intends to increase the range of professional development opportunities offered through the Center, build the role of service learning within the undergraduate curriculum in the school, and support the development of graduate programming in the areas of character and social responsibility.  In the role he will build on the wonderful traditions created by previous Directors, Kevin Ryan, Karen Bohlin, and Bernice Lerner.

This coming academic year, we are planning several events that will be of interest to many of you.

CCSR Seminar Series: Each year, the CCSR will host a series of seminars that have a particular focus.  The inaugural series will be lead by Kenn Elmore, the BU Dean of Students, called “Love and Jazz in Higher Education.”  In this series, he will lead discussion on how one approaches student affairs within a higher education setting that seeks to support the development of caring and engaged citizens.  During the 2013-14 academic year, we are looking forward to having Walter Fluker, The Martin Luther King Professor of Theology, lead a series on “Ethical Leadership.”  During the 2014-2015 academic year, we are planning a series on “The Ethics of Sustainability.”

Character and Schooling: For early January, 2013, our Coordinator of Professional Development, Samantha Rabinowicz, will be organizing an interactive workshop on an issue relevant to developing character within the context of schools.  Last January’s workshop on anti-bullying practices was a wonderful success and we are looking forward to the next one.

The Ryan Symposium: In honor of the first Director of the Center, Kevin Ryan, we have initiated an annual spring symposium with a focus on virtue ethics.  This past year we collaborated with our affiliate, the Center for Moral Science and Education at Reitaku University, to hold a symposium on Happiness as a Virtue.  We will announce next year’s focus in the September Newsletter.

Another exciting development at the CCSR has been a deepening relationship with Carl Hobert who is the Founding Director of Axis of Hope (AoH). The primary mission of AoH is to help young adolescents develop the skills they need to be effective global citizens using an engaging case study approach to understanding and resolving global, ethnic, and personal conflicts. Carl is teaching classes to BU students and is helping us expand the range of professional development offerings we have for both independent and public schools.


Hardin L. K. Coleman
Faculty Director of the Center for Character & Social Responsibility, Dean of the Boston University School of Education

Book Review: Happiness and the Universal Nature of Virtue

K. Ryan, B. Lerner, K.E. Bohlin, O. Nakayama, S. Mizuno, K. Horiuchi (eds.). 2011. Happiness and Virtue Beyond East and West: Towards a New Global Responsibility Tuttle, Tokyo. Pp. 256. ISBN 978 4 8053 1229 2 (hardback).

Happiness is enjoying something of an academic vogue. It has found its historian in Darrin McMahon – though his enterprise resolves itself, immediately and tellingly, into an account of ‘the experience of “the West”…[where happiness] has functioned above all as an idea…[born] in the ancient world of classical Greece, shaped profoundly in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, only to emerge as a radical new force during the Age of the Enlightenment…’ (2006: xiii-xiv). And so to the present, where our new century finds happiness in the process of being colonized by positive psychology which, through the work of scholars like Jonathan Haidt, has given its study and promotion a patina of (social) scientific respectability. This latest wave of interest, originating in the U.S. at the turn of the millenium, has rippled out across the Pacific and the Atlantic to lap at the door of schools: if the media is to be believed, the aspiration of Geelong Grammar in Victoria, Australia, has recently been to use the findings of this new science to become ‘the happiest school in the world,’ thereby setting in train a ‘revolution in education’; while the ‘happiness programme’ at Wellington College in Berkshire has pioneered its application in the U.K., to the point where its Master, Anthony Seldon, is promising us a book on the subject in the near future.

And whenever happiness finds a place in the sun, virtue (by which is meant good character) is sure not to be far to seek, at least if we are prepared to accept the “virtue hypothesis” (‘Cultivating virtue will make you happy’) that Haidt has discerned in the thinking of figures as diverse as Benjamin Franklin, Epicurus and the Buddha (2006: 158). Haidt, for one, believes there is much to be said in favor of the hypothesis, and while he may be chary of endorsing the prospects of any attempt to create a modern equivalent of Franklin’s “United Party of Virtue,” he sees hope in developments like the “youth charter” movements which ‘involve the cooperation of all parties to childrearing – parents, teachers, coaches, religious leaders, and the children themselves – who come to a consensus on a “character” describing the community’s shared understandings, obligations, and values and committing all parties to expect and uphold the same high standards of behavior in all settings’ (2006: 179). An underpinning of any such ‘consensus’ is likely to be the massive compendium of the virtues compiled by the founding father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, since one among the potential uses that he and his co-author, Christopher Peterson, foresee for their ‘handbook and classification’ is that it may contribute in the fullness of time to ‘the deliberate creation of institutions that enable good character’ (2004: 5).

Such, then, is the context (in part at least) in which Happiness and Virtue, the volume under review here, makes its appearance. On terraces where so many are already tending the grapes of worth, where is it to find a footing of its own? What is original about the contribution it makes? Much of the answer lies in its genesis. As the first pressing of what is intended to be an enduring collaborative effort between Boston University’s Center for Character and Social Responsibility and the Center for Moral Science and Education at Reitaku University in Japan, it understandably does not possess the unity characteristic of a scientific approach – the perfection of the circle can, by definition, accommodate no more than one center.  Instead, the book was shaped by a decision to select nine virtues, and to allow each to be examined by two authors, one Japanese, the other American, working independently. From the choice of the nine and the manner of their treatment issues a vintage unique in nature.

A majority of the nine virtues that were chosen can be located in Seligman and Peterson’s classification easily enough: courage (essays by Osamu Nakayama and Kevin Ryan); justice (Toshitaka Adachi and Bernice Lerner); gratitude (Osamu Nakayama and Shujiro Mizuno, and Karen E. Bohlin); wisdom (Kazunobu Horiuchi and Jun Yamada, and Kevin Ryan); and temperance (Haruo Kitagawa and Shujiro Mizuno, and Karen E. Bohlin). The remaining four are not quite so easy to place in the Seligman periodic table: respect (Hajime Ide and Kevin Ryan) may perhaps best be equated with humility and modesty; responsibility (Masahide Ohno and Bernice Lerner) with the rather narrower concept of citizenship; and benevolence (Nobumichi Iwasa and Bernice Lerner) with kindness (though, as we shall see, the scope of the latter is far more restricted in nature). That leaves reflection (Shujiro Mizuno and Karen E. Bohlin), which is only mentioned briefly by Seligman and Peterson (2004: 403-404) in the context of their discussion of fairness, itself a subset of justice – something else that needs explaining.

First, though, the method followed in this composite study deserves comment. Each individual essay begins with a story designed to bring out something at least of the essence of the particular virtue in the spotlight, a deliberate attempt to position it in the realm of the concrete and the particular. Here we find neither hypotheses nor experiments to validate such; there is, rather, a conscious recognition that the virtues are manifest in the actions of individuals, and that that there is something unique and irreducible about each such manifestation, something that will forever elude the questionnaire or the statistics drawn from it, something that can only be captured in narrative form. The story told, each author then seeks to develop its theme(s) in a more general commentary that passes over in places into exhortation.

All of which might be taken to suggest that the book resembles more a quarry than a building. Given the freedom granted to each author to hew their own particular stone in complete independence, it might be asked whether any conclusions of general significance can be expected to emerge from their labors. Such concerns are alleviated in good measure by the brief but helpful introductions to each pair of essays provided by Elisabeth Carter, and even more so by the extended overviews from Thomas Lickona and Osamu Nakayama that open and close the volume. The two latter concentrate their attention on identifying what is distinctive about the ways in which the Japanese contributors as a group, and the Americans likewise, approach the topic of virtue. Professor Lickona notes that the essays originating in Japan display a significantly greater coherence, which he attributes in part to the fact that Americans ‘are not one culture but many…[in contrast to] a more homogenous society such as Japan’ (p. 22). But the unity he discerns also owes a good deal to the fact that the Japanese essays emanate from a single institution that is still permeated by the thought of its founder, the scholar and educator, Chikuro Hiroike (1866-1938). This does a good deal to explain why the status of an independent virtue is accorded to reflection, or (in its stricter form) self-examination, since this practice played a key role in Hiroike’s life and in the legacy that he bequeathed to his followers in the shape of the new ‘moral science’ of Moralogy.

It also helps to account for the emphasis that the Japanese essays place on the ‘meta-virtue’ of benevolence; in the words of Nobumichi Iwasa, ‘When we talk about benevolence from the standpoint of moral education, it is not enough to treat it as one virtue among many…benevolence is a much more fundamental quality…[which] is a central element in the mental functioning of the human personality, rather than one element among many. It has also become clear that benevolence concerns itself not only with human beings but also with all that exists on earth…[it is] the key element in the structure of all human life’ (p. 92). We are presented here with a weltanschauung very different in nature to the menschanschauung of the American contributors. And it is the unresolved juxtaposition of these two very disparate approaches that gives the book its chief interest, for it invites readers to look at the nature of their own mode of being in a new light.

In essence, the two set of essays embody entirely different understandings of what is meant when we say that something, in this case a virtue, is universal. For those brought up in the western tradition, this is to understand that something like benevolence is a recognizable quality, distinct from all others, that makes its appearance in a number of different contexts in the human world. Thus all the American contributors move, with ease and sensitivity, between the experiences of different peoples, their focus being, as Professor Lickona notes, ‘on the cross-cultural manifestations and universal importance of the book’s nine virtues’ (p. 22). The assumptions and the structure of thought that undergird this ‘cross-cultural’ approach are not stated explicitly, but we can articulate them with the help of the positive psychologists.

Jonathan Haidt, for example, is more than ready to extol ‘Buddha, Lao Tzu, and other sages of the East [who have] discovered a path to peace and tranquility, the path of letting go’ (2006: 105). This wisdom, he believes, can be incorporated into ‘the Western ideal of action, striving, and passionate attachment…We just need some balance (from the East) and some specific guidance (from modern psychology) about what to strive for’ (2006: 106). Seligman and Peterson, too, cast their net widely; in compiling evidence for the existence of ubiquitous if not quite universal values, they focused specifically on ‘the “Great Three” – the most widely influential traditions of thought in human history…Confucianism and Taoism in China, Buddhism and Hinduism in South Asia, and ancient Greece, Judeo-Christianity, and Islam in the West’ (2004: 34). The problem with all this is not the scope, which is admirable; it is with the method employed and the goals sought. For the aim of Seligman and Peterson is, in accordance with scientific procedure, to classify – an objective about which they are entirely open. ‘A scientific classification parses some part of the universe first by demarcating its domain and second by specifying mutually exclusive and exhaustive subcategories within that domain’ (2004: 6).

The urge here is to separate, to divide – the ‘loosening’ that is the etymological root of ‘analysis’. And it is clear that such a method of proceeding cannot accommodate the concept outlined above of a ‘meta-virtue’ such as benevolence, a virtue that underlies and transcends categories, that binds rather than divides (and one which is also very different from any notion of passivity or ‘letting go’ – it is, on the contrary, a doctrine of action, but one whose point of origin is extremely remote from Haidt’s ‘Western ideal’ of the same). And it is the merit of Happiness and Virtue that it gives space for such a concept to be articulated, without making any attempt to bend it into any shape other than its own. The view of benevolence expounded by the Japanese authors in this book is not, of course, representative of Eastern thinking in its entirety, and they are careful not to make any such claim. Nonetheless, it serves to introduce a new air, and a very different view of the ‘universal’ quality of benevolence. For we are no longer dealing with a discrete entity that appears sporadically in human conduct, a part apart; it is, rather, something that, like all else that ever has and ever will exist, belongs to the whole, to a single universe extending unbroken in time and space, where relationships cannot be severed, where nothing can ever really be isolated.

Benevolence, on this view, is indeed not simply a human virtue, even though it finds its one of its homes deep within our essence; it is also a quality of the universe, the ambient atmosphere in which all individuals move and have their being, the context of their relationships to one another and to the world – whether they are aware of this or not. Such as predisposition to see things as parts of a oneness contrasts strikingly with the western proclivity to divide, especially for the purposes of analysis, classification and argument. For the Japanese contributors to this volume, there are no sharp edges to any of the virtues; they somehow form elements of a unity, none of them is utterly distinct, and benevolence permeates them all. And the same is true of the self in its relationships to the world; our happiness is not a prize to be pursued and grasped independently, a matter for the individual alone. It is only to be found within the whole, which in any case has concerns that make far more compelling claims on us.

These distinct qualities in the western and eastern approaches are visible at many points in this volume, but a brief comparison of the essays on two of the other virtues, justice and gratitude, will serve to alert the reader to the general pattern.

Justice, as Professor Lickona points out, has a particular significance for Americans (pp. 22-23). In her essay on it, Bernice Lerner cites several clear violations of justice, and traces the roots of the injustice perpetrated in these instances to disharmony in the soul of the individual. She then invokes the thinking of ancient Greece to explain how this can be corrected. ‘Plato’s theory says that our soul is comprised of three parts: reasonspirit, and appetite. When reason, i.e. practical wisdom, captains the team of three parts, the virtue of justice is displayed’ (p. 76). Toshitaka Adachi also cites Plato, but in a strikingly different context. He tells a story about Chikuro Hiroike that illustrates the ‘type of justice…termed sanpo-yoshi or sanpo-yen (the good of all three parties)…[which is about] behaving in a way that results in good for everyone involved (pp. 70-71). This might indeed ‘be seen as what Plato call “a completely balanced situation”’ (p. 71), but Adachi’s focus is entirely different from that of Bernice Lerner; it looks outwards towards the whole, at the working of benevolence to bring together three groups of people, rather than inwards to the particular, to the jockeying for primacy in the three-part soul. And this view of benevolence, expressed on this occasion in the working of justice, is the foundation of a very different psychology to the type that is foreshadowed in Plato’s analysis of the tripartite soul – or would do, but for the fact that psychology is such a thoroughly western concept that it is difficult to find any authentic counterpart for it in the East, where attention is much more often directed not to the individual considered in isolation but to the ‘between,’ to relationships and to the whole.

The contrast between the approaches of East and West is also readily apparent in the essays on gratitude, a virtue that cannot but bind – the question as ever, though, being how extensively. Osamu Nakayama and Shujiro Mizuno offer the following explanation of the ‘common Japanese phrase okage-sama-de, which literally means, “I owe it to you.” People say this, for example, in response to an enquiry after their health, and it carries the sense of “I owe it to you that I am in good health.” Here, though, you refers not simply to the person one is talking to, but rather “everybody and everything around us, including you’ (p. 113). Compare the breadth of this feeling with what is to be found in Karen E. Bohlin’s citing of the work of positive psychologists like Martin Seligman, who ‘explain that we are happier and healthier when we reflect on the specific things we have to be grateful for in our lives and personally thank people’ (p. 122). A gulf clearly exists between the presuppositions that underlie a feeling of gratitude for health to ‘everybody and everything around us,’ and those that account for the emotion of gratitude for ‘specific things’ that lead us to ‘personally thank people.’ Once more, we cannot fail to be aware that we are in the presence of two very different modes of being.

This book, then, presents the reader with a clear dichotomy, and one that should be welcomed. Some of its ramifications are traced in the concluding essay by Osamu Nakayama, the president of Reitaku University, but this still leaves opportunity enough and to spare for readers to draw their own further conclusions from the raw material presented to them. In so doing they will help to fulfill the book’s aspiration to move, through examination of the self and through dialogue, ‘beyond East and West.’ Happiness and virtue, the central concepts of the enterprise, may indeed belong in origin to the Graeco-Roman view of the human world, to the western attempt at self-conception. But they constitute as good a starting place as any for an attempt to transcend it. If a dialogue on this subject is to be pursued successfully, it will involve, first, carefully delineating two very different views of what it is to be a human being, and what we are to understand as the true nature of the universe; only then can the work of reconciling these views begin, a task that will call for adjustments of no little delicacy. This book can therefore be welcomed both as a signpost to the road that will lead to a single view of the universal, and as a first step along it.


Haidt, Jonathan (2006) The Happiness Hypothesis. New York: Basic Books.
McMahon, Darrin M. (2006) Happiness: A History. New York: Grove Press.
Peterson, Christopher, and Seligman, Martin E. P. (2004) Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Oxford: Oxford U.P.