Veroni Lecture: Cheshire Calhoun
Kent State University Veroni Memorial Lectures in Philosophy and the Humanities
Professor of Philosophy, Arizona State University
Friday, February 2, 2024, 7 p.m.
Dessert Reception to Follow
What kindness is seems both obvious and nonobvious. On the obvious side: We effortlessly use “kind” to describe actions and people and find familiarly meaningful occurrences of “kind” in polite missives, inspirational literature, novels, everyday conversation, and injunctions to “be kind” or to “practice random acts of kindness.” On the nonobvious side: The ease of generating examples of kindness is not matched by a similar ease in saying what they share in common.
What makes it difficult to define kindness is that everyday understandings of kindness spring from multiple sources. The result is that talk about kindness is shaped by three different conceptions of kindness: kindness as general, benevolently motivated beneficence, kindness as a set of social practices of micro benevolence/beneficence, and kindness as expression of kinship. Each conception gives us a different answer to the question “What is kindness?” What feature(s) of actions and persons does “kind” pick out and is being encouraged in injunctions to be kind? And each gives a different answer to the question “Where does kindness fit into the moral landscape?” Is kindness just another name for benevolently motivated beneficence? If so, kindness would be a pinnacle in the moral landscape, alongside respect for autonomy. Or does “kindness” require emotional warmth or personal caring? If so, it may be less clear where kindness sits in the moral landscape.
Cheshire Calhoun is CLAS Trustee Professor of Philosophy at Arizona State University and chair of the American Philosophical Association’s board of officers. She works in the areas of normative ethics, moral psychology, philosophy of emotion, feminist philosophy, and gay and lesbian philosophy. She has recently published a collection of previously published essays under the title Moral Aims: Essays on the Importance of Getting it Right and Practicing Morality with Others (OUP 2016), and a new book titled Doing Valuable Time: The Present, the Future, and Meaningful Living (OUP 2018). She is series editor for Oxford University Press’s Studies in Feminist Philosophy