An ancient question asks what role moral formation ought to play in education. It leads to such questions as, do intellectual and moral formation belong together? Is it possible to form the mind and neglect the heart? Is it wise? These perennial questions take on new significance today, when education — especially, higher education — has become a defining feature in the lives of young people.
Throughout his more than 40 years in academia, John Garvey has reflected on the relationship between intellectual and moral formation, especially in Catholic higher education. For 12 years as the President of The Catholic University of America, he made the cultivation of moral virtue a central theme on campus, highlighting its significance across all aspects of University culture, from University policy to campus architecture.
During his two decades of presiding at commencement exercises, first as Dean of Boston College Law School and then as President of The Catholic University of America, Garvey made a single virtue the centerpiece of his remarks each year. The Virtues is the fruit of those addresses. More reflective than analytical, its purpose is to invite conversation about what it means to live well.
Following Catholic tradition, The Virtues places the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love at the center of the moral life, and the cardinal virtues — justice, temperance, fortitude, and prudence — with them. Alongside these major virtues, Garvey considers a collection of "little virtues," habits that assist and accompany us in small but important ways on the path to goodness.
Though he treats each virtue individually, a common thread unites his reflections. "The intellectual life depends on the moral life," Garvey writes. "Without virtue we cannot sustain the practices necessary for advanced learning. In fact, without virtue, it’s hard to see what the purpose of the university is. Learning begins with love (for the truth). If we don’t have that, it’s hard to know why we would bother with education at all." The Virtues invites its readers, especially students, to appreciate that the cultivation of virtue is indispensable to success, academic or otherwise, and more importantly, essential to their ultimate aim, a life well lived.
"Let me begin with the channeling power of virtue. Today we often think of habits in a negative way, as forces that exert an unwelcome influence over our choices, like a smoking habit or a late-night eating habit. On this view habits oppose what we truly desire – a healthy lifestyle, for example. But the idea of a habit once had a richer meaning. Habits were linked to freedom rather than opposed to it. Aristotle thought that habits formed a kind of ‘second nature’ that allows us to do what is good easily, even instinctually. He thought that we acquired this second nature through practice. Over time our repeated good actions form stable qualities in our souls."~from the Introduction