Published by the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas (founded in 1990 by Mortimer J. Adler and Max Weismann)
In association with the The Adler-Aquinas Institute and Aquinas School of Leadership
A Founding Member of the Alliance for Liberal Learning

Friday, June 26, 2015

Some implications of classical and contemporary moral psychology on organizations and leadership

Scheduled for 3:30pm–5:30pm Eastern Time, Plenary Session papers and panel discussion 8
Chair: Fr. Ronald Hurl (Catholic University of America)

Speaker: Gregory Sadler (Marist College/Reason IO): “Dynamics of anger and the difficult good: Implications for organizations and leadership”

A common if not ubiquitous human emotional response, as certain ancient and medieval philosophers recognized, anger involves more than just a simple feeling. It functions as a nexus for emotion, bodily response, choice, action, cognition, and even habituation. As Aristotle already recognized, there is something not simply interpersonal but also social to how anger’s causation, desires, and reasoning, as well as how the angry person reasons, chooses, speaks, and acts. In fact, in the rhetoric, he singles it out as one of the seven fundamental causes of human action.

Thomistic moral psychology and moral theory builds upon Aristotle’s insights, synthesizing them with insights drawn from centuries of further reflection about anger, as well as from our own everyday experiences with the emotion and its effects. Two of his most important contributions are locating anger as emotion in the broader irascible appetite, and emphasizing that irascible emotions are oriented by the “difficult good”. He also provides us with an understanding of the workings of anger, the dangers and temptations this all-too-necessary emotion subjects us to, and means to distinguish what is good (and why) and what is bad (and why) in anger.

Are there useful implications for present-day leaders and organizations? There certainly are, and in this paper, I will discuss several at length and in detail, and simply note a number of others (providing links to online materials addressing those in fuller detail). Those I plan to focus on specifically are: 1) understanding common situations likely to produce anger among members of organizations, and what would really be required for resolution; 2) determining what “difficult goods” are, whether they are genuine goods, and why they are “difficult”; 3) risks involved employing anger as a motivational tool; and 4) leadership as involving adequate knowledge of, and dispositions in relation to, leaders’ anger.

Speaker: Joseph Jordan (Aquinas Leadership International): “Contemporary moral psychology and leadership: Science or alchemy?”

There is a growing problem of quantification in our society which is adversely impacting organizations and cheapening “leadership.” This may be seen in so many sectors, from schools to policing to the financial industry to government administration.  So many contemporary “psychologists” see their field as nothing more than a-historical mathematical studies in search of “validity.” So many political scientists today are concerned merely with abstract game theory. STEM education, for that matter, is all the rage these days, and certainly it can help our society’s material progress. But what is the cost to a paideia of the whole person? Are we on a path to groom mere technocrats with no souls? Are we replacing the government of men with the administration of things? Are we yet one step closer to what C.S. Lewis called the abolition of man? This problem of quantification seems to be the result of the unleashing  of a psychological type that can be called Neo-Pythagorean: a modern version of Pythagoreanism rooted in Descartes and fermented in the positivistic fantasies of the past two and a half hundred years. Like Pythagoras, Neo-Pythagoreans worship numbers and mathematics in a rather strange, cultic way, as the ultimate explanation of things. At base, Neo-Pythagoreanism is an attempt to overcome an inherent insecurity people have vis-à-vis an existence which is ultimately out of our control. Mathematics can lead people to think we actually have control over reality. Reified numbers become a new set of idols for contemporary man to worship. And yet, the hegemony of quantification and the maladjusted Neo-Pythagorean psychological type cause tremendous havoc, leading, for example, to shallow students, misused police forces, bankrupt companies and countries, and unnecessary wars. As this paper will argue, what is needed instead is a more qualitative approach to reality such as that which the classical medieval world understood and enjoyed, and which would be a good and necessary antidote for the current crop of numerologists, Neo-Pythagoreans, and assorted misfits in society today.

Livestream of video from the Conference will be at the Holy Apostles College and Seminary YouTube Channel.

Livestream of video from the Conference will be at the Holy Apostles College and Seminary YouTube Channel.

Next session scheduled for 7:00pm.

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