"Love as the Essence of Flourishing: Experiments with the Subjunctive Mood" talk by Matthew T. Lee (Oxford University)

May 8, 2022

Monday, 9 May 2022 - 5:00pm to 6:30pm


Investcorp Lecture Theatre, St Antony's


Professor Matthew T. Lee (Harvard)

Dr David Johnson (Oxford)

A talk for the Templeton World Charity Foundation-funded research project on Education, Purpose and Human Flourishing in Uncertain Times

Free and open to the public

To attend in person, please register here

Online via Microsoft Teams (follow this link – no need to register if you’re attending online)

What happens when we treat love as the essence of flourishing?  What comes into focus?  What might we learn?  Such inquiries require us to ask another question, “What is the essence of love?”. Kierkegaard offered a provocative answer: the essential characteristic of love is that in the act of giving love the giver comes into “infinite debt” to the receiver of love. This turns the conventional cost/benefit analysis on its head and provides a starting point for us to consider the connection between love and flourishing in educational contexts and beyond. My university courses, including “Love in Action” and “Conflict, Justice, and Healing,” have offered space for students to live “as if” Kierkegaard’s claim might be true. To borrow Kierkegaard’s language, the subjunctive mood (“as if”) helps us to learn from our own experience why existential despair “lurks” in the shallow forms of happiness encouraged by some forms of education, and to “love forth the good” in ourselves and others even in uncertain times. There is joy in discovering that love entails a duty to go beyond the call of duty. I explore the possibility that educating in ways that connect students, teachers, and staff members with such joyful experiences may help us co-create a more deeply flourishing world.