Scholar Fridays is a weekly series on Bearings Online where we feature 2018-19 Resident Scholars. Susan Sink recently interviewed Craig Boyd, who is a Professor of Philosophy from Saint Louis University in Saint Louis, MO. During his short-term residency, Boyd worked on a project titled “The Unbearable Sadness of Being Gollum: Envy as Insatiable Desire.” To view previous Scholar Friday interviews, click here.
One of your areas of interest is virtue and vice. The project you’re working on at the Collegeville Institute is clearly about a vice. Can you tell us more about the project?
The overall project is an in-depth book-length manuscript on the virtues and vices in Tolkien’s works. I take a specific character and show how he or she is an exemplar of one of the virtues or vices. Each vice is paired with a virtue. The first pairing is Saruman (pride) with Sam Gamgee (humility). The second is Gollum (envy) with Frodo (charity). There will be a total of five pairings throughout the volume. My project while at the Collegeville Institute is to finish the Gollum chapter. I’ve completed three chapters so far.
In this time, it feels like people are thinking more about ethics in general. What is a virtue you would like people to understand and practice better?
If I were to identify one virtue that would likely make our society better off it would be humility. Thomas Aquinas says it is the virtue that prepares the way for the other virtues in removing pride (the worst of all the vices). Without humility, none of the other moral or theological virtues are possible—at least from my perspective.
As a professor, what do you think is the importance of ethical education, particularly for those in “professional studies,” and maybe particularly at a Jesuit institution?
I think a Jesuit education, with its emphasis on cura personalis (the care of the individual person), should demonstrate how we engage others in a morally healthy way by attending to others as persons and not primarily in terms of a particular role they might play at work or in the wider society.
Have you had any conversations or experiences with other scholars at the Institute that have been particularly helpful in your project?
Each of the other scholars here brings such a great wealth of experience and perspective that I’ve found very helpful.
What other philosophers have been important to you and your work, particularly contemporary philosophers?
The philosophers I’ve had an on-going “conversation” with throughout most of my career have been Thomas Aquinas and Alasdair MacIntyre. I first found Aquinas interesting because of his work on natural law. But I soon discovered that this was only a very minor part of his work, and the bulk of his famous Summa Theologiae was devoted to the virtues, so I’ve found his work on charity, prudence, hope, and humility particularly interesting and still relevant after eight centuries. MacIntyre has been a great commentator and developer of Aquinas’ works and has helped me to think about issues of vulnerability and the situated-ness of our lives and their narrative contexts.
If you could visit any philosopher at any time who would it be and what would you want to discuss?
If I could visit with and have a conversation with any philosopher it would probably be Wittgenstein. His views on “language games” and the various “forms of life” would be interesting. And even though he wasn’t a “philosopher,” I would have loved to have spent time with Tolkien.