Our first article follows on from some of last week’s articles on the changing nature of higher education and the social expectations placed upon it in our current moment. In what amounts to a profile of one of the most popular courses at Stanford—called “Design Your Life”—Ainsley O’Connell shows that universities are increasingly aware of the fact that the accumulation of technical skill must come with some moral horizon, some sense of one’s vocation.
The question that emerges from this phenomenon is: what sort of moral horizon is required for a reinvigorated sense of vocation? In a policy-oriented deep dive on the relation of virtue to the professions of law, medicine, and teaching, Philip Blond and his colleagues at the British think-tank Res Publica claim that “arguably professions were [once] moral communities based upon shared expertise and occupational membership.” In their analysis, one of the essential tasks of governance in our time is to strengthen mediating institutions through the cultivation of virtue. In this way, Blond and others argue, social trust can either emerge or be rebuilt, paving the way for a thriving civil society.
On this side of the Atlantic, a set of medical doctors centered at the University of Chicago have undertaken a longitudinal study on the theme of “the Good Physician.” Though they are still collecting data and thus have only published partial results, readers interested in the question of moral formation, virtue, and medical practice will want to keep an eye on the work of John Yoon, Farr Curlin (now of Duke), and their colleagues.
Finally, and on a slightly more whimsical note, the conclusion of Wimbledon gives reason to call attention to David Foster Wallace’s nearly decade-old feature piece for the New York Times Magazine on “Roger Federer as Religious Experience.” Though New City Commons is not known for its vast knowledge of the world of sports, what is remarkable about Federer (runner-up in the men’s singles this year) is how frequently his style of play is characterized in terms of transcendence, religion, and the sublime (for an example, see the conclusion to Dreyfus and Kelly’s All Things Shining). As Wallace is clear to say, “Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports”—and yet, in his view, “high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty.” For a detailed and exquisite description of that beauty, there are few pieces of sports journalism more eloquent and earnest than Wallace’s.