Love as the Essence of Flourishing: Experiments with the Subjunctive Mood

Love as the Essence of Flourishing: Experiments with the Subjunctive Mood

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.  

Dr Matthew T. Lee is Director of Empirical Research and Senior Research Scientist at the Human Flourishing Program in the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University, where he also leads the Program’s Flourishing Network. He is also a Distinguished Visiting Scholar of Health, Flourishing, and Positive Psychology at Stony Brook University’s Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics. His current research explores topics such as well-being and flourishing, organizational compassion capability, and the integration of social science and the humanities. His recent articles have appeared in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the Journal of General Internal Medicine, and the Journal of Positive Psychology. He is the lead editor of Measuring Well-Being: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from the Social Sciences and the Humanities (Oxford University Press, March 2021), which was his sixth book. 

For enquiries, please email Dr Jon Beale: For recordings of previous talks, see here.