CHADRON – Chadron State College English and Humanities Professor Dr. Brad Wilburn kept busy during his sabbatical last year. In addition to catching up on scholarly reading related to moral philosophy and virtue ethics, Wilburn delivered two lectures, “Expanding the Function Argument” and “The Good Life or Good Lives?,” at the Center for East Asian and Comparative Philosophy (CEACOP) at the City University of Hong Kong in late April.
“It was a great experience,” Wilburn said. “As a scholar getting the opportunity to interact with others from the opposite side of the globe was a once in a lifetime experience.”
According to materials released before the lectures, Wilburn’s pair of talks defend an account of what it means for humans to live well. Wilburn also lectured on Aristotle’s function argument and how diversity should be embraced.
“Aristotle argues that whatever humans do – do it well,” Wilburn said. “Aristotle identifies our central function as reasoning. That’s what we do as a species, we think. Humans have the ability to transmit knowledge from generation to generation. That is our evolutionary advantage.”
During his lectures, Wilburn expanded on Aristotle’s argument and said living well is broader than thinking.
“Reasoning is essential, but our function is broader than just reasoning,” he said. “It includes bodily functions, emotions, and desires in a robust way. It includes creative and artistic activity and language use. There’s also a social aspect. The account of a good life becomes open ended because there are different ways to pursue it. The core answer, to me, is developing our various capacities.”
Wilburn, who has been a professor at CSC since 2005, said he learned of the opportunity to speak at the City University of Hong Kong from his mentor, PJ Ivanhoe, who teaches at the institution, and is the Director of CEACOP. Ivanhoe is a leading scholar of Confucian and neo-Confucian philosophy.
“I’ve known PJ for a long time and I worked with him at Stanford,” Wilburn said. “He asked me if I wanted to be a guest lecturer and I jumped at the opportunity.”
While Wilburn certainly enjoyed his time in Hong Kong, he said it provided him a new lens to view Chadron State’s Essential Studies Program through.
“The Essential Studies Program has had an impact on my thinking,” he said. “It is somewhat interdisciplinary and we don’t want it rigid because we must connect different views and ways of thinking and how that’s valuable to our students. We try to figure out our world and make our way through it in many different ways.”
Wilburn is hoping to incorporate some of those important topics in a course he’s teaching this spring, Classical Chinese Philosophy.
“In many of the courses I teach I am able to bring in virtue ethics and moral philosophy and how we live,” he said. “I benefitted from studying about the good life. The sabbatical I took had the desired effect. It helped make me become a better teacher and I was able to think on important topics.”
—Alex Helmbrecht, Director of College Relations