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University of Oregon

Scientific Study of Values Focus Group

Co-organizers: Azim Shariff (psychology) and Mark Alfano (philosophy)

Mission: The Scientific Study of Values Group meets once a month to plan collaborative research in the interdisciplinary field of values, drawing on methods and models in psychology, philosophy, economics, marketing, and other fields.  Participants from all disciplines are welcome, most notably including psychology, philosophy, economics, marketing, law, geology, anthropology, sociology, and women & gender studies.  Specific values on which the group focuses are up to the members.  Some of the inaugural members’ interests include generosity, charity, gratitude, justice, forgiveness, compassion, sacred values, free will, trust, empathy, friendship, curiosity, altruism, gender, and commitment to local community.  This somewhat disparate list is structured around four interrelated themes:

1)    Generosity, empathy, and gratitude. These interlocking dispositions feed each other.  If you empathize with me, that may lead you to act with generosity or altruism towards me.  In turn, I may feel gratitude towards you.  But how do these virtues, which operate tolerably well in small-scale interactions with well-known agents, react to large-scale collective action problems, such as global poverty and genocide?

2)    War, genocide, forgiveness, and trust. In the wake of atrocity, how do people put their lives back together?  How do they live near or among those who condoned or even perpetrated horrors?  What, if anything, leads to forgiveness and the reestablishment of trust?

3)    Justice and gender. In a related vein, how do victims who’ve been singled out for especially appalling mistreatment – typically women and other gender minorities –respond?  Does it even make sense to talk about justice in the wake of such episodes?  What measures can be taken to prevent such injustice in the first place?

4)    Creativity, prospection, and mindfulness. The previous three themes are primarily retrospective.  Generosity is a reaction to others’ pre-existing needs.  Gratitude is a reaction to generosity.  Forgiveness is a reaction to harms suffered.  Justice often aims to set right a world out of joint.  Ideally, needs and harms would be handled before things reached a crisis pitch.  This suggests a more forward-looking imperative, centered on the values of creativity, prospection, and mindfulness.

Anyone interested is welcome to attend. Please send Mark Alfano ( or Azim Shariff ( an email if you would like to be added to the email list announcing meetings and topics. Reminder: all focus group members shall be general members of the ICDS. Membership in the ICDS is available to interested faculty, students, and community members. For consideration, send a brief letter of request and a curriculum vita via email, or by post.

Upcoming meetings…

Monday, April 14th, noon-1, in LISB 417: This will be an organization meeting in which we discuss how often and when the group will meet.  More importantly, since many interested parties have not met each other (at least not in person, at least not with this sort of collaboration in mind), we will introduce our own work and brainstorm potential collaborations.  We have applied for funding from RIGE to buy everyone lunch at this event.  If we get it, we’ll tell you.  Otherwise, assume it’s a brownbag.
May 5-8, visit by Owen Flanagan.  Flanagan will be visiting us for several days.  Among other things, he’ll make himself available to our group for consultation on interdisciplinary values research on Monday, May 5, 3-5 PM.  He will also give a colloquium talk on mindfulness on Tuesday, May 6, 4-6 PM.  Finally, he has agreed to make himself available to meet one-on-one or in small groups with faculty and grad students while here.  Here’s his schedule:
Please let me know whether you (or one of your grad students) would like to meet Flanagan over a meal or for one of the available hours.
3) late May, visit by Ted Slingerland.  The details of this visit haven’t been finalized yet, but we expect Slingerland to visit from UBC in late May.  Like Flanagan, he’s done a lot of cross-over work in the scientific study of values.