UD Faculty Celebrate Human Dignity Across Disciplines
Date published: April 11, 2017
“The study of liberal arts here at the University of Dallas, in particular the Core
curriculum, helps reveal to us the dark corners of our own ignorance,” explained Associate
Professor of Theology and Associate Provost John Norris, BA ’84, in his introduction
to the Interdisciplinary Celebration of Human Dignity panel on March 23. “It leads
us to deeper complexities of human knowledge and experience.”
The Core, Norris went on, strives to develop habits of mind, instilling in the community
the reverential pursuit of truth as it challenges students to cast aside lightly held
positions — or at the very least to examine them. One’s own perspective is incomplete
without taking into consideration the points of view of others, and we must suppose
that others have useful and valuable things to say.
“The notion of the ‘UD bubble’ can be problematic,” said Norris. “It’s okay if we
mean an island of reason, respect, courtesy and dialogue, but not if we mean there
is no diversity. At UD, diversity is an asset to our community.”
A UD education is meant to foster reason, respect, humility and charity and to produce
alumni who will champion these virtues throughout their lives.
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Philosophy John Macready, MA ’11 PhD ’16, Professor
of English Eileen Gregory, BA ’68, Assistant Professor of Human Sciences Carla Pezzia
and Professor of Psychology Robert Kugelmann comprised the panel, a project organized
by the English Department’s Matthew Spring, PhD ’15, in conjunction with the Office
of Personal Career Development and Student Foundations. Panelists explored the role
of the liberal arts and the Core curriculum in opening our minds and our hearts, as
well as the doors of our homes — offering human warmth to those in need of it.
Macready discussed how UD’s motto — veritatem, justitiam diligite, or "love truth, love justice" — is an imperative for living a dignified life and
respecting the dignity of others. Moreover, truth and justice are coupled together
in this single imperative not just for the sake of grammatical economy: they are never
mutually exclusive and must go hand in hand. We must strive for a disposition of mind
in which we come to truth in dialogue with others, respecting their humanity and personhood
as we honor and recognize their irreplaceable uniqueness.
“Practical advice for cultivating this position is found in the Core,” said Macready.
Kant, as Macready explained, found it necessary to think of others. In his three maxims
of common understanding, he taught, first, that to think for yourself is to be unprejudiced
and liberated from the tyranny of common opinion. Next, to take the perspective of
others is to be broad-minded, enlarging your mind to accommodate these perspectives.
Finally, the third maxim is to think consistently between the first and second maxims;
to always think in accord with yourself and your values is to be consistent and not
subject to either your own or others’ vicissitudes.
Macready maintained that both Socrates and St. Thomas Aquinas thought for themselves
through the perspectives of others, exemplifying these three maxims of Kant’s; specific
examples are Socrates' dialogue with Thrasymachus in the Republic and St. Thomas' indebtedness to Moses Maimonides, Ibn Sinā, and Aristotle in the Summa Theologica. Like Socrates and St. Thomas in these instances, Kant does not tell us how to act
but how to take others into account, respecting their dignity and their personhood.
Next, Gregory explored how human life and civic life are are dependent upon some notion
of respect for the dignity of others.
“In the wake of the extreme negativity of the political campaign we all just witnessed,
issues with immigrants and refugees have gained prominence,” she said. “We must consider
how such visceral divisiveness has surfaced in the U.S.”
She went on to address the question of whether a university education such as that
offered by UD is worth it — maintaining, of course, that it is, because it cultivates
a reflective life, and reflection is our true work. Ideas have consequences, and the
literature we read tells and shows us what it means to be human and act in a human
way, like Achilles and Priam weeping together even though Achilles has killed Priam’s
“Our bodies and the bodies of those we love are wholly penetrable and can perish in
an instant,” said Gregory. “We have no real control and live in a constant state of
radical mortal exposure. We are dependent for our lives on the goodwill of others.”
She discussed how hospitality to the stranger is actually divine law: it is a central
ethical principle in Christianity, Judaism and Greek mythology. The stranger is protected
by the highest form of justice; to be pitiless to the stranger is to forget one’s
own precarious mortality and to be the recipient of the severest form of divine retribution,
because everyone is vulnerable and exists under a profound need for protection.
“Literature asks us to imagine ourselves as bereft, destitute and homeless,” she said.
“We don’t want to; there’s an aversion to this image. Our culture presents us with
invulnerability as something to strive for, but those with a liberal education should
recognize this for what it is and see the brutality of the myth of invulnerability.
We must be in the presence of those who suffer however we can, imagining others in
their likeness to Christ.”
Continuing in this vein, Kugelman discussed how Carl Jung saw the liberal arts as
indispensable to the education of the psychologist, because a psychologist was a doctor
of the soul. Jung believed, in those days of the Iron Curtain when nuclear weapons
stood (and still stand today, although we tend to forget it) ready to be released,
and the world was consumed in mass-mindedness, that American education neglected the
study of the liberal arts and the sustenance of the soul. There was a nationalistic
egoism in which education promoted nationalistic ends and confused the individual
with the nation, leaving the individual life devalued in its shadow.
“But we at UD aren’t safe from collectivism,” Kugelman warned. “There’s a kind of
‘UDism,’ a sense of superiority and the feeling of being correct. Feeling confident
in one’s opinions is no guarantee that they are correct.”
According to Jung, the psyche is largely unconscious, and knowledge of the psyche
shatters belief in our own innocence when it comes to the evils of the world. The
greatest danger, in fact, is the abiding belief in our own goodness.
“The brighter the light, the darker the shadow,” said Kugelman, quoting Jung. “What
we can’t see in ourselves, we find easily enough in others. The imagination for evil,
on the other hand, is the ability to imagine what we’re capable of. A lack of insight
deprives us of the capacity to prevent evil.”
Americans have an addiction to innocence, to not wanting to know, which can translate
quite easily into complicity with evil.
Pezzia wrapped up the panel, examining anthropologist Ruth Benedict’s efforts to make
the world safe for human differences.
“When we try to create a bubble,” said Pezzia, “we foster division, not inclusiveness.”
In the Human Sciences program, as Pezzia explained, they focus on the development
of a comprehensive understanding of the human being, including both anthropology and
sociology. They look at breaking social norms through experiments such as invading
another person’s space, seeing how that person reacts. When interviewing others, they
do so with the mindset that the interviewer is not the expert; rather, the person
being interviewed has information they need to know.
Pezzia’s work and research has dealt largely with Native American populations, specifically
the Mayans, and alcoholism in these groups; however, she emphasized how stereotypes
tend to disregard history and context.
“If I go in with a focus on the disorder in a population, I deny these people dignity,”
she said. “To go in with superiority and presuppositions is to miss out on insights.
Alcoholism, for example, is not a defining component of any one culture or group of
Pezzia explained that instead the mindset must be that everyone comes to the table
with a variety of experiences and ideas, and we’re working toward a world that allows
everyone to reach their fullest potential. She discusses W.E.B. DuBois' notion of
"double consciousness," in which African-Americans in particular typically must view
themselves through the lens of how they see themselves and also that of how others
Using this as a point of reflection, Pezzia suggests that we should ask ourselves,
first, how we see other people. How do we ensure that what we see is their human dignity
rather than our socialized stereotypes and preconceived notions based on misconstrued
ideas surrounding a group of people? It is through this self-reflection of how we
see others and, conversely, how we want to be seen, that we are more likely to work
together and encourage each other to reach our fullest potential.
“We must be willing to work alongside someone to help them,” she said. “This goes
along with hospitality. And we have to keep being hospitable even when we get bitten
— because that’s how we’re supposed to be.”