Kristján Kristjánsson


A good lecture begins with cogent arguments and ends with a compelling conclusion. Right? Probably that is right, as a rule of thumb, but in this lecture I break the rule by starting with the two following conclusions that I happen to endorse:[1]

(a) Scientific practice can, and should ideally, cultivate moral virtues in its practitioners (in addition to more obvious intellectual virtues such as wonder), most specifically the moral virtue of awe.[2]

(b) Science education can, and ideally should, inspire in students love of transcendent ideals, such as truth, and introduce them to morally relevant awe experiences when such ideals are fathomed. This is true for both budding scientists and budding interested laypeople: future friends rather than foes of scientific inquiry (and, believe me, science needs more friends in a post-truth world).

I propose to spend the rest of this lecture arguing for, and elaborating upon, those two conclusions. I will also explain, however, why they are radical and will remain controversial, even after my best efforts to support them.

None of the required argumentative spadework can be done satisfactorily in forty-five minutes. You will have to make do, therefore, with a series of observations and a few detours, resembling a typical British train journey, which rarely heads straight from place A to place B. I hope you will find the considerations I offer relevant to the reasonableness of the two conclusions or, at worst, quirky enough to be mildly interesting and worthy of further thought.

A Taxonomy of Virtues and Some Intellectual History in Capsule Form

It is something of a commonplace nowadays to divide human character virtues into four categories: intellectual virtues such as critical thinking and creativity, moral virtues such as honesty and compassion, civic virtues such as volunteering and social justice, and performance virtues such as self-confidence and grit.[3] It is also almost a platitude to claim that scientific practice is, at once, inspired by and inspires intellectual virtue. If someone argued, for example, that standard scientific inquiry is not driven by, and does not cultivate, critical thinking, one would find that argument as empirically implausible as an argument about running not building endurance—even perhaps teetering at the brink of violating a conceptual truth about the nature of scientific inquiry as such.

As there is no need to rehearse (in Fawlty Towers language) “the bleeding obvious” here, I can turn straight to the more interesting thesis: namely, that scientific practice is somehow intimately linked to the cultivation of moral virtue. This was a thesis that was, more or less, taken for granted during medieval times and the early Enlightenment period,[4] even to the point of not requiring a specific rationale. The underlying assumptions here often boiled down to considerations that would not cut much ice nowadays: the essential coherence of human beings’ divine destiny on earth and how, if they perform their function well in the image of God, their virtuous activities will all fall into line and be mutually supportive. Frequent references were also made at the time to the “unity-of-virtue thesis,” espoused by ancient philosophers such as Aristotle. However, Aristotle’s thesis did not actually encompass the whole virtue repertoire; it was specifically about the essential unity of the moral virtues, guided by the bespoke intellectual means-end virtue of phronesis.[5] There is no hint in Aristotle of a unity thesis binding together, say, performance virtues such as grit and moral virtues such as compassion. And apart from the specific intellectual virtue of phronesis, which happens to serve the moral virtues, no claims are made about an essential bond between other intellectual virtues and the moral ones.

Alasdair MacIntyre, who in his famous book After Virtue tried to retrieve time-honoured ideas about excellent human practices, suggested linkages that would have tallied well with medieval sentiments, seeing the moral virtues of justice, courage, and honesty as conducive to the preservation, development, and flourishing of all successful human practices (including intellectual ones), and as essential for the acquisition of the internal goods making up such practices.[6] However, recent situationist findings in psychology have shown how context-dependent the functioning of moral virtues can be. Even if were true, for example, that a scientist could not be successful qua scientist in her lab without being able to display moral virtues of justice and honesty in her dealings with colleagues, conference organizers and journal editors, and in her collection and analysis of data, we have every reason to be sceptical of the claim that these virtues would necessarily carry over into her general moral performance.[7] Indeed, the very idea of some sort of intrinsic (or even merely extrinsic) link between the intellectual virtues of scientific inquiry and the context-dependent moral virtues that may need to go with them, on the one hand, and the general moral character of scientific practitioners, on the other, will jar with modern sensitivities. At the risk of excessive simplification, let me single out three reasons for this scepticism:

(a) The general collapse of the medieval teleological worldview, so vividly depicted in MacIntyre’s After Virtue. Empiricism, later developing into positivism, set in, with its slavish obedience to Hume’s two laws about the essential distinction between both facts and values and between descriptions and prescriptions—and subsequently, with Weber’s Wertfreiheit thesis, objects of any unprejudiced social scientific inquiry were also quarantined against any admixture of normativity.[8] This new idea of science as detached inquiry, free from normative assumptions, of course left little room for the notion of moral cultivation as inherent in scientific inquiry.

(b) While the image of the scientist as an “evil genius” was rampant in romantic nineteenth century literature, as we entered the twentieth century, examples of actual immoral scientific practice began to proliferate. The science behind eugenics, torture, the tobacco industry, weapons of mass destruction and, dare I mention, almost the whole field of the psychology of advertising are cases in point. The idea of some sort of an association between scientific inquiry and the growth of moral virtues seemed to have lost all traction and market value.

(c) As the twentieth century progressed, science did take a moral turn, but not one which sought to retrieve ideals about the intrinsic moral benefits of sound scientific practice on its practitioners. Rather than rekindling aspirations for moral excellence, science sought to set minimal standards of what counted as acceptable practice from a narrowly understood “ethical”—rather than a more broadly understood “moral”—point of view. We entered the complex labyrinth of rules and codes, ethical reviews, and ethical committees: the realm of soulless deontological formalisms backed up by carrots and sticks.[9]

Some recent work in professional ethics signals a backlash against the tyranny of thin ethical codes.[10] More generally speaking, the upsurge of virtue ethics—mostly of neo-Aristotelian provenance—in moral philosophy has retrieved the whole language of virtue and character as crucial to human association and human practices. It does not sound outlandish or archaic any more to talk about the virtues of the good professional or the good practitioner, although those virtues would more often be understood in intellectual or epistemic, rather than moral, terms. Nevertheless, it would seem futile in the current climate to attempt to resurrect the medieval idea of the inherently morally formative value of scientific practice. It has taken such a knock—empirically as much, or more so, than philosophically—that it must count as beyond redemption. This is why at the outset I was careful to formulate my two “conclusions” in aspirational rather than descriptive terms. I suggested what scientific practice and science education “can” and “should” ideally do for those who pursue them, not what such activities need necessarily do, even in their more idealised instantiations.

In the remainder of this lecture I propose to argue for the aspiration that scientific practice and science education cultivate a certain morally virtuous trait in practitioners and students: namely that of awe. However, as a necessary stepping stone to this argument I need to say quite a bit first about an intellectual virtue that carries a certain relation to awe, yet falls short of it: namely, wonder. It would be less cumbersome and controversial to argue for the thesis that science aspires to the cultivation of wonder. Indeed, in support of that weaker version of my thesis, I could helpfully enlist Aristotle as my ally. In arguing for the stronger thesis about awe as a moral virtue I need to acknowledge, however—as much as this pains me as a self-styled neo-Aristotelian—that Aristotle plays the role of the pantomime villain rather than that of the savior. In other words, one of the reasons why the thesis that I argue for will appear strong, even to the point of sounding positively implausible, is that it does not have any Aristotelian virtue ethical ammunition to back it up.


Aristotle argued that all academic inquiry starts with wonder; his mentor Plato had already made similar points through his mouthpiece Socrates. Einstein later echoed those claims and added to them by claiming that the scientist who can no longer experience wonder “is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle.”[11] Concerned that some scientifically oriented people have indeed fallen prey to such a disenchantment, Caspar Henderson has recently published an inspiring book, entitled A New Map of Wonders.[12] Henderson takes us on a rollercoaster ride through some of the wonders that science has discovered, arguing that these should, if all is well, excite wonder in us. Just consider some of its topics—light, life, the heart, the brain, selfhood, our world as a whole—and you can just imagine, even if you have not read the book, the stories of how encounters with those phenomena have enraptured scientists and blown them away as new and astounding truths have been unveiled. Admittedly, in what Thomas Kuhn used to call “normal science,” one may envisage days of non-uplifting drudgery in the lab. But at least during times of great discoveries, of Kuhnian “revolutionary science,” it is difficult to imagine the spirit of the scientist not “firing on all cylinders.”[13]

Henderson defines wonder (citing Martyn Evans and Philip Fisher) as “an attitude of altered, compellingly intensified attention towards something that we immediately acknowledge as important” and crave to understand—where this “something” is “a feature of the middle distance of explanation, outside the ordinary” but “short of the irrational or unsolvable.”[14] While these descriptions do not amount to a philosophically rigorous specification, they do capture something essential about wonder. Wonder encapsulates human beings’ most intense form of curiosity about the world in which we live and all its to-be-revealed enigmas. Just consider David Attenborough following the elegant movements of some sea animals that has never been captured on film before—and envisage the shine in his eyes. Wonder elicits heightened awareness of what is going on before our eyes, but at the same time a lessened self-focus. We forget ourselves and even the very passing of time as we lose ourselves in what Csikszentmihalyi defined as a state of flow.[15] Then, as our mind “fires on all cylinders,” we activate states of forceful (but not forced) contemplation where we try to untangle the relevant mystery, believing that it bears untangling. Finally, we experience pleasure, not as an immediately felt, self-conscious state but as a retrospectively identifiable satisfaction through unimpeded activities.

Wonder is an intellectual virtue in two distinct but interrelated senses. It (a) arouses the intellect and (b) directs it towards objects that are seen as intellectually understandable and decipherable, at least in principle if not always in immediate practice. It is crucially important to distinguish this virtue from that of awe, as I argue further in the following section. To be sure, wonder often seems to function as a gentle and low-level relative of awe (and its common precursor), with awe, then, best being described as intensification of wonder; and it is difficult to determine exactly at what point wonder shades into awe proper. A careful study of lay uses of the words “awe” and “wonder” may hold the key here.[16] It indicates that whereas “wonder” is associated with curiosity in trying to understand the world and contemplate its workings, awe is more related to observing it existentially—reflected in greater use of perception words.

Incidentally, this distinction between lay uses of the two concepts corresponds substantially to a specification suggested by Martha Nussbaum,[17] according to which wonder focuses on the value of the object, and is most likely to issue in contemplation but, contra awe, without self-reflexivity (i.e. with the subject “being minimally aware, if at all,” of the object’s “relationship to her own plans”). Nussbaum explains this non-self-reflexivity in terms of wonder being “non-eudaimonistic.” I am not very happy with that term. I would argue that it would indeed impact negatively upon the eudaimonia of the scientist—or the scientifically minded layperson—if they did not, at some juncture in the exploratory process, experience wonder as a compound emotion, drawing upon and intensifying their attention, curiosity, and contemplation. However, Nussbaum is right in that wonder may be experienced independent of, and without impacting, our personal projects or our existential awareness. In that sense it is non-eudaimonistic. It is not about us as psycho-moral agents, either about how we evaluate ourselves or how we act. In other words, wonder is not a moral virtue situated in the ethical sphere of human association and appraisal.

Recently two conceptual analyses of wonder have appeared, conducted by philosophers. Kevin P. Tobia provides an exhaustive list of the necessary and sufficient conditions for experiencing wonder.[18] Much of his rhetoric seems to indicate a strong affinity between wonder and awe, as he also connects experiences of wonder to a sense of mystery and immensity. Yet he specifically singles out two distinctions between awe and wonder, one having to do with wonder being positively valenced while experiences of awe can be entirely negatively valenced, the other based on the observation that, unlike wonder, awe does not require interest in the object.[19] I doubt that experiences of awe can be entirely negative, even if they may sometimes be slightly terrifying.[20] Moreover, although wonder and awe can be placed differently on the valence spectrum, I would follow Aristotle in seeing emotions being set apart by their cognitive consorts rather than their valence.[21] Tobia is right, however, in that (as opposed to wonder) awe does not require interest in the experienced object, if by “interest” he means “enduring intellectual interest.” It suffices that the object of awe captivates us momentarily and puts us into a spin.

Somewhat differently from Tobia, Sophia Vasalou warns against too tight conceptual characterisations of, and distinctions between, awe and wonder.[22] She proposes “loosening the tenacity” of “taxonomic grids” in the emotional sphere, mollifying their “steely unity.”[23] While acknowledging that awe is thicker in “the depth of feeling” than wonder, she sees both emotions as “tied to a mastery of language that is inherently pluralistic.”[24] I agree that ordinary language does not always distinguish clearly between wonder and awe, and that the feelings accompanying the two may often shade into one another. Indeed, Henderson’s popular book, on science as a journey towards marvels of wonder, often seems to apply the terms “wonder” and “awe” interchangeably. Yet to unpack and justify the conclusions with which this lecture began, on the ideal (aspirational) links between scientific practice and moral virtue, I need to trim the ragged edges of ordinary language somewhat; for whereas wonder is not, awe is, a morally virtuous emotion. What I have said so far does not yet support my strong conclusions at the outset; I need to delve deeper into the nature of awe.


In my recent book, Virtuous Emotions, I teased out the conceptual components of awe in the following way:

  1. The subject of awe is the person experiencing it.
  2. The feeling of awe is intense and predominantly pleasant although it may be slightly tainted with a sense of impending terror.
  3. The perception eliciting it can be visual, olfactory, auditory, and tactile.
  4. The intentional object of awe is the cognised contact with a truly great ideal that is mystifying or even ineffable in transcending ordinary human experiences. This experience is perceived to have increased existential awareness and connected the subject to a greater whole.
  5. The target of awe is constituted by the ideals of the famous Platonic triad of truth, beauty, and goodness. Depending on whether the target is truth, beauty, or goodness, awe presents itself as the more specific emotions of intellectual elevation (for truth), moral elevation (for goodness), or aesthetic elevation/ecstasy (for beauty). Awe can thus be seen as a term for a general emotional cluster.
  6. The characteristic goal-directed activity of awe is that of continuing to experience the emotion or experiencing it again, preferably more profoundly. Awe does not, however, present itself with a distinct behavioral pattern, apart (possibly) from a common facial expression of blissful surprise.

I presented these as necessary and sufficient conditions for an experience of awe to take place. This formulation does not mean that I consider the concept of awe to be specifiable with mathematical precision. Awe, like all emotion concepts, is open-textured and has vague boundaries. This vagueness is not, however, a result of the unavailability of relevant necessary conditions; it is rather a result of those conditions themselves being vague. For example, it is impossible to define with any mathematical precision the exact dividing line between mere wonder at a remarkable natural phenomenon, like the rainbow, and awe at a unique appearance of a rainbow which is somehow connected to a heightened existential awareness.

Yet lack of mathematical precision does not indicate lack of a conceptual boundary. The essential uniqueness of awe lies in its constituting an essentially self-reflexive experience. More specifically, awe is a self-reflexive emotion in the sense that it represents a relationship between the intentional object and features of the self, although it is not “self-conscious” in the strong sense of being representationally just about the self (like pride or shame). Awe prompts us to self-consciously reflect upon ourselves, for example by re-evaluating our status in the universe. It is thus, in a sense, Janus-faced: it turns outwardly towards its target but inwardly towards ourselves and it forces us to consider ourselves against the horizon of a more immense external reality—even to the point of making us transcend the boundary between the internal and the external. Being self-reflexive and even self-transcending does not mean, however, that experiences of awe need to be self-comparative; I resent the recent trend of connecting awe conceptually or empirically to humility, for example.[25]

Another argument that I made in Virtuous Emotions, and only have time to articulate dogmatically here, is that awe can be seen as a virtuous emotion in an Aristotelian sense. It may seem strained at first to try to accommodate an emotional awe-trait within the famous Aristotelian architectonic of a quantitative and qualitative golden mean, but it is still worth a shot. For example, with respect to the quantitative mean, it is obviously not good to be in a state of constant rapture; that sort of aestheticism on steroids would count as the excess-extreme of awe. The deficiency-extreme would be constituted, however, by the insipid philistinism of those incapable of experiencing awe towards the right objects when the occasion calls for it. To be in a qualitative mean, awe would obviously also have to be felt for the right reasons, in the right manner, for the right length of time, and so on. In order to justify awe as virtuous, we will need to show that it speaks to an intrinsic human need whose satisfaction is constitutive of human flourishing. I have indeed argued that awe satisfies this condition by responding to an inter-human urge for self-transcendence: not only self-transcendence in a horizontal sense, where we connect intimately to other people, but in a vertical sense where we come into close contact, and even merge our minds, with high-brow ideals. Notice that when I talk about awe as a “virtuous” emotion, I mean “virtuous” in a moral, not just an intellectual sense. In informing our existential awareness of our status in the great chain of things, our self-evaluations and our self-conceptions of ourselves as moral agents at work in the world, awe does more than just guide the self away from itself, in a flow-like way—like wonder—towards external ideals. Rather, it touches the core of our own moral selfhood. The above claim that the target of awe is constituted by the ideals of truth, beauty and goodness does not mean, however, that awe always touches the core of our moral selfhood in the correct, virtuous way. As I noted above, awe does have a common excessive form of what I called “aestheticism on steroids.” A disposition to such experiences is a morally relevant disposition but not a virtuous one. Moreover, people may easily mistake the proper targets of awe, just as we can feel truly proud of something which is not a proper object of pride.

Despite all his claims about the contemplative life being the best life for human beings and his reminders about how wonder is the springboard of all academic inquiries, Aristotle was no friend of awe. On his great escape route away from Plato’s idealism, Aristotle seems to have become destitute of any sense of the ineffable, fearful of ecstatic wow-experiences, and limited in his view of the potential targets of morally relevant emotions: as comprising only other people (like compassion), ourselves (like pride), or external events (like fear), but not abstract ideals (like truth, beauty, and goodness). I consider these omissions to put severe constrictions on Aristotle’s conception of human flourishing.[26] Be that as it may, perhaps because of the continued influence of Plato and of gnostic philosophies, ideas about the essentially moral and self-transcending or ecstatic nature of deep scientific inquiry remained very much part of the Western mind set until the eighteenth century.[27] It was not until the Enlightenment that awe experiences—as part of or inspired by scientific practice—came to be seen as threats to the newly emerging ideal of the rational, industrious, autonomous, and controlled self, with awe being relegated to the status of a mere irrational excess of wonder,[28] and with wonder itself being domesticated and normalised through a process towards a fetishization of the mundane.[29]

Much as I admire Henderson’s rehabilitation of wonder into the world of scientific practice in his recent book, it does not quite reach the level of re-enchantment that I would recommend. I wish there were a little bit more of the rapture of another recent book in Henderson’s work. Jules Evans’s The Art of Losing Control is an unapologetic plea for the retrieval of ecstatic experiences across the whole spectrum of the human condition, and although he does not apply his argument to scientific practice in particular, it is easy to see how such implications could be elicited.[30] Evans may seem at times to come perilously close to sanctioning experiments in living that are potentially dangerous, such as dabbling with psychedelic drugs (albeit in “measured” ways), but I understand his more radical claims as deliberate antidotes to the post-Enlightenment fetishization of the mundane.

Anders Schinkel—who has recently received a John Templeton Foundation grant to study wonder—also tries to move beyond the disenchantment of ordinary wonder by postulating a concept of “deep wonder,” which goes beyond wonder as mere dispassionate curiosity and retains some of awe’s contours of mysteriousness and bewilderment.[31] Schinkel notes the relevance of this concept for science education. I am not sure whether there really is conceptual space for a notion of “deep wonder” between ordinary wonder and awe proper;[32] and even if there is, Schinkel’s new concept falls short of capturing the self-reflexive existential awareness that I would like to see inform the education and practice of science.

Some Educational Implications and Concluding Remarks

A few years ago, when watching a Horizon documentary on the BBC about the concept of infinity, I felt as if I had entered a magic kingdom. Covering topics such as those of possible parallel worlds, the mystery of the singularity of a black hole, and the prospects of an endless array of universes, this documentary truly enthralled me. I felt intellectually elevated, spirited up to a transcendent reality where I existed as an ineluctable part of a great chain of being. I recorded the programme and have watched it again and again, each time reliving some of the emotion of the first viewing but never taken again to the same experiential heights.[33] This is the sort of moment that I would like as many students of science as possible to experience—and I would hope that such moments can be part and parcel of scientific practice also.

My argument in this lecture has been elliptical in many ways, drawing cursorily on previous writings and offering abundant helpings of not-that-well-argued-for articulations of my faith in a deep-seated human urge for self-transcendent and self-reflexive experiences that awe can, but mere wonder cannot, furnish. Lurking in the background are more deep-seated assumptions, which cannot be argued here, about human flourishing as an essentially moral enterprise and about all good education as being morally informed. I rue the way in which the classic school curriculum, including most notably education in so-called STEM subjects, has become untethered from any moral or existential concerns.

Eminent educational philosopher John White has written an engaging book on a revolution in schooling towards a paradigm of human flourishing.[34] Yet even White is hesitant to expand the standard conception of flourishing to include awe. Indeed, he devotes a whole chapter to demonstrating that all the “depth” we need in order to live well can be achieved within an explicitly mundane view of flourishing.[35] Revelling, so to speak, in disenchantedness, his main foils are anything spiritual and otherworldly. The danger is that White throws the baby out with the bathwater. Not to see anything irreducibly awe-inspiring in the workings of the universe—the singularity of a black hole; the possibility of endless parallel worlds—involves, in my view, a concession to philistinism, although White himself is clearly anything but a philistine, with his constant reminders to schools to expose children to art and culture.[36]

White sounds warning signals about taking children down the will o’ the wisp road towards awe. He worries that, given children’s penchant for the supernatural and otherworldly, feeding them material on transcendence will nourish that urge and lead them further away from finding this-worldly answers to life’s greatest questions. They should be introduced to “wonder” but not to “awe” proper, as the latter has indelible religious connotations.[37] However, I have argued elsewhere that an acknowledgement of transcendence does not necessarily carry any such connotations.[38] Moreover, on the view of awe that I have been proposing in this lecture (a view which admittedly goes well beyond that of the historic Aristotle and gestures back to Plato on the love of the transcendent), we should allow, even encourage, children to peek under the arms of their educators—not least in science education—and catch a glimpse of the sunlight that exists outside the “cave” of mundane human experiences. Notably, Kieran Egan makes a distinction between wonder and awe, like White (with wonder focusing on the rationally graspable, but awe on the mysteries of existence), but he argues that it is the role of teachers to stimulate both emotions in students, and that they should do so by introducing each new topic with a focus on its exotic and unfamiliar aspects.[39]

White himself suggests that time should be carved out of the school day to enable students to pursue their particular passions.[40] I would go much further and suggest, explicitly, that teachers should expose students to experiences where they are most likely to come into contact with the ideals of truth, beauty, and goodness. Legends, fairy tales, and folk stories will provide an important initial resource in this regard, but as I have argued in this lecture, science education should ideally provide ample opportunities for awe experiences also. Enchantment is something that, I believe, can be taught through deliberative strategies in the science classroom. Complicating matters is, however, the necessary individualisation of virtue education. What triggers (virtuous) awe in one student may trigger non-virtuous awe in another, or even no awe at all. Cultivating awe in the science classroom thus requires considerable educational phronesis by teachers, geared towards the predispositions of the relevant individual students.

How far have I come in justifying the two “conclusions” with which this lecture started? I leave that to you, the audience, to judge. Much will depend, I presume, on the extent to which your general axiological commitments and your views of the nature of human flourishing coincide with mine. I hope I have at least been able to unpack what those conclusions mean, in practical terms, and to indicate a way in which a full argument for them could be elaborated. From an educational point of view, what I have been arguing for may not seem terribly radical in its essence. It is simply a rehearsal of the time-honoured view that all good education should help students see the world anew. What is radical, however, and will remain controversial, is the claim that this cannot be done through the elicitation of mere wonder as an intellectual virtue, and that even education in the apparently down-to-earth subject matter of the natural sciences should aim higher than that. Seeing the world anew is not only about seeing external reality anew—this flower, that galaxy—but about seeing ourselves anew in light of and as part of that reality, allowing ourselves to get lost in rapture as we grapple with the existential and moral ramifications of our being in the world.

KRISTJÁN KRISTJÁNSSON (Ph.D., University of St Andrews) is Deputy Director of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, and Professor of Character Education and Virtue Ethics, at the University of Birmingham. His research interests lie in character and virtues at the intersections of moral philosophy, moral psychology, and moral education. His publications include Aristotelian Character Education (Routledge, 2015), Virtuous Emotions (Oxford, 2018), and Virtues and Vices in Positive Psychology (Cambridge, 2013). In 2011, he was awarded the Ása Wright Award, the most prestigious award given annually to an Icelandic scholar. In addition to leading a number of the Jubilee Centre’s flagship projects, he oversees all research activities at the Centre. As a member of various international organizations and editorial boards, Kristjánsson collaborates with colleagues in Asia, Europe, and the United States on issues relating to the cultivation of virtuous character.


  • Carr, David. “The Human and Educational Significance of Honesty as an Epistemic and Moral Virtue.” Educational Theory 64.1 (2014): 1–14.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Perennial, 1990.
  • Darbor, Kathleen E., Heather C. Lench, William E. Davis, and Joshua A. Hicks. “Experiencing Versus Contemplating: Language Use During Descriptions of Awe and Wonder.” Cognition and Emotion 30.6 (2016): 1188–96.
  • Egan, Kieran. “Wonder, Awe and Teaching Techniques.” In Wonder-Full Education: The Centrality of Wonder in Teaching and Learning, edited by Kieran Egan, Annabella I. Cant, and Gillian Judson, 149–61. London: Routledge, 2014.
  • Evans, Jules. The Art of Losing Control: A Philosopher’s Search for Ecstatic Experience. Edinburgh: Canongate, 2017.
  • Henderson, Caspar. A New Map of Wonders: A Journey in Search of Modern Marvels. London: Granta Books, 2017.
  • Jones, Matthew L. The Good Life in the Scientific Revolution: Descartes, Pascal, Leibniz, and the Cultivation of Virtue. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.
  • Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues. Statement on Character, Virtue and Practical Wisdom in Professional Practice. Birmingham, UK: Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, 2016. http://www.jubileecentre.ac.uk/userfiles/jubileecentre/pdf/Statement_Character_Virtue_Practical_Wisdom_Professional_Practice.pdf
  • ——. A Framework for Character Education in Schools. Birmingham: Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, 2017. http://www.jubileecentre.ac.uk/userfiles/jubileecentre/pdf/character-education/Framework for Character Education.pdf
  • Keltner, Dacher, and Jonathan Haidt. “Approaching Awe, a Moral, Spiritual and Aesthetic Emotion.” Cognition and Emotion 17.2 (2003): 297–314.
  • Kristjánsson, Kristján. Virtues and Vices in Positive Psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
  • ——. “Flourishing as the Aim of Education: Towards an Extended, ‘Enchanted’ Aristotelian Account.” Oxford Review of Education 42.6 (2016): 707–20.
  • ——. Virtuous Emotions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.
  • Kuhn, Thomas. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.
  • MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue. London: Duckworth, 1981.
  • Nussbaum, Martha C. Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  • Schinkel, Anders. “The Educational Importance of Deep Wonder.” Journal of Philosophy of Education 51.2 (2017): 538–53.
  • Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.
  • Segev, Arik. “Does Classic School Curriculum Contribute to Morality? Integrating School Curriculum with Moral and Intellectual Education.” Educational Philosophy and Theory 49.1 (2017): 89–98.
  • Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.
  • Tobia, Kevin P. “Wonder and Value.” Res Philosophica 92.4 (2015): 959–84.
  • Vasalou, Sophia. Wonder: A Grammar. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2015.
  • White, John. Exploring Well-Being in Schools: A Guide to Making Children’s Lives More Fulfilling. London: Routledge, 2011.

  1. This paper was organized and written as a public lecture, and should be understood in that context.
  2. If you prefer to call awe a “virtuous emotion” rather than a full-blown virtue, I do not mind; I have done so myself. Notably, in either conceptualization, it is morally virtuous. See Kristján Kristjánsson, Virtuous Emotions, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), chapter 8.
  3. See, e.g., Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, A Framework for Character Education in Schools (Birmingham: Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, 2017), http://www.jubileecentre.ac.uk/userfiles/jubileecentre/pdf/character-education/Framework for Character Education.pdf.
  4. See, e.g., Matthew L. Jones, The Good Life in the Scientific Revolution: Descartes, Pascal, Leibniz, and the Cultivation of Virtue (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006).
  5. Even in that narrow form, many contemporary Aristotelians would contest this thesis. See my discussion in Kristján Kristjánsson, Virtues and Vices in Positive Psychology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), chapter 7.
  6. See Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (London: Duckworth, 1981). For a detailed discussion, see Arik Segey, “Does Classic School Curriculum Contribute to Morality? Integrating School Curriculum with Moral and Intellectual Education,” Educational Philosophy and Theory 49.1 (2017): 89–98.
  7. On the difference between honesty as an epistemic and moral virtue, see
  8. I review this history in more detail in Kristjánsson, Virtues and Vices in Positive Psychology, 4.
  9. For an analysis of this trend and a critique of it as anti-professional and demotivating, see Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe, Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing (New York: Riverhead Books, 2010).
  10. See an argument and various references in Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, Statement on Character, Virtue and Practical Wisdom in Professional Practice (Birmingham, UK: Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, 2016), http://www.jubileecentre.ac.uk/userfiles/jubileecentre/pdf/Statement_Character_Virtue_Practical_Wisdom_Professional_Practice.pdf.
  11. Cited in Anders Schinkel, “The Educational Importance of Deep Wonder,” Journal of Philosophy of Education 51.2 (2017): 538.
  12. Caspar Henderson, A New Map of Wonders: A Journey in Search of Modern Marvels (London: Granta Books, 2017).
  13. Ibid., 24. See also Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962).
  14. Henderson, A New Map of Wonders, 4, 7.
  15. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (New York: Harper Perennial, 1990).
  16. Kathleen E. Darbor, et al, “Experiencing Versus Contemplating: Language Use During Descriptions of Awe and Wonder,” Cognition and Emotion 30.6 (2016): 1188–96.
  17. Martha C. Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 54.
  18. Kevin P. Tobia, “Wonder and Value,” Res Philosophica 92.4 (2015): 959–84.
  19. Ibid., 962n4.
  20. Etymology seldom gets us very far in conceptual analysis. Nevertheless, it is instructive to note that the word “awe” is thought to be derived from the Old Norse word “agi” (terror, dread), a word which exists in contemporary Icelandic in permutations such as “ægilegur” (terrifying). Over the centuries, however, the center of gravity in “awe” moved from the terrifying to the fantastic, probably hand in hand with a decreased fear of supernatural powers. Yet a slight hint of underlying terror may still remain in the term in some locutions, which makes awe less than exclusively “positive” an emotion in terms of valence. See Kristjánsson, Virtuous Emotions, 8.
  21. Kristjánsson, Virtuous Emotions, develops this further.
  22. Sophia Vasalou, Wonder: A Grammar (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2015).
  23. Ibid., 26.
  24. Ibid., 32–33.
  25. I argue strongly against that common claim in Virtuous Emotions, chapter 8, and explain how it may have emerged through a skewed methodology of psychological self-reporting. For a more mainstream psychological take on awe and its psycho-social components and correlates, see Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt, “Approaching Awe, a Moral, Spiritual and Aesthetic Emotion,” Cognition and Emotion 17.2 (2003): 297–314.
  26. Kristján Kristjánsson, “Flourishing as the Aim of Education: Towards an Extended, ‘Enchanted’ Aristotelian Account,” Oxford Review of Education 42.6 (2016): 707–20.
  27. Jones, The Good Life in the Scientific Revolution.
  28. See, for example, Jules Evans, The Art of Losing Control: A Philosopher’s Search for Ecstatic Experience (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2017), especially xvi, 197.
  29. See Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 308.
  30. Evans, The Art of Losing Control.
  31. Schinkel, “The Educational Importance of Deep Wonder.”
  32. Conceptual parsimony is typically seen to be in the service of economy and clarity. Recall here also Ockham’s razor.
  33. For this and some other personal experiences of awe, see Kristjánsson, Virtuous Emotions, chapter 8.
  34. John White, Exploring Well-Being in Schools: A Guide to Making Children’s Lives More Fulfilling (London: Routledge, 2011).
  35. Ibid., chapter 12.
  36. See Kristjánsson, “Flourishing as the Aim of Education,” and Virtuous Emotions, chapter 8.
  37. White, Exploring Well-Being in Schools, 98.
  38. Kristjánsson, “Flourishing as the Aim of Education.”
  39. Kieran Egan, “Wonder, Awe and Teaching Techniques,” in Wonder-Full Education: The Centrality of Wonder in Teaching and Learning, edited by Kieran Egan, Annabella I. Cant, and Gillian Judson (London: Routledge, 2014), 149–61.
  40. White, Exploring Well-Being in Schools, 104.


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