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The Good Life: A&S Philosophy Professor Explores the Varied Human Condition

Published October 10, 2016 in News

By: Katie McNally | University Communications

There are many University of Virginia students who would tell you that their time on Grounds is preparing them to “live a good life.” But what does that mean? Is there any universal measurement of “good”?

Elizabeth Barnes wants to know. The associate professor and director of graduate admissions for UVA’s Corcoran Department of Philosophy challenges her students to go beyond their preconceived notions about what is good and valuable in life.

“I tell my students, ‘The world might not be the way you thought it was. The world might not be the way that seemed obvious to you in high school,’” she said. “I want them to realize that when they walked into a conversation, they had a lot of presuppositions and that maybe they need to critically interrogate those. That’s a lot of what I’m training them to do.”

Originally from North Carolina, Barnes came to UVA in 2014 after eight years of teaching at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. She specializes in metaphysics, social philosophy and feminist philosophy, and has spent most of her academic career questioning social norms and what it means to be “other.”

This semester, she’s addressing those questions with students in her course on the philosophy of well-being. Some days, the class discussion has personal meaning for Barnes.

“One of the things we’re talking about in this class is disability and the reliability of testimony of people about the value of their own lives,” she said. “There’s a lot of literature that assumes disabled people are less happy than non-disabled people and assumes that disabled people would prefer to be non-disabled.”

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