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Information on the next First Things Intellectual Retreat can be found here.

Information on the next First Things Intellectual Retreat can be found here.

First Things is pleased to invite our readers to Los Angeles for a memorable weekend of seminars and lectures on The Search for Happiness. Participants will have the opportunity to explore texts alongside scholars and First Things writers and editors, discussing ideas and questions about happiness in small-group seminar sessions.

There are no academic prerequisites or expertise required to participate; no grades or exams—although you will receive a certificate of attendance from First Things. If you enjoy reading First Things or discussing the kind of ideas found in its pages then this event is for you. Discussions will take place in small seminar sections led by two faculty members per section. Participants will explore substantial texts and questions of great significance in an environment animated by a spirit of friendship and a common purpose.

The reading curriculum, drawn from Epictetus, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and Bertrand Russell, will explore the nature of happiness and its relationship with truth, religion, the public interest, and other important concepts. What is required for happiness? Is happiness even possible in the present life? Is it available for everyone, or only a lucky few? Is it dependent on the individual alone, or the community at large? How do wealth, friendship, virtue, and pleasure play into the pursuit of human fulfillment?

The readings offer four distinct perspectives on the nature and attainment of happiness, each of which will serve as the springboard for the discussion of a different set of issues in relation to the search for human ful llment: participation in public life, self-control and education, the longing for God, and the confrontation of death.

This is a rare opportunity to get together with like-minded individuals to talk about big, timeless ideas and how they inform our understanding of the issues that occupy our culture today.


The First Things Intellectual Retreat will be held from Friday evening, May 20 to Sunday morning May 22, 2016 at the UCLA School of Law.

Friday, May 20, 2016
6:00 pm Cocktail reception
7:00 pm Dinner & lecture:

“Love, Achievement, and Happiness”, Presented by Elizabeth Corey.
Elizabeth Corey is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Honors Program at Baylor University’s Honors College and author of Michael Oakeshott on Religion, Aesthetics, and Politics. Her talk will explore the conflict between personal and professional virtues, and the contributions each can make to a happy life.

Saturday, May 21, 2016
8:00 am Continental breakfast (optional)
9:00 am - 5:00 pm Seminar discussions

15-20 participants per group
Lunch & scheduled breaks throughout the day

6:00 pm Cocktail reception
7:00 pm Dinner & lecture

“The Crisis of Happiness”, presented by R. R. Reno.
R. R. Reno is the editor of First Things and author of several books, including Fighting the Noonday Devil and Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society, which will be published this summer. His talk will focus on how our culture of pleasure and achievement stands in the way of true happiness for people across the socioeconomic spectrum.

Sunday, May 22, 2016
9:00 am Continental breakfast (optional)
9:30 am Poetry reading with remarks by Dana Gioia.

Dana Gioia is the poet laureate of California. He is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently 99 Poems: New & Selected, (2016). His third collection, Interrogations at Noon (2001) won the American Book Award. His critical collections include Can Poetry Matter?(1992), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Award. He served as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts from 2003 to 2009 and currently holds the Judge Widney Chair of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California.

11:00 am End of intellectual retreat

Dress code: Business casual attire for cocktail receptions and dinners. Casual attire for breakfast, lunch and seminars.


Reading materials will be emailed to participants upon registration, with a bound copy to follow by mail. The texts for the retreat are as follows:

  1. Epictetus, The Enchiridion
  2. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (selections from Bk. 1)
  3. Thomas Aquinas, On Happiness (edited)
  4. Bertrand Russell, “The Free Man’s Worship.”

All participants will attend all seminars through the course of the day, in the following order:

1st Seminar: Epictetus, The Enchiridion
The first seminar of the series devoted to happiness will consider Epictetus’ claim that the only way to achieve happiness and freedom is to understand what things are in our control, and what are not, and to act according to that knowledge.

2nd Seminar: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (selections)
The second seminar will examine Aristotle’s arguments about what the chief good is for human beings, and how happiness is found in that good.

3rd Seminar: Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (selections)
The third seminar will discuss Thomas Aquinas’ various arguments that happiness is not found in wealth, not in honor, not in fame, and not in power. Aquinas also argues that happiness is not found in pleasure, not in any bodily good, not even goods in the soul. Finally he reasons that happiness should not to be sought in any created good, but is found in a life with God.

4th Seminar: Bertrand Russell, “The Free Man’s Worship.”
The final seminar will be a consideration of Bertrand Russell’s rejection of the arguments that there is a chief good for man, and that happiness is found in an approach to God.


Michael McLean
President, Thomas Aquinas College
Ph.D. Notre Dame University, 1977
Dr. McLean joined the Thomas Aquinas College faculty in 1978 after completing his doctorate. Previously he served in the U.S. Peace Corps and the U.S. Coast Guard.

John Agresto
Former President, St. John’s College
Ph.D. Cornell University, 1974
Dr. Agresto has taught at numerous colleges and universities, and served as Associate Director of the National Humanities center in North Carolina. He is also the author of several books and numerous academic articles.

Thomas R. Krause
President, The Agora Foundation
Ph.D. University of California, Irvine, 1977
Dr. Krause is president of The Agora Foundation, and he serves on the Board of Visitors and Governors of St. John’s College and the Board of Directors of Thomas Aquinas College.

Sean Kelsey
Associate Professor of Philosophy, Notre Dame University
Ph.D. Princeton University, 1997
The author and contributor of numerous publications, Dr. Kelsey’s focus is on ancient philosophy, Greek, and Aristotle studies. He also serves at the Director of Graduate Studies in Notre Dame’s Philosophy Department.

Frank Pagano
Tutor, St. John’s College
Ph.D. Boston College, 1981
Dr. Pagano is the former Director of the Division of Liberal Learning, University of New England, and a current Tutor at St. John’s College, Santa Fe. He was the Director of the Graduate Institute from 2001-2004.

James Carey
Tutor, St. John’s College
Ph.D. The New School for Social Research, 1998
Dr. Carey served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1967-69, and has been a Tutor at St. John’s College since 1979. During that time, he has severed and both Dean and Acting President of the College.

Paul O’Reilly
Vice President for Development, Thomas Aquinas College
Ph.D. Université Laval, 1989
After teaching for 22 years at Thomas Aquinas College, Dr. O’Reilly became the Vice President for Development in 2011, contributing to the financial stability of longevity of the college. He was born in Northern Ireland and move to North America at age 16.

Michael Augros
Tutor, Thomas Aquinas College
Ph.D. Boston College, 1995
After spending three years tutoring at Thomas Aquinas College, Dr. Augros taught philosophy at a seminary for 11 years. In 2009 he returned to Thomas Aquinas College and enjoys being back at his alma mater.


Participants are responsible for their own accommodations.
Hilgard House is a well-reviewed hotel close to the retreat venue. Space is limited; we encourage participants to book their rooms early.


Cost: $600 per participant

You may make a deposit of $300, with the balance due at the event, or pay in full in advance. The fee covers seminar tuition, assigned text materials, and all meals, including two cocktail reception and dinner lectures with First Things editorial staff and faculty from Thomas Aquinas College and The Agora Foundation. There are a limited number of seats available for graduate students or seminarians; please contact us for details.

Companion tickets are available at $100 per ticket for participant companions who would like to attend the evening receptions and dinner lectures but are not attending the day seminars.

To register, please use the form below. Check the corresponding box to either make a partial deposit or to pay in full, and to purchase a companion ticket, if required. If you are registering two participants or more, please re-use the form to register one seminar participant at a time—let us know who are the members of your party by writing their names in the Comment Box. Please also use the Comment Box for any special requests, such as kosher or vegetarian meals, wheelchair access, etc.

If you would like to mail your registration, please include the same information along with your check and mail it to:

First Things
Attn: Intellectual Retreat
35 East 21st Street, Sixth Floor
New York, NY 10010

You may also register by telephone at 1-212-627-1985, or contact us at

Please note: The registration fee does not include travel to Los Angeles or hotel accommodations.

Retreat Cancellation Policy: For a full refund of tuition fees, please cancel with at least three weeks advance notice from the event’s date. We reserve the right to substitute speakers, change venues, cancel seminars, cancel part of or the entire event, due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, our liability is limited to a prompt refund of the registration fee, on a pro-rata basis, for the affected days.

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Registration is now closed for the May 2016 First Things Intellectual Retreat in Los Angeles. If you still want to register, or are interested in learning about future retreats, please call our office at (212) 627-1985.