Tanner-McMurrin Lectures

Martha Nussbaum

2019 Tanner-McMurrin Lecture

Anger, Fear and the Politics of Blame

Professor Martha Nussbaum, The University of Chicago Law School

February 22, 2019

S.J. Quinney College of Law Moot Courtroom (Level 6)

The event is free and open to the public—no tickets are required.

Martha C. Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, appointed in the Law School and Philosophy Department at the University of Chicago. She is an Associate in the Classics Department, the Divinity School, and the Political Science Department, a Member of the Committee on Southern Asian Studies, and a Board Member of the Human Rights Program. She received her BA from NYU and her MA and PhD from Harvard. She has taught at Harvard University, Brown University, and Oxford University.

Professor Nussbaum is an Academician in the Academy of Finland, a Fellow of the British Academy, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. In addition to her numerous national and international awards, she has received over 60 honorary degrees from colleges and universities in the US, Canada, Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Her books in philosophy, law, education, gender studies, and other related areas are among the most important and influential publications in these fields.


4:00 p.m., Lecture + Q&A

5:30-6:30 p.m., Reception

6:30-7:00 p.m., Book Signing

4:00-7:00 p.m., S.J. Quinney College of Law Moot Courtroom (Level 6)

This lecture investigates the climate of simmering anger that disfigures most modern democracies, expressing itself in blaming and targeting of unpopular groups. Nussbaum argues that a philosophical analysis of anger and its roots in the experience of powerlessness can help us as we move forward.  Beginning with an example from Greek tragedy in which retributive anger is refashioned into constructive work and hope, she will focus on the role of retributive desires in most instances of everyday anger.  She argues that the desire for payback is counter-productive since replicating the offense does not correct it. She then looks at the roots of retributive desires in experiences of helplessness.  She argues that there are just one species of anger that can help us as we move forward.  Called “Transition-Anger” because it faces toward the future, it has the following content: “How outrageous that is! It must not happen again.”  This type of anger eschews retributive thinking in favor of constructive work and hope.  She shows its relevance by studying the U. S. Civil Rights movement and the thought of Martin Luther King, Jr.

About the Series

The Westminster Tanner-McMurrin Lectures on the history and philosophy of religion were established at Westminster College of Salt Lake City in 1987 as a means of bringing major scholars—in the fields of history and philosophy of religion—to deliver public lectures and conduct seminars on basic issues in religious thought and practice.

The lecturers are appointed for the national and international recognition of their scholarly achievements without regard to ethnic, national, religious, or ideological considerations.

The lectures are open to the public without charge. The lecturer may conduct seminars in which others who have special interests relating to the subject of the lecture participate by invitation. They are published and made available to libraries and the general public, or they will be published in electronic form and made available, free of charge, for reading by any interested person.

The lecture is administered by the President of Westminster College, who chairs a select committee which is responsible for lectureship policies and the selection of the lecturers. The Lectureship is funded in perpetuity by an endowment gift from the late Dr. Obert Clark Tanner, formerly professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Utah, and the late Grace Adams Tanner. The Lectureship is named in honor of the late Dr. Sterling M. McMurrin who was the E. E. Eriksen Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Utah, and a former US commissioner of education. Dr. McMurrin was a trustee emeritus of Westminster College and a former colleague of Dr. Tanner in the Department of Philosophy (University of Utah).

The Lecture series was inaugurated in the Fall of 1989 by Professor Martin Marty (University of Chicago, Emeritus). More recently, lecturers in the series have included Rene Girard, Michael Walzer, Diana Eck, Arvind Sharma, Michael Doyle, Elaine Pagels, Seyla Benhabib, Rabbi David Novak, and Sr. Helen Prejean.

Over the past 15 years, encouraged and advised by Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish, daughter of O.C. and Grace Tanner, Dr. Michael Popich has expanded the scope of the endowed lecture series to include other occasions of public discourse as worthy of support by the lecture endowment. We trust that in diversifying our support for other forms of public discourse as we have, and as these are described above, we are still adhering to the spirit of the endowment so graciously provided by Obert and Grace Tanner. Support has been provided for events open to the public at the University of Utah, Utah Valley University, and Salt Lake Community College.