It’s not often that JMU brings one of Foreign Policy magazine’s top 100 intellectuals in the world to campus. While many people might not fully appreciate how amazing it is to have received the Grawemeyer Award in Education in 2002, the Barnard College Medal of Distinction in 2003, the Radcliffe Alumnae Recognition Award in 2007, and the Centennial Medal of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University in 2010, Larry Burton and Ralph Cohen of the Cohen Center for the Study of Technological Humanism recognized that those accomplishments and the person who received them is exactly the kind of speaker that JMU should be trying to attract. Martha 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 also 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. Just by looking at her obligations at her home institution, you can see that she’s a woman of varied intellectual interests who also happens to be extremely busy.
She’s not too busy, though, to make plans to come to Harrisonburg twice this fall. “Injustice and the Dubious Value of Anger” was originally scheduled for September as the inaugural lecture in the Cohen Center’s Visiting Speakers Series, but Nussbaum had to stay grounded in Chicago after an unfortunate fire closed all of the city’s airports. Undeterred by this terrible accident, she readily agreed to reschedule her speech for this Friday, Nov. 14. In the abstract for her lecture, Nussbaum indicates that she wants to help her audience understand that anger is “fatally flawed from a normative viewpoint — sometimes incoherent and sometimes based on bad values. In either case it is of dubious value in both life and the law.” That will assist us Dukes in grasping why we need to re-think our attitude toward anger and how this new perspective might support revolutionary justice. So many of the brief, everyday moments in our lives are connected to anger in some way—the cranky review left on a website, the heated exclamation uttered when we get cut off in traffic, the passive-aggressive comments we make to our partners. The widespread, casual acceptance of this antagonism is reflective of a larger and more systemic issue affecting our entire society, and that’s something worth addressing. If Nussbaum’s lecture can get us to reconsider the role that anger plays in our lives, it can only be a good thing.
When an academic superstar like Martha Nussbaum is willing to make arrangements not once, but twice, to travel to our corner of the Shenandoah Valley, it says a lot about the kind of woman and scholar she is. The subject matter for her lecture says even more, and that subject has the potential to have a profound effect on our campus culture. With everything that she’s done to get here, we ought to do our best to make her feel welcome and to critically engage with the ideas she will propose. Nussbaum is one of the top minds working in the world today and for one afternoon, JMU will get to benefit from her wisdom and insight. “Injustice and the Dubious Value of Anger” will take place this Friday, Nov. 14 from 4:00 to 5:30 in the Health and Human Services building, room 2301.