The Holberg Symposium in honour of Martha C. Nussbaum: "Fear and Anger in Public Life: A Challenge for the Humanities"

The Symposium is held in honour of the 2021 Holberg Laureate, Martha C. Nussbaum.

We have recently witnessed, in many nations, outbreaks of ungrounded fear and destructive anger. How does our work as philosophers help societies to confront these problems?  Philosophy cannot propose practical solutions without input from other more empirical disciplines such as economics and political science, but good normative work is essential to direct these efforts.

First of all, philosophy contributes by helping us understand these emotions better, their cognitive structure and their developmental dynamics.  This work began very early in both Western and non-Western traditions: for example Greek and Roman critiques of public anger and fear, and the profound contributions of Indian Buddhist thought.  Today’s philosophers have been continuing that work and refining it, in critical conversation with the past.

But philosophers are also educators, and thinkers about education.  So another contribution our work can make is to ponder ways in which education at all levels can prepare young citizens to address these issues.  This would involve a role in education not only for practices of Socratic critical reasoning, but also for the artistic and literary humanities, which, if taught well, can potentially refine and extend the imaginative and emotional capacities.

The presentations will be followed by a panel discussion and Q&A. You can ask questions for the panelists in advance by filling out this form:

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by Professor Kjersti Fløttum, Chair of the Holberg Prize

Introduction of the 2021 Holberg Laureate

by Professor Ellen Mortensen, Academic Director of the Holberg Prize.

Martha C. Nussbaum

Martha C. Nussbaum: Introduction of the topic

Martha Craven Nussbaum is Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago. Nussbaum was awarded the Holberg Prize in 2021 for her outstanding contributions to research in philosophy, law and related fields.




Susan WolfSusan Wolf: "A Place for Anger"

Anger is a natural response to threat and aggression. In humans, it is often an expression of the sense that one has been disrespected or wronged. Though anger can be and often is destructive, it can also spark recognition and dialogue. Understanding the place of anger in our repertoire of emotions need not lead us to want to rid ourselves entirely of anger. We can instead aspire to develop an intelligent anger, which can be proportional, controlled, and constructive.

Susan Wolf is Edna J. Koury Distinguished Professor at the Department of Philosophy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on the relation between moral and nonmoral values, the nature and conditions of responsibility, and the idea of meaningfulness as a dimension of a good life.

Philip KitcherPhilip Kitcher: "Distrust and Democracy"

Fear and Anger are all-too-evident in many contemporary democracies. The distrust they generate interferes with the negotiations and compromises on which democratic policy-making depends. Using the example of climate policy, I'll offer a diagnosis of the phenomenon, and suggest ways in which, by deepening democracy and improving education, the disease might be mitigated.

Philip Kitcher is John Dewey Professor Emeritus at Columbia University. He is the author of many books and articles and has written on the philosophy of science, ethics, political philosophy, literature, music and education. In 2019, he was awarded the Rescher Medal for systematic philosophy.

Allison AitkenAllison Aitken: "Etiological Analysis as a Palliative for Anger"

The Indian Buddhist philosopher Śāntideva (8th c.) recruits metaphysical analyses of causation and agency to argue against the utility and rationality of retributive anger. He prescribes the use of etiological inquiry to engender understanding of a wrongdoer’s suffering as a prerequisite for determining an apt response to wrongs. I will consider how Śāntideva’s case against first-personal anger may be extended to the public domain in a way that calls for an “empathy-first” approach to injustice.

Allison Aitken is Bersoff Faculty Fellow in the Department of Philosophy, New York University. In Fall 2021, she will join Columbia University as an Assistant Professor of Philosophy. Her research centers on the history of metaphysics in both South Asia and Early Modern Europe.


by Holberg Laureate Martha C. Nussbaum

Panel discussion and Q&A

You can ask questions for the panelists in advance by filling out this form.

Closing remarks

by Holberg Laureate Martha C. Nussbaum


to 19:00, CEST.
Livestream link:
Practical information
Time: 04:00 P.M. – 07:00 P.M. (UTC+2) /
10:00 A.M. – 01:00 P.M. (EDT)
Virtual event.
No preregistration required.