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Tanner Lectures on Human Values at the University of Michigan

2021-2022 (Postponed from 2020-2021)

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Professor of Philosophy and Law, NYU

Concepts and Persons

Work: What Is It? Do Most of Us Need It, and Why?

The first is a question in social ontology: What is work? This question is both historical and conceptual, as questions in social ontology usually are. And the contemporary idea of work and of a job—and the related idea of a good job--are the results of conceptual and institutional developments over the last few centuries.

The second is an ethical issue, in Aristotle’s broad sense of ethics as concerned with eudaimonia: How does work fit into the good life? This problem is especially challenging because the idea of a good job involves many dimensions of assessment: Does it produce something useful? Does it make a positive contribution? Does it give the worker a decent income? Was that income fairly decided? Are the conditions of work satisfactory? Are they just? Does the job have the rewards of sociability? Is the work a source of significance for the worker? 

The third cluster of concerns is How should law and other sources of normative authority be configured to allow work to contribute to the flourishing of workers, and how should the opportunities and rewards of work be shared? Like Aristotle, I think we need to get the ethics right to do the politics, but I also think that, precisely because we are, as he insisted social animals, it is hard to pry them apart.

Symposium Pannel

Juliana Bidadanure, Stanford University
Joshua Cohen, Apple University
Andrea Veltman,  James Madison University

Recording Available


Charles W. Mills, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, CUNY

Concepts and Persons

After years of being restricted to the marginalized voices of people of color and a few white progressives, “racial justice” as a demand has suddenly jumped to the national center stage. Whereas Barack Obama self-consciously presented himself as a candidate who just happened to be black, and generally ran away from the topic, we are now witnessing the startling spectacle of mainstream Democratic candidates vying to be the most progressive on issues of race. Indeed, large percentages of white liberals now endorse a structural analysis of racial domination. For those of us old enough to remember the evasions of past electoral campaigns, and the hegemony in the Obama years of norms of “post-raciality” and “color-blindness,” it is a welcome and remarkable change, one doubtless attributable to multiple factors, from the activism of “Black Lives Matter!” on the one hand to the ominous rise of white nationalism and the alt-right on the other.

But what does philosophy have to say on this issue? After all, philosophers in the Western tradition like to think of themselves as the go-to guys on matters of justice, in a history that (supposedly) stretches 2500 years all the way back to ancient Greece. And since its revival half a century ago by John Rawls’s 1971 A Theory of Justice, mainstream Anglo-American liberal political philosophy has expressly taken social justice as its central theme. Where better to seek guidance on the subject of racial justice, then, than in the work of political philosophers, especially American political philosophers, citizens of what has historically been a white supremacist state?  

Alas, any such expectations would be sadly disappointed. “White” political philosophy and “white” liberalism, including Rawls and Rawlsianism, have generally been part of the problem rather than part of the solution. In this lecture, I will offer some thoughts and diagnoses on the causes of this troubling history, and some suggestions for the development of a new liberalism, one that recognizes its historic role in the creation and consolidation of white supremacy, and is committed, unlike currently hegemonic varieties of liberalism, to ending it.

Symposium Panel

Samuel Freeman, University of Pennsylvania
Michele Moody-Adams, Columbia University
Professor Nikhil Pal Singh, New York University

Recording Available


Michael Lambek, Professor and Chair of the University of Toronto Scarborough Department of Anthropology

Concepts and Persons

A feature of our life with concepts is making mistakes. Consideration of conceptual error has been central to philosophy, but largely avoided by anthropologists, who want to demonstrate the rationality of their subjects. I describe the situation of a troubled young man and argue that his difficulty stems in part from a conceptual error, from placing his situation under the wrong description. As the description concerns his relations with spirits, I reflect on the ways in which metapersons (God/s, spirits, demons) are at once concepts and persons, demanding responses that are both intellectual and ethical (practical). To separate them would be our category mistake. A common form of category mistake is treating incommensurable concepts as though they were commensurable, thereby perhaps trading the richness and ambiguity of incommensurability for the order of structure. Many of our stubborn and ostensibly binary oppositions are of this kind. Conceptual mistakes (mistakes of grammar) are not the same as faulty reasoning. They sometimes emerge or dissolve historically such that concepts that were incommensurable from one perspective become commensurable and perhaps incompatible with another (or vice versa).

Symposium Panel

Jonathan Lear, University of Chicago
Sherry Ortner, UCLA
Joel Robbins, Cambridge


Allan Gibbard, Professor Emeritus of the University of Michigan Philosophy Department, ACLS, Guggenheim, NEH, and Rockefeller research fellowships, and has been elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Member of the American Philosophical Society, Fellow of the Econometric Society, and Member of the National Academy of Sciences. He has been President of the Central Division of the American Philosophical Association, and he delivered the 2006 Tanner Lecture on Human Values at the University of California, Berkeley.

The Intrinsic Reward of a Life

Explorations of meaningfulness in life are widespread in philosophy these days, and I’ll be joinint in to explore aspects of significance in a life. Significance, like happiness, seems to come on a scale with positives and negatives. The significance of Hitler’s life, for instance, is strongly negative. One issue is of course whether significance is objective. On my view, this should get a treatment much like the objectivity of to-be-doneness, as I have offered in Thinking How to Live and other works. Like other ethical terms, we won’t be able to translate the word ‘significant” into naturalistic terms. But we can understand the attitude of regarding an aspect of life as of positive significance, then the significance of an aspect of life is something we can agree about or disagree about. We can legitimately treat this as a point to come to conclusions about, and work toward a consensus, with prospects of reaching one but no guarantee that we can.

Symposium Panel

Stephen Darwall, Yale
Connie Rosati, University of Arizona
Sigrun Svavarsdottir, Tufts


Radhika Coomaraswamy, Chairperson of the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission from 2003-2006 and UN Under Secretary General and as Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict from 2006 until her retirement in 2012

The Personality of Experience and the Universality of Values

This lecture was divided into three parts. The first part argued that the concepts of humanism have a near universal quality and predate the Enlightenment. They are present in most cultures in indigenous form, lending credibility to the idea that humanism is a shared value across societies and civilizations. What I mean by humanism is a foregrounding of the intuition for social justice, equality and freedom, the core elements of human rights as well as a personal and social emphasis on compassion, the very basis of humanitarian action.

The second part set out how humanism was particularly constructed by the Enlightenment project with its emphasis on laws and state structures and how it developed into modern traditions of human rights and humanitarian law especially within the United Nations system.

The third part outlined how in the post 9/11 world these traditions are being deeply challenged by intellectual critiques and world events that question the foundation of humanism as a universal value and human rights and humanitarianism as benign tools of the international community. It will also suggest ways to move forward.

Symposium Panel

David Kennedy, Harvard
Samuel Moyn, Harvard
Steven Ratner, University of Michigan

2015–16 CANCELED

Abhijit Banerjee, Department of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

What Do Economists Do?

Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee was educated at the University of Calcutta, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Harvard University, where he received his Ph.D in 1988. He is currently the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2003 he founded the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), along with Esther Duflo and Sendhil Mullainathan and remains one of the directors of the lab. In 2009 J-PAL won the BBVA Foundation "Frontier of Knowledge" award in the development cooperation category. Banerjee is a past president of the Bureau for the Research in the Economic Analysis of Development, a Research Associate of the NBER, a CEPR research fellow, International Research Fellow of the Kiel Institute, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Econometric Society and has been a Guggenheim Fellow and an Alfred P. Sloan Fellow. He received the Infosys Prize 2009 in Social Sciences and Economics. In 2011, he was named one of Foreign Policy magazine's top 100 global thinkers. His areas of research are development economics and economic theory. He is the author of a large number of articles and three books, including Poor Economics which won the Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year. He is the editor of a fourth book and finished his first documentary film, "The Name of the Disease," in 2006. Most recently, Banerjee served on the U.N. Secretary-General’s High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.  

Symposium Panel
Moderator, James Joyce, UM
Alexander Rosenberg, Duke
Nancy Folbre, UMASS
Debra Satz, Stanford
Abhijit Banerjee, MIT


A Conversation With Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court of the United States

Friday, Feb. 6, 2015 - 10 am
Hill Auditorium


Walter Mischel,  Robert Johnston Niven Professor of Humane Letters in the Department of Psychology, Columbia University
"Overcoming the Weakness of the Will"

Symposium Panel: "Volition, Self-Control, and Public Policy" 
David Laibson, Robert I. Goldman Professor of Economics, Harvard University
John Jonides, Edward E. Smith Collegiate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Michigan
Chandra Sripada, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Psychiatry, University of Michigan
 Ethan Kross, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Michigan


Craig Calhoun,  Director of the London School of Economics
Click on title for video stream: "Publicness (and its problems)"

Symposium Commentators (Click here for video stream)
Geoff Eley, Karl Pohrt Distinguished University Professor of Contemporary History, Chair and Professor of History, University of Michigan
George Steinmetz, Charles H. Tilly Collegiate Professor of Sociology and Germanic Languages, University of Michigan
Michael Warner, Seymour H. Knox Professor of English and Department Chair and Professor of American Studies, Yale University


John Broome, White's Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of Oxford and Fellow of Corpus Christi College
Click on title for video stream: "The Public and Private Morality of Climate Change"

Symposium Commentators (Click here for video stream)
William Nordhaus, Sterling Professor of Economics, Department of Economics and School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University 
Arun Agrawal, Research Associate Dean and Professor, School of Natural Resources and Environment


Martin Seligman, Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania
Click on title for video stream: "Positive Psychology and Positive Interventions"

Symposium Commentators (Note there are two links for entire symposium. Link oneLink two)
Kennon Sheldon, Professor of Psychology, University of Missouri-Columbia
Valerie Tiberius, Professor of Philosophy, University of Minnesota
Ruut Veenhoven, Emeritus-Professor of 'social conditions for human happiness' Erasmus
University, Rotterdam


Susan Neiman, Professor and Director of the Einstein Forum, Potsdam, Germany
Click on title for video stream: "Victims and Heroes"

Symposium Commentators (Symposium is available for check-out (DVD) at the Tanner Philosophy Library, 1171 Angell Hall) Lorraine Daston, Director, Ph.D., Professor, Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago, Honorarprofessorin für Wissenschaftsgeschichte an der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin; Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.
Philip Kitcher, John Dewey Professor of Philosophy and James R. Barker Professor of Contemporary Civilization, Columbia University
Alexander Nehamas, Edmund N. Carpenter II Class of 1943 Professor in the Humanities, Princeton University (last minute cancellation)


Uwe Reinhardt, James Madison Professor of Political Economy and Professor of Economics and Public Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University
Click on title for video stream: "American Values in Health Care: A Case of Cognitive Dissonance"

Symposium Commentators (click here for video stream)
Norman Daniels, Harvard University, Mary B. Saltonstall Professor of Population Ethics and Professor of Ethics and Population Health Department of Global Health and Population
Sherry Glied, Columbia University, Department Chair and Professor, Health Policy and Management, Mailman School of Public Health
Mark Peterson, UCLA, Professor of Public Policy and Political Science


Brian Skyrms, Distinguished Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science and Economics, University of California Irvine
Click on title for video broadcast: "Evolution and the SocialContract"

Symposium Commentators: (click here for videostream)
Elinor Ostrom, Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science, Indiana University, Bloomington
Michael Smith, Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University
Peyton Young, James Meade Professor of Economics, University of Oxford, and Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution


Samantha Power, Anna Lindh Professor of Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government
Click on title for video broadcast: "Human Rights: The Risk of Politics"

Allen Buchanan, James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy Studies, Duke University
Michael Barnett, Harold Stassen Chair of International Relations at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota
Steve Ratner, Professor of Law, University of Michigan


Marshall Sahlins, Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and of Social Sciences, University of Chicago
"Hierarchy, Equality and the Sublimation of Anarchy: A Western Metaphysics of Order That's Been Around for a Long Time"

Ian Morris, Professor of Classics and History, Stanford
Philip Pettit, Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Politics and Human Values, Princeton
E. Valentine Daniel, Professor of Anthropology, Columbia


Christine Korsgaard, Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Philosophy, Harvard
"Fellow Creatures: Kantian Ethics and Our Duties to Animals"

Marc Hauser, Professor of Psychology, Co-Director of Mind, Brain and Behavior Program, Harvard
Seana Shiffrin, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Law, UCLA
Allen Wood, Professor of Philosophy, Stanford


Claude M. Steele, Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences, Stanford University
"The Specter of Group Image: Its Unseen Effects on Human Performance and the Quality of Life in a Diverse Society"

Anita Allen-Castellitto, Professor of Law and Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania
Glenn C. Loury, Professor of Economics, Boston University
James Sidanius, Professor of Psychology, UCLA


Michael Fried, Herbert Boone Professor of Humanities and Director, Humanities Center, Johns Hopkins
"Roger Fry's Formalism"

Thomas Crow, Director, The Getty Research Institute
Toril Moi, James B. Duke Professor of Literature and Romance Studies, Duke
Richard Moran, Professor of Philosophy, Harvard


Partha Dasgupta, Frank Ramsey Professor of Economics, Cambridge
"Valuing Objects and Evaluating Policies: Economic Well-Being and the Natural Environment"

Debra Satz, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Stanford
T.N. Srinivasan, Samuel C. Parks, Jr. Professor of Economics, Yale
Jeremy Waldron, Maurice and Hilda Friedman Professor of Law, Columbia


Helen Vendler, Arthur Kingsley Porter University Professor, Harvard
"Poetry and the Mediation of Value: Whitman on Lincoln"

Kenneth Fuchs, Director and Professor of Music, Oklahoma
Mark E. Neely, Jr., McCabe-Greer Professor in the Civil War Era, Pennsylvania State University
Vivian Pollak, Professor of English, Washington University


Walter Burket, Honorarprofessor, University of Zurich
"Revealing Nature Amidst Multiple Cultures: A Discourse with Ancient Greeks"

Wendy Doniger, Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religion, University of Chicago, Divinity School
Sarah Morris, Professor of Classics, UCLA
Francesca Rochberg, Professor of History, UC Riverside


Antonio R. Damasio, M.W. Van Allen Professor of Neurology, University of Iowa
"Exploring the Minded Brain"

Richard Davidson, Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, Laboratory of Affective Neuroscience, Madison
Susan Wolf, Professor of Philosophy, Johns Hopkins
Robert Zajonc, Professor of Psychology, Stanford


Thomas M. Scanlon, Jr., Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity, Harvard
"The Status of Well-Being"

Peter Hammond – Stanford University
Shelly Kagan – Yale University
Cass R. Sunstein – University of Chicago


Henry Louis Gates, Jr., W.E.B. DuBois Professor of the Humanities, Chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies, Harvard
"Enlightenment's Esau: On Burke and Wright"

Gerald Graff, George M. Pullman Professor of English and Education, University of Chicago
Nell Painter, Edwards Professor of American History, Princeton
Hortense Spillers, Professor of English, Cornell
Cancelled at the last moment


Daniel Kahneman, Berkeley
"Cognitive Psychology of Consequences and Moral Intuition"

John Broome, University of Bristol
Frances Kamm, New York University
David Premack, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, U.R.A.


William Julius Wilson, The Lucy Flower University Professor of Sociology and Public Policy and Director of the Center for the Study of Urban Inequality, University of Chicago
"The New Urban Poverty and the Problem of Race"

Theda Skocpol, Professor of Sociology, Harvard
Roger Wilkins, Clarence J. Robinson Professor of History and American Culture, George Mason
Terry Williams, Associate Professor of Sociology, The New School for Social Research


Amos Oz, Award Winning Author, Professor of Hebrew Literature, Ben Gurion University
"The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict-Tragedy, Comedy, and Cognitive Block: A Storyteller's Point of View"

Rashid Khalidi, Associate Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History, Director, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Chicago
Anton Shammas, Adjunct Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Michigan
Bernard Yack, Professor of Political Science, Wisconsin


Christopher Hill, Honorary Fellow and formerly Master of Balliol College, Oxford
"The Bible in Seventeenth-Century English Politics"

Cynthia Herrup, Professor of History andLaw, Duke
Jerome B. Schneewind, Professor of Philosophy, Johns Hopkins
Jeffrey Stout, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Religion, Princeton


Richard Rorty, University Professor of the Humanities, Virginia
"Feminism and Pragmatism"

Joshua Cohen, Professor of Philosophy and Political Science, MIT
Nancy Fraser, Associate Professor of Philosophy and of Comparative Literature and Theory, Northwestern
Marion Smiley, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Wisconsin


Carol Gilligan, Harvard
"Joining the Resistance: Psychology, Politics, Girls and Women"

Mary Brabeck, Boston College
Judith Stacey, UC Davis
Richard Wollheim, UC Berkeley


Toni Morrison, SUNY Albany
"Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature"

Amiri Baraka, SUNY Stony Brook
Hazel V. Carby, Wesleyan
Eric Foner, Columbia


Albert O. Hirschman, Institute for Advanced Study
"Two Hundred Years of Reactionary Rhetoric: The Case of the Perverse Effect"

John Diggins, UC Irvine
Stephen Holmes, University of Chicago
Charles Tilly, The New School for Social Research


Daniel C. Dennett, Tufts
"The Moral First Aid Manual"

Drew V. McDermott, Yale
Richard H. Thaler, Cornell
Judith Jarvis Thompson, MIT


Clifford Geertz, Institute for Advanced Study
"The Uses of Diversity"

Stephen Balliol, Oxford
Richard Rorty, Virginia
Dan Sperber, University of Paris


Nadine Gordimer, South Africa
"The Essential Gesture: Writers and Responsibility"

Dennis Brutus, Northwestern University
Philippa Foot, UCLA
Gayatri Spivak, Emory University


Herbert A. Simon, Carnegie-Mellon University
"Scientific Literacy as a Goal in a High-Technology Society"

William Bennet, M.D., Harvard University
Hubert L. Dreyfus, University of California Berkeley
Maxine Greene, Columbia University
Alan Kay, Chief Scientist & V.P. for Research, Atari Computers


Thomas C. Schelling, Harvard University
"Ethics, Law, and the Exercise of Self-Command"

John Elster, University of Oslo
Lee Ross, Stanford University
Thomas Nagel, New York University


John Rawls, Harvard University
"The Basic Liberties and Their Priority"

Anthony Kronman, Yale Law School
Brian Barry, University of Chicago
Samuel Scheffler, University of California Berkeley


Robert Coles, Harvard University
"Children as Moral Observers"

Martin L. Hoffman, City University of New York
Carol Gilligan, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Gareth Matthews, University of Massachusetts, Amherst


Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University
"Comparative Social Theory"

Stuart A. Altman, University of Chicago
Alexander Alland, Jr., Columbia University
John R. Searle, University of California Berkeley


Sir Karl Popper, University of London
"Three Worlds"

Adolf Grünbaum, University of Pittsburgh
Hilary Putnam, Harvard University


Joel Feinberg, University of Arizona
"Voluntary Euthanasia and the Inalienable Right to Life"