Ethicist Martha Nussbaum Gives Inaugural Kristeller Lecture In Western Cultural History Presented By Columbia University Libraries.

April 2002 The inaugural Paul O. Kristeller Lecture, "Compassion and Terror" by ethicist Martha Nussbaum, took place at the Italian Academy, Tuesday, April 2, 2002. A bequest left to Columbia Libraries by Woodbridge Professor Emeritus of Philosophy Paul Oskar Kristeller (1905-99) funds the Kristeller Occasional Lectures in Western Cultural History Before 1800.


The lecture, presented by Martha Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, University of Chicago Law School, was held at the Italian Academy of Columbia University. Ms. Nussbaum presented "Compassion and Terror" to a full house in the Piccolo Teatro.

Her talk began with the story of the fall of Troy as recounted in the play The Trojan Women presented to citizens in Athens six hundred years after the historic event. She conveyed the ethical and moral dilemma that we as individuals and as societies struggle with when faced with terror and our necessity to have compassion.

Nussbaum discussed compassion for the victims of the terror of September 11th, 2001 as the basis for individual and collective responses in the aftermath of the events. She said, "Compassion and terror are in the fabric of our lives. And in those lives we do see evidence of the good work of compassion, as Americans make real to themselves the sufferings of so many different people who they never would otherwise have thought about."


After her lecture, Nussbaum answered several questions from the large audience and continued to discuss ideas raised during her talk. The lecture was followed with a reception in the lobby of the Casa Italiana.

Nussbaum, who holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Harvard and has been awarded 18 honorary degrees, was a research advisor at the World Institute for Development Economics Research, Helsinki, a part of the United Nations University from 1986 to 1993. She has taught at Harvard, Brown, and Oxford Universities and is the author of a number of articles and books, including the award-winning Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education and Sex and Social Justice.

Her lecture will be printed in the journal Daedelus.

Paul Oskar Kristeller (1905-99), Woodbridge Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, was the world's leading historian of Renaissance philosophy. Proceeds from the Paul Oskar Kristeller Endowment to the University Libraries were designated by the donor for the acquisition of Western books and manuscripts for the Libraries and for the support of occasional lectures panels, and scholarly programs.

written: 05/2002
photo credit: Columbia University