In October of last year, The University of Chicago Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Alumni Group presented a lecture by Ernst Freud Distinguished Service Professor Martha Nussbaum, lecturing on the legal and moral debates surrounding same-sex marriage in the U.S. The post-lecture discussion was led by Melanie Rowen, AB'99, JD'04, attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. This talk was recorded October 22, 2009.
Philosophy Talk, a weekly, one-hour radio series, recently celebrated their 200th episode with a discussion of the "Top 10 most pressing philosophical issues for the 21st century." The discussion included Chicago's own Brian Leiter and Martha Nussbaum. Listen to the show here.
Last month, the Law School hosted an interdisciplinary conference dedicated to exploring the legal dimensions of Shakespeare's plays. The keynote conversation, featuring Justice Stephen Breyer, Judge Richard Posner, and Professors Martha Nussbaum and Richard Strier, was fascinating, but the real highlight of the weekend was watching the participants -- including Justice Breyer -- perform scenes from the Bard's plays, including Measure for Measure, As You Like It, and Hamlet. Video of the keynote and the scenes, is embedded after the jump.
will bring together thinkers from law,
literature, and philosophy to investigate the legal dimensions of
Shakespeare's plays. Participants will explore the ways in which the
plays show awareness of law and legal regimes and comment on a variety
of legal topics, ranging from general themes, such as mercy and the
rule of law, to highly concrete legal issues of his time. Other papers
will investigate the subsequent influence of his plays on the law and
explore more general issues concerning the relationship between law and
The highlight of the conference for many, we suspect (including the Tribune's theater blog), will be watching special guest Justice Stephen Breyer perform as the ghost of Hamlet's father in a series of scenes from the Bard's plays that will be staged as part of the conference. Of course, the keynote conversation between Breyer, Nussbaum, Posner, and Strier will likely be just as fascinating.
The conference is free and open to the public. All the world's a stage, but the Weymouth Kirkland Auditorium isn't exactly the Globe, so space may be limited. The scenes and keynote will be made available on the web once they're ready.
If you attend and happen to be tweeting at the event, please use the hashtag #bardlaw.
Martha Nussbaum presented two moments from Indian history that highlight the ways that the reconstruction of religion for political purposes can sometimes be bad for women. She is not focused on Islam, but her insights are relevant to today's discussion nonetheless.
In 1890, a 10 year old child was raped to death by her adult husband. Under existing law, this was not a crime. The marriage age was 10 and marital rape was not recognized. There was a reform movement which tried to have the husband prosecuted, but the British judge chose to accept the husband's version of the events and the law. The judge said that he had to defer to the wisdom of Hindu tradition. He noted the inadvisability of external influence and meddling. Hindu reformers pushed for legislative change, but the British resisted this as well out of respect for "Indian" culture and tradition. There was a tremendous push for reform in this time period involving many women. Why did this fail? The British did not allow internal reform. "Primitive India" was easier to control. The British promoted mysticism at the expense of science. Another view is that the British recognized that subject males needed to rule something. Ruling over women made them less troublesome for the colonial power.
The other moment that Prof. Nussbaum discussed is more recent and ongoing. The Hindi Right came about in opposition to reformers like Ghandi. This movement reconstructed Hinduism reinforcing female docility and male aggression. They were also greatly influenced by German nationalist thought. Gandhi saw Hinduism to mandate equality for women and was joined by liberal Muslims. The Indian independence movement was built on these movements together. These movements were not secular; they followed their religion to these egalitarian ideas. The Hindu Right depict themselves as pure, but aggressive towards enemies. They then depict Muslim men as overly sexual and violent. They claim that this is true Hinduism and call reformers, like Gandhi, secular, not really Hindu. They pick and chose passages from Hindu texts that reinforce purity in love and aggression in war. They do not like, and react violently, to presentation of Hindu texts that are in opposition to this vision.
Why did Prof. Nussbaum choose to share these historical moments in Hinduism at a conference devoted to the Muslim world? She wanted to stress the fact that democratic reform movements are not always inauthentic and they are not always Western. Both of the reform movements discussed above are internal to India and were opposed by the West, or western thought. She also wanted to draw attention to the common phenomenon of the distortion of religious tradition and doctrine when they become tied to politics and power. Additionally, she would like us to remember that this distortion is often used to subjugate women.
In February 2010, Oxford University Press will publish my book FROM DISGUST TO HUMANITY: SEXUAL ORIENTATION AND THE CONSTITUTION. What follows is a brief extract from the chapter on same-sex marriage. Although I address the distinction between marriage and civil unions elsewhere in the chapter, I think the arguments against the pending Illinois civil union bill are the same ones standardly made against same-sex marriage.
As we examine the standard arguments against same-sex marriage, we must keep two questions firmly in mind. First, does each argument really justify legal restriction of same-sex marriage, or only some people’s attitudes of moral and religious disapproval? We live in a country in which people have a wide range of different religious beliefs, and we agree in respecting the space within which people pursue those beliefs. We do not, however, agree that these beliefs, by themselves, are sufficient grounds for legal regulation. Typically, we understand that some arguments (including some but not all moral arguments) are public arguments bearing on the lives of all citizens in a decent society, and others are intra-religious arguments. Thus, observant Jews abhor the eating of pork, but few if any would think that this religiously grounded abhorrence is a reason to make the eating of pork illegal. The prohibition rests on religious texts that not all citizens embrace, and it cannot be translated into a public argument that people of all religions can accept. Similarly in this case, we must ask whether the arguments against same-sex marriage are expressed in a neutral and sharable language, or only in a sectarian doctrinal language.
Second, we must ask whether each argument justifies its conclusion, or whether there is reason to see the argument as a rationalization of some deeper sort of anxiety or aversion (“animus”, to use the language of Romer v. Evans).
Professor Martha Nussbaum on the Rationality of Fearing Death
Nearly everyone fears death. Is this a
rational response, or just something irrational, perhaps created by
culture or biology? Unsurprisingly, this is one of the oldest
questions in philosophy. Epicurus famously argued that this fear is
irrational, because death cannot be good or bad for someone who is,
after all, dead. Philosophers ever since have considered this
argument, and many have claimed that it is incorrect or incomplete in
some way. Professor Martha Nussbaum is among those who have thought
and written about this issue, and she presented her recent work,
titled “The Damage of Death: Incomplete Arguments and False
Consolations” at this week's Works in Progress (WiP) talk at the
law school. In the paper, Prof. Nussbaum does argue that Epicurus has
missed something, and offers two “false” consolations before
identifying a more appealing one that has its own roots in classical
philosophy. Discussions at the WiP talk focused on Prof. Nussbaum's
direct responses to the Epicurean position, though the paper delved
further into the implications of its incompleteness.
Late last year, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics Martha Nussbaum and Harry Kalven Visiting Professor of Law Cass Sunstein organized a conference devoted to an interdisciplinary discussion of the legal and ethical
issues posed by the new ways in which privacy can be invaded. "Speech, Privacy, and the Internet: The University and Beyond" brought together leading scholars to discuss these topics. As the conference webpage states,
current rise in invasive personal gossip, much of it anonymous and much
of it directed at students, often by other students, creates an
atmosphere that threatens to disrupt the climate of instruction. On
the other hand, restrictions on such internet sites raise delicate free
speech issues. What challenges do these developments raise on campus,
and what direction should universities take to meet these challenges?
Video of the conference keynote address, by former Chicago professor Lawrence Lessig, is embedded after the jump. The video also includes intros from Profs. Nussbaum and Sunstein and Provost Thomas Rosenbaum. You can read the University News Office story about the conference here. Audio downloads, abstracts, and selected papers are available here.
This week's edition of the Faculty Podcast is a double header of two recent Chicago's Best Ideas talks: Judge Diane Wood and Martha Nussbaum February 2nd discussion "Constitutions and Capabilities," in which the pair discuss practical implications for judges of Prof. Nussbaum's capabilities approach; and Richard Epstein's "The Coming Meltdown in Labor Relations," in which he discusses the Employee Free Choice Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and the Paycheck Fairness Act.
You can read Bryan Hart's summary of the Nussbaum/Wood talk here, and download the audio here; Bryan's write-up of the Epstein event is here, and the audio is here.