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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Columbia professor addresses public monuments, collective memory at SU Milton Lecture, September 20

Michele Moody-Adams is a moral, political philosopher, with strong ethics background

Sept. 9, 2011, by Rob Enslin

Michele Moody-Adams—a moral and political philosopher who works on contemporary ethical issues in law, politics, class, race, and gender, as well as on theoretical issues in moral objectivity and moral psychology—is delivering the Milton First-Year Lecture in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences. Her lecture, “Public Monuments and the Obligations of Collective Memory: Vietnam, the Civil War, and the Holocaust,” is on Tuesday, September 20, at 7:30 p.m. in Goldstein Auditorium of the Schine Student Center. 

Funded by the Laura Hanhausen Milton Freshman Lecture Endowment, the event is part of The College’s First-Year Experience, and is open only to first-year and transfer students in Arts and Sciences and to their First-Year Forum leaders. For more information, call The College’s Office for Curriculum, Instruction, and Programs at 315-443-1414.

“Michele Moody-Adams is an exceptional scholar who embodies a deep-seated commitment to the liberal arts. Her presentation is sure to inspire students to become more reflective and responsible citizens of the world,” says Arts and Sciences Dean George M. Langford.

Senior Associate Dean Gerald Greenberg agrees, saying that the lecture will draw largely from Moody-Adams’ forthcoming book, “Arguing with the Past,” which explores connections between history and morality.

“The collective memory of a nation is represented by the kinds of memorials it chooses to erect or not to erect,” says Greenberg, who oversees academic affairs; the humanities; and curriculum, instruction, and programs in The College. “Memorials connected to tragic events, including 9/11 and the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, are very real to the Syracuse community.”

An expert in reparations claims, truth and reconciliation commissions, national apologies, and the idea of forgiveness, Moody-Adams is the Joseph Straus Professor of Political Philosophy and Legal Theory at Columbia University. Previously, she was dean of Columbia College, vice provost for undergraduate education at Cornell University, and professor of philosophy and director and Hutchinson Professor of Cornell's Program on Ethics and Public Life.

Moody-Adams’ teaching and research involve ethical theory, the history of ethics, political philosophy, practical ethics, the philosophy of law, and the history of philosophy. She is the author of “Fieldwork in Familiar Places: Morality, Culture, and Philosophy” (Harvard University Press, 2002), considered one of the leading critiques of moral relativism.

“What she shows is that relativists do not merely arrive at conclusions that are untenable, but that even the supposed 'anthropological facts' of hopeless divergence on ethical principles between different cultures depend upon questionable methodology and tendentious interpretation,” writes philosopher Hilary Putnam.

The following day at SU, Moody-Adams will deliver the keynote address at a symposium honoring philosophy professor Laurence Thomas.

The Milton First-Year Lecture is named for Laura Hanhausen Milton ’50, a member of The College’s Board of Visitors who, along with her husband, Jack ’50, is a long-time supporter of SU. The lecture is the signature event of The College’s First-Year Experience, a series of programs designed to facilitate students’ transition to University life. Past speakers have included Shen Wei Dance Arts, Jane Goodall, Henry Louis Gates, Isabel Allende, Steven Pinker, and David McCullough.