Fall 2014

"Pity and Gratitude: Thinking About Emotions in Philosophy and Literature" 
  • Presented by Adam Potkay, Chair of the English Department & Professor of Humanities
  • October 28, 2014 in the Kimball Theatre

Click to view larger versionWhen is it appropriate to pity another? Is pity useless and wasteful, or is it a manifestation of a caring heart, a call to action?

And what of gratitude? Does an unexpected gift make us beholden to the giver?

These are some of the questions Adam Potkay, William R. Kenan Professor of the Humanities and chair of the English Department, will explore in “Pity and Gratitude: Thinking About Emotions in Philosophy and Literature” at the Tack Faculty Lecture on Tuesday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m. at the Kimball Theatre.

From the Stoics to the Romantics, philosophers and authors have been concerned with what Potkay calls “the contested emotions.”

Some emotions, like anger and pride, are apparently problematic. Pity and gratitude may seem at first benign, but on inspection they are no less troublesome, as Potkay proves in his uniquely charismatic style. What vexed the ancients still pesters us today.

Potkay’s lecture cuts to the heart of what it means to be human in relation to others, as examined by two masterpieces of British literature: Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels,” specifically Book 4, Gulliver’s journey to the land of the Houyhnhnms, and William Wordsworth’s “Lyrical Ballads.”