Prof. Jonathan Lear to examine gratitude in 2024 Ryerson Lecture

Leading philosopher to deliver April 2 public talk at Rubenstein Forum

Prof. Jonathan Lear, a preeminent scholar of philosophy and ethics, will deliver the 2024 Nora and Edward Ryerson Lecture on April 2 at 5 p.m. in the Rubenstein Forum’s Friedman Hall.

Since 1972, University of Chicago faculty have nominated one of their peers who has made “research contributions of lasting significance” to deliver the Ryerson Lecture to the members of the UChicago community. The event is free and open to the public and will be webcast on UChicago’s digital channels.

“It is an honor to be invited to give the Ryerson Lecture,” said Lear, the John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor in the Committee on Social Thought, the Department of Philosophy and the College. “I am delighted and very much look forward to trying out some ideas with my colleagues.”

Lear’s scholarship examines fundamental questions related to understanding ourselves, from the time of Socrates to the present. His research into the human psyche also pulls from his background as a practicing psychoanalyst—another of Lear’s frequent areas of study.

Throughout his career, Lear has continually bridged the gap between ancient minds and our contemporary world. His scholarship delves into the many facets of how we make sense of who we are—and our ethical obligations to each other.

Lear’s Ryerson Lecture, titled “Gratitude, Mourning, Hope and Other Forms of Thought,” will delve into what it means to express gratitude.

“One might think that ‘thank you’ is enough. It turns out to be more complicated than that,” Lear said. “I want to see how gratitude fits with other thoughts I’ve had over the years about human flourishing and suffering.” 

A prominent public scholar, Lear has published dozens of books and articles that illuminate complex philosophical issues for both general and scholarly audiences. His renowned 1988 book “Aristotle: The Desire to Understand” has become an essential guide through key texts of the philosophical titan of ancient Greece.

In addition to providing new insights into classical texts, Lear’s arguments continue to address pressing contemporary issues. His book, “Radical Hope. Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation” (2006) focuses on cultural preservation in Indigenous communities and the continual challenges posed by colonialism. His most recent book, “Imagining the End: Mourning and Ethical Life” (2022), grapples with how we collectively mourn and make meaning in an era defined by crisis and anxiety.

From 2014 to 2022, Lear led UChicago’s Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society as the inaugural Roman Family Director. He is the recipient of numerous honors and grants and is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The Ryerson Lectures originated through a bequest from Nora and Edward Ryerson. Edward Ryerson was a former chairman of the University’s Board of Trustees. Other recent lecturers have included astronomer Wendy Freedman, political scientist Cathy Cohen, paleontologist Neil Shubin, Nobel-winning economist Richard Thaler, psychologist Susan Goldin-Meadow, linguist and anthropologist Michael Silverstein, and physicist Sidney Nagel.

To attend the free Ryerson Lecture either virtually or in-person, register here.