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Register for the Friday Night Keynote (5:30-7 pm) 

Register for Saturday Morning Panel Discussions (10 am-12:15 pm)

Click to download the 2021 Adams Symposium Agenda

Click to download the 2021 Adams Symposium Speaker Bios


The 2021 Adams Symposium, What Should the Work Ethic Mean in a Twenty-First Century Capitalist Society?” features Dr. Elizabeth Anderson, the John Dewey Distinguished University Professor, John Rawls Collegiate Professor, and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of Michigan.

Professor Anderson’s writings explore how people can improve their value judgments and how emotions contribute to knowledge and democratic debates. She is also interested in the ethical components of economic activities and the nature of workplace hierarchies. She has examined such issues in her book Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (And Why We Don’t Talk About It) and in numerous articles and other books. Professor Anderson’s analysis of human work continues to shape her current research on the history of egalitarianism since the seventeenth century.

Drawing analytical perspectives from philosophy and ethics as well as history, Professor Anderson exemplifies the engagement with public issues that was important to Maynard Adams and that frames the conversations at each Adams Symposium. How do we understand the meaning of the “work ethic” as economic systems evolve with new technologies and with workers whose labor often takes place “remotely”? Does contemporary capitalism influence workers’ lives in ways that resemble or differ from the influence of economic systems in the past? These are the kinds of social and historical questions that this Symposium will explore through the perspectives of ethics and philosophy.

The 2021 Adams Symposium resumes after a forced hiatus during the first weeks of the pandemic, but it will take place as a first-ever virtual webinar via Zoom. The Symposium begins with Professor Anderson’s keynote lecture at 5:30 pm on Friday, April 16. Her talk is entitled “What Should the Work Ethic Mean for Us Today? Reflections on Contemporary Capitalism,” and it will be followed by questions from the audience. Panels of faculty colleagues and public humanists will also respond to Professor Anderson’s themes during a continuation of the webinar on the next day, April 17, between 10:00 am and 12:15 pm.

To register, please visit the links below:

  • Keynote by Dr. Anderson, Friday, April 16
  • Panel Discussion & Responses by UNC Faculty, Saturday, April 17
    • The Ideas of Maynard Adams:

      • Max Owre, Carolina Public Humanities and UNC-CH Department of History

      • Jill Adams, Southern Illinois University

      • Karl Adam, Maynard Adams Fellow for the Public Humanities, PhD Candidate in Philosophy

    • Panel Discussion: The Work Ethic in Contemporary Capitalist Societies
      • Moderator: Joanna Sierks Smith, Carolina Public Humanities

      • Todd Ramon Ochoa, Associate Professor of Religious Studies

      • DeeAnn Spicer, Maynard Adams Fellow for the Public Humanities, PhD Candidate in Philosophy

      • Sarah Stroud, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Parr Center for Ethics

      • Benjamin Waterhouse, Associate Professor of History


In Spring 2017, Carolina Public Humanities offered a new initiative to bring scholars and the general public into dialogue on issues important to living in a “Society fit for Human Beings.” Our inaugural symposium, “The Power of Emotions in Personal and Public Life,” featured distinguished philosopher, Martha Nussbaum. The 2018 Adams Symposium, “Disagreements, Intolerance, & Incivility in Public Life,” featured NYU School of Law Professor Jeremy Waldron. The 2019 Adams Symposium, Why is Climate Change so Difficult to Address or Stop?,” featured Philip Kitcher, John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. Unfortunately, ,the 2020 Symposium, “Philosophy, Prisons, and the Search for Social Justice” featuring Tommie Shelby, Caldwell Titcomb Professor of African and African American Studies and of Philosophy at Harvard University, was canceled due to COVID-19.

(c) photograph by Richard McAlpin

The Adams Symposium is named for E. Maynard Adams, who was Kenan Professor of Philosophy at UNC Chapel Hill. Professor Adams (1919-2003) played a key role in the creation of the UNC Humanities Program and was an eloquent spokesman for the role of the humanities and human values in contemporary education and culture. We invite you to explore the world of Maynard Adams by visiting this page dedicated to his life and works.

This symposium replaced the Adams Lecture (1998-2013), which featured outstanding faculty from the UNC College of Arts and Sciences. The full list of past honorees is below.

1998 – E. M. Adams, “An Economy Fit for Human Beings”

1999 – Gerhard Weinberg, “Peace, War, and the United States in the Twentieth Century”

2000 – William E. Leuchtenberg, “The American Presidency in the Twentieth Century”

2001 – Jack Sasson, “The Search for the Hebrew God”

2002 – Lilian Furst, “The Novel as Social History: Windows on the Past”

2003 – Weldon Thornton, “Are Our Universities Failing Their Intellectual Mission?”

2004 – Doris Betts, “Stories, Poems, and Superfluous Beauty”

2005 – Richard Soloway, “Perfecting the Imperfect: The Eugenic Foundations of Genetic Engineering”

2006 – George Lensing, “Poetry, Senator McCarthy, and Me”

2007 – Trudier Harris, “Failed, Forgotten, Forsaken:  Christianity in Contemporary African American Literature”

2008 – Richard Kohn, “On Presidential War Leadership, Then and Now”

2009 – Richard Talbert, “Rome and the Power of Creative Cartography: AD 300 – 1500”

2010 – Joseph M. Flora, “Professing the Humanities in a Post-Modern World

2012 – Joy Kasson, “Dramas of History and Vision: Three Contemporary Artists and the Necessity of the Arts”

2013 – H. Holden Thorp, “From Salesman to Hamletmachine: The Need for the Humanities”