Raimond Gaita: The Frail Idea of a Common Humanity

Monday, May 9, 2016

Lecture | 4:30-6:00pm
Reception to follow
Location: Social Sciences Tea Room | 1126 E. 59th Street, Chicago

Join us for a lecture with Raimond Gaita, Professorial Fellow in the Melbourne Law School and The Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne and Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy at King's College London. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

The talk will be moderated by Ben Laurence, Pozen Center Faculty Board Member. 

About the Lecturer

Because he believes that it is generally a good thing for philosophers to address an educated and hard-thinking lay audience as well as their colleagues, Gaita has contributed extensively to public discussion about reconciliation, collective responsibility, the role of moral considerations in politics, the Holocaust, genocide, crimes against humanity, education (the nature of teaching as a vocation, the role of love in learning) and the plight of the universities. 

Raimond Gaita was born in Germany in 1946. With his parents he migrated to Australia in 1950. Gaita's books, which have widely translated, include: Good and Evil: An Absolute Conception, the award winning Romulus, My Father, which was nominated by the New Statesman as one of the best books of 1999, by the Australian Financial Review as one of the best book of the decade and was made into a feature film starring Eric Bana, Frank Potente and Kodi Smit-McPhee; A Common Humanity: Thinking About Love & Truth & Justice, which was nominated by The Economist's as one of best books of 2000;The Philosopher's Dog, short-listed for the New South Wales Premier's Award and The Age Book of the Year, Breach of Trust: Truth, Morality and Politics and, as editor and contributor, Gaza: Morality Law and Politics; Muslims and Multiculturalism; and with Alex Miller and Alex Skovron, Singing for All he’s Worth: Essays in honour of J.G. Rosenberg.

His most recent book After Romulus, was short-listed for the New South Wales Premier’s Award.  It is a collection of essays in which (as his publisher puts it) “he reflects on the writing of the Romulus, My Father, the making of the film, his relationship to the desolate beauty of the central Victorian landscape, the philosophies that underpinned his father’s relationship to the world and, most movingly, the presence and absence of his mother and his unassuaged longing for her”. Who’s Afraid of International Law, co-edited with Gerry Simpson will be published in 2016. The Philosopher’s Dog, with a new introduction, will be published in The Routledge Classics series in 2016.

The University of Antwerp awarded Gaita the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa “for  his exceptional contribution to contemporary moral philosophy and for his singular contribution the role of the intellectual in today’s academic world”.

About the Lecture

Ethically inflected ways of speaking of humanity – as when for example we speak of seeing or failing to see the full humanity of others, of dehumanisation and of the common humanity of all the peoples of the earth – often go together with talk of universal human rights and sometimes with talk of the Dignity (capital intended) of persons or humanity. This is apparent in some of the preambles to important instruments of international law. Many philosophers are inclined to think the latter have conceptual priority in rationally perspicuous renderings of the ways that the various forms of the ethical  can matter to us.  The concept of human rights, they believe, does much of the ethical work implied in the hope that the peoples of the earth will fully acknowledge their common humanity. Some philosophers believe that the idea of the Dignity of persons (some speak of the ‘inalienable dignity’ of persons to which an unconditional respect is owed) rationally underpins the concept of universal human rights. In this lecture I shall argue that when our ways of speaking of human rights and of the Dignity of persons cease to acknowledge their dependence on – or, at any rate, their interdependence with - ethically inflected ways of speaking of humanity, they lose contact with the only vocabulary in which their importance can be made manifest.