On Thursday, 25 April Baroness Onora O’ Neill of Bengarve (CBE FBA Hon FRS F Med Sci) will give the first of two Spinoza Lectures at the Auditorium of the University of Amsterdam.
Collectively titled ‘Speech Rights and Speech Wrongs’, O’ Neill will deliver these two lectures in her capacity as the 2012-2013 recipient of the prestigious Spinoza Chair. Named after Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, the Chair - which forms part of the Department of Philosophy - was established in 1995 and offers a platform to stimulating contemporary thinkers.
In her first address, ‘From Toleration to Freedom of Expression', O’ Neill will discuss the shift from toleration in speech to contemporary views of speech rights, which stress various freedoms, particularly freedom of expression.
Communication has a myriad purposes, but two are ubiquitous. One is theoretical: we hope (and often need) to judge whether others’ claims are true or false. The other is practical: we hope (and often need) to judge whether others’ commitments are trustworthy or untrustworthy. Yet many contemporary discussions of speech rights and speech wrongs seem ambivalent or indifferent to norms that matter for judging truth and trustworthiness. In the early modern period, arguments were put forward for tolerating others’ speech, even if untrue or untrustworthy. These arguments often maintain boldly that tolerating falsehood helps the discovery of truth. By contrast, contemporary views of speech rights stress various freedoms, in particular freedom of expression, and seem to marginalise the space for toleration. If everyone has rights to free speech, indeed to self-expression, toleration can come to be seen as a minimal matter, rather than as a demanding and epistemically important virtue. In exploring the latter, O’ Neill attempts to answer the question whether the contemporary focus on the speech rights of individuals has distracted us from wider ethical issues that bear on truth and trustworthiness, and in particular on their communication?
Onora O’Neill has taught at various universities in the US and the UK. She was Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge from 1992 to 2006, President of the British Academy from 2005 to 2009, and chaired the Nuffield Foundation from 1998 to 2010. She currently chairs the Equality and Human Rights Commission and is on the board of the Medical Research Council of the United Kingdom. She has been a member of the House of Lords since 1999 and is an independent, non-party peer. She served on the House of Lords Select Committees on Stem Cell Research, BBC Charter Review, Genomic Medicine and Nanotechnology and Food and Behavioural Change.
She writes on ethics and political philosophy, with particular interests in conceptions of justice, in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and in bioethics, and has published mainly in philosophical journals. Her books include Faces of Hunger: An Essay on Poverty, Development and Justice (1986), Constructions of Reason: Explorations of Kant’s Practical Philosophy (1989), Towards Justice and Virtue (1996) and Bounds of Justice (2000), Autonomy and Trust in Bioethics (2002) and A Question of Trust (the 2002 Reith Lectures) and Rethinking Informed Consent in Bioethics (jointly with Neil Manson, 2007). She currently works on practical judgement and normativity; conceptions of public reason and of autonomy; trust and accountability; the ethics of communication (including media ethics), and on Kant’s philosophy.
Date: Thursday, 25 April 2013
Time: 20:15 - 23:00
Admission: free of charge (no reservation required)