Spinoza Chair holder 2013, Onora O’Neill (Baroness O’Neill of Bengarve CBE FBA Hon FRS F Med Sci) 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 2005-09, and chaired the Nuffield Foundation from 1998-2010. 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.
Lecture 1: From Toleration to 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. Has the contemporary focus on the speech rights of individuals distracted us from wider ethical issues that bear on truth and trustworthiness, and in particular on their communication?