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Knox Lecture 2020: Professor John Haldane

Knox Lecture 2020: Professor John Haldane

Professor John Haldane of Baylor University and the University of St Andrews will present the 2020 Sir Malcolm Knox Memorial Lecture, ‘Philosophy and public affairs in historical perspective’, with an introduction by Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews.

The expression ‘Philosophy and Public Affairs’ like ‘Applied Philosophy’ was coined in the early 1970s to reflect a growing interest among professional philosophers in engaging practical and policy issues. That interest was the product of developments within philosophy but also of social events, especially those relating to personal morality, civil rights, foreign policy and warfare.

CEPPA, originally titled the ‘Centre for Philosophy and Public Affairs’, was inspired in its conception by initiatives in the US and sought to bring together philosophy and practice. The Knox Lecture was an important focus of this, and Professor Haldane was involved with the Centre from the outset, directed it for most of its history, and engaged with most of the lecturers, including Dworkin, MacIntyre, Putnam, Rawls, Rorty, Skinner, Taylor, Warnock and Williams.

Given his experience, Professor Haldane will begin with a brief review of CEPPA’s aims and some of these contributions noting the contrast between a priori argument and historically situated reflection. This will lead to an analysis of the relation of thought to history involving ‘three degrees of historical involvement’.

From that he will turn to look at the rise of casuistry in medieval thought, giving some illustrations of enduring ‘discoveries’ about norms for action, and then draw upon a specific concern of Aquinas about the virtues that should govern disputation, bringing these to the contemporary concern with contention and disagreement, both as a matter of theory (giving rise to the idea of ‘public reason’) and practice.

These historical reflections pose a question about the nature and future of liberalism.

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