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Snatching Something From Death – Value, Justice, and Humankind’s Common Heritage

May 10, 2022 - 5:00pm to 6:45pm
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The May 2022 Tanner Lectures are given by Cécile Fabre, Senior Research Fellow in Politics at All Souls College, Oxford, and Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Oxford. 

The overall title of these Tanner Lectures is: "Snatching Something From Death – Value, Justice, and Humankind’s Common Heritage."

When Notre-Dame Cathedral was engulfed by fire on April 15, 2019, the world (it seemed) watched in horror. On Twitter, Facebook, in newspapers and on TV cables ranging as far afield from Paris as South Africa, China and Chile, people expressed their sorrow at the partial destruction of the church, particularly the collapse of the spire, and anguish at what very nearly happened - the complete destruction of a jewel of Gothic architecture whose value somehow transcends time and space.  When President Trump threatened to bomb Iran's cultural sites in the closing days of 2019, in defiance of the laws of war, he elicited outrage, not just on behalf of Iranians but on behalf of the world at large: the ancient city of Persepolis, for example, is widely regarded as one the world's most significant archeological sites. 

The thought that there are landmarks - some human-made, others natural, others still at the intersection of the human and the natural world - which have universal value is a familiar one. It also raises some deep concerns, not least regarding conflicting interpretations of what it means for a landmark to have outstanding universal value, and, relatedly, regarding the risks of undue cultural appropriation, particularly on the part of former colonial or quasi-colonial powers towards peoples and territories which they once held in their grip. 

Nevertheless, the aim of these lectures is to offer a philosophical account and defence of World Heritage's central ideal, to wit, that there is such a thing as humankind's common heritage, and that this heritage makes stringent moral demands on us.

Hybrid Event. RSVP. In-person attendance is open to the general public.

This lecture is the first of two lectures and is entitled: Valuing Humankind Heritage

In the first lecture, Fabre will explore in some detail the notion of humankind's common heritage (for short, humankind's heritage) and of its value. These of course are not the first Tanner Lectures to be delivered on the contradictory pulls of cultural diversity and universal heritage. Michael Walzer, Sheyla Benhabib, Thomas Hill Jr, Joseph Raz, to name but four, have spoken and written eloquently on this issue, against the background of a rich literature in the philosophy of value in general. Her focus, however, is on the value of our common, and cultural and tangible heritage. Fabre argues that its constitutive elements are universally valuable, and that we, all of us, have reasons to value them, precisely in so far as they are part of that heritage.

Cécile Fabre is Senior Research Fellow in Politics at All Souls College, Oxford, and Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Oxford. She previous taught at the London School of Economics and the University of Edinburgh. She holds degrees from La Sorbonne University, the University of York, and the University of Oxford. Her research interests include theories of distributive justice, issues relating to the rights we have over our own body and, more recently, just war theory, and the ethics of foreign policy. Her books include Cosmopolitan War (OUP 2012), Cosmopolitan Peace Cosmopolitan Peace (OUP 2016), Economic Statecraft (Harvard UP 2018). In her most recent book, Spying Through a Glass Darkly (OUP, forthcoming 2022), she investigates the ethics of espionage. She is a Fellow of the British Academy. 

Lecture 2, entitled "Justice and Humankind’s Heritage," takes place on Wednesday, May 11.

A discussion seminar that focuses on both lectures takes place on Thursday, May 12.


Kwame Anthony Appiah is Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University and Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor Emeritus at Princeton. Born in London, he moved as an infant to Kumasi, Ghana, where he grew up. He took BA and PhD degrees in philosophy at Cambridge and has taught at the University of Ghana, Cambridge, Yale, Cornell, Duke, Harvard, and Princeton Universities, and also as a visitor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales. He has been President of the PEN American Center, the Eastern Division of the American Association, the Modern Language Association, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and Chair of the American Philosophical Association and the American Council of Learned Societies, and he serves on the boards of the New York Public Library, the Public Theater and the World Monuments Fund. In 2012 he received the National Humanities Medal from President Obama. He has written the New York Times column The Ethicist since 2015. He is the author of more than twenty books, including Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers and Experiments in Ethics and his work has been translated into twenty languages.His most recent book is The Lies that Bind: Rethinking Identity.

This event is part of a new, year-long Ethics & Political Violence series jointly sponsored by the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society and the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). The series of seminars and public lectures will feature philosophers, lawyers, historians, social scientists, human rights activists, soldiers and political leaders grappling with vexing moral questions raised by uses of violence in international relations and domestic politics.

Hybrid Event. RSVP. In-person attendance is open to the general public.

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