2015 Finale: The Profoundly Disabled as our Human Equals

In a sensitively structured and cogent conclusion to his Gifford Lecture Series, Professor20150127_Gifford_Lecture_2_still3 Jeremy Waldron tonight set out his argument for the full, unequivocal inclusion of those who are ‘profoundly disabled’ within his schemata for ‘basic human equality’. As he described his ‘bottom line’: ‘those who are profoundly disabled are human persons too, endowed with human dignity, distinct from non-human animals, and entitled to human equality’. Continue reading

Did God Create Us Equal?

Turning his attention now to human equality and its relationship to concepts of God, Professor Waldron offered the following alternative challenges:20150126_Gifford_Lecture

  1. Can there be a religious argument for equality which holds firm in the present day?
  2. Or accepting some original theological foundations for human equality, can the ‘jist of the argument be detached from its religious scaffolding’?
  3. Or can there be an elaborated account of human equality without any association with theology?

Continue reading

Reconciling Equality and Human Difference


Building on his adoption last week of John Rawls’ concept of ‘range properties’, that above certain thresholds we all can be considered as bearing ‘equal’ moral capacity irrespective of our variation within the range, Professor Waldron tonight concentrated on working through the challenges and implications that would follow. In other words, if the concept of ‘range properties’ is to form the foundation of ‘basic human equality’, what are the depths of resilience it requires in order to stand firm from possible attack? How can it possess the necessary heft to undergird the potentially momentous or troubling practical consequences that would follow if we all are held to attain such properties, such as the equal treatment before the law of totalitarian dictators or terrorists who have committed acts of unquestionable evil like mass murder? Continue reading

Looking for a Range Property

What are the basic features of the cluster of principles that we would associate with humanEdinburgh University Old College Quad quad, after refurbishment. equality? How do we move from the general to the particular to answer the fundamental question: if the presence of a ‘continuous’ equality amongst humans is to be accepted, or even a ‘distinctive’ equality which would raise us to a higher worth than animals, what then is such equality actually based upon? Continue reading

‘ On Human Alert’ -v- ‘Trees, Teapots, Tigers and Teenagers’

OLD COLLEGE 10-MExploring ‘The Logic of Human Equality’, in his second Gifford Lecture Professor Waldron delved tonight into the technical framework that he saw as an essential pre-requisite of developing in his remaining lectures a coherent and robust validation of the essence of ‘basic human equality’.

  1. Description and Prescription

Professor Waldron began by distinguishing between the ‘descriptive’ content of an idea or principle, or how things are, as compared to the ‘prescriptive’ content, or how it ought to be. The former reflects the presence or absence of fact, and the latter an aim or goal. A concept such as ‘basic human equality’ would thus be ‘prescriptive’, but would also be intrinsically intertwined with the establishment of ‘descriptive’ content. Continue reading

Will Class Become Caste and Birth Become Destiny?

JeremyWaldronPortraitIn a stimulating opening Gifford Lecture tonight, Professor Jeremy Waldron emphasised the urgency of not only eradicating ‘surface inequality’ in public legal relations, but in carrying out a theological and philosophical examination of what may underpin human equality in a world where ‘grotesque differences in economic lives’ create the risk of ‘leech and leak’ to undermine our commitment to a common humanity. We re-assure ourselves that the ‘surface inequality’ between rich and poor is compatible with an inviolate ‘basic human equality’ which underlies our mutual existence. But is that weakening in our society, such that the view may emerge that ‘the poor are not fully human’ and ‘only the prosperous live fully human lives’? Is there a danger now that a ‘conditional’ legal status due to the vicissitudes of life, such as that of an African-American in jail, becomes re-inforced as a ‘sortal’ status of permanent identity to delineate rights and all human potential, in like kind to the evils of slavery or apartheid in the past? Continue reading

Get Set for the 2015 Gifford Lectures

VISRES PLATFThe magnificent surroundings of the neo-classical Playfair Library in Old College will shortly play host to Professor Jeremy Waldron’s Gifford Lectures for 2015. It promises to be an engaging and inspiring series, striking at the root of what might define our equality as humans in philosophical, theological or legal terms. With a backdrop internationally of continuing violence and turmoil across religious and ethnic divides, and with domestic policy in Western societies increasingly focused towards the achievement of legal and social equality to eradicate discrimination, the issue of what may identify us as equals seems vital for our times. Continue reading

What is ‘human equality’? Looking forward to the Gifford Lectures 2015

‘What does it mean to say we are all one another’s equals?’ and ‘ On what is this human equality based?’ These are some of the key questions that Professor Jeremy Waldron intends to explore in the six Gifford Lectures taking place at Edinburgh University in late January to early February. Those questions are crucial to the strong current directions in public life which view the levelling of differences towards legal, economic or social equality as a central aim. Unless we dig down to form an understanding of the ‘why’ and ‘what’ of basic human equality, then the purpose, content and goal of its implementation in the ‘how’ might remain somewhat elusive. Continue reading


GiffordThe prestigious Gifford Lectures have been delivered annually since 1888 by a succession of distinguished international scholars.

The Gifford Lectureships (held at the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and St. Andrews) were established under the will of Lord Adam Gifford (1820-1887), a former student of the University of Edinburgh and Senator of the College of Justice.

Established to ‘promote and diffuse the study of Natural Theology in the widest sense of the term – in other words, the knowledge of God,’ the Lectureships have enabled a most notable field of scholars to contribute to the advancement of theological thought.

Dr Alexander Forsyth, Hope Trust Post-doctoral Research Fellow at New College, University of Edinburgh, will share his reflections on themes arising from Professor Jeremy Waldron’s 2015 Gifford Lecture Series, and will invite your comments and contributions.

Further information on the Lecture Series and how you can contribute to discussions will be posted soon.