The Simone Weil Lecture on Human Value is hosted by the School of Philosophy. It was first held in 2000, an initiative of Professor Raimond Gaita. It is a free public lecture held annually in Brisbane and Melbourne.

Each year, a distinguished international scholar is invited to give a public lecture and academic seminar at ACU. The lectures are inspired by Simone Weil’s ethical vision that is rooted in attentive compassion and obligation to others, her unstinting desire for the Good, and her non-negotiable commitment to justice.

The 20th anniversary lecture series: Exploring the moral conditions of democratic life

We are delighted to announce that this year’s lectures, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Simone Weil Lecture series, will be delivered by Mr Scott Stephens.

Democratic aspirations: cultivating the moral conditions of our common life

Date: Tuesday 9 February 2021
Time: 6 for 6.30pm
Venue: ACU Leadership Centre, Level 3, Cathedral House, 229 Elizabeth Street, Brisbane

It is no secret that our democratic institutions have been languishing for the better part of two decades. Grotesque figures like Donald Trump, or seismic events like the Brexit referendum, did not create our democratic malaise; they simply have revealed its seriousness – and the extent to which we have failed to attend to the conditions on which democratic life depends. Consequently, Trump’s departure from the White House, or the resolution of Britain’s exit from the EU, will not cure what ails us. Our underlying condition will remain.

Given this diminished state, there could hardly have been a worse moment for the compound crises of 2020 to overtake us. These afflictions of the air – from the smoke which hung thick over Australia in January, to the airborne contagion that has killed nearly two million people by asphyxia, to the suffocation of a 46-year-old black man on the streets of Minneapolis, to the millions who marched under banners reading “I can’t breathe”, to the pollution of our media ‘airwaves’ with all manner of mendacity and mutual contempt – are so many tests of the quality of our common life. And they point us to those everyday practices of speech and silence, of remorse and mutual recognition, which enable democracy to become a moral reality.

Important information

Attendance at this event will be strictly limited to comply with COVID-19 safety plans. Please register using the link below. Attendance will be confirmed on a “first come, first served” basis, with a ticket issued to successful registrants.

If you are not successful in securing a ticket to attend, your details will be automatically placed on our waiting list (also on a “first come, first served basis”). If tickets become available, registrants on our waiting list will be offered the opportunity to attend the event.

We ask that if you are no longer able to attend the event, that you please notify us as soon as possible.

Register to attend in Brisbane

Seeing in a different light: Raimond Gaita and the challenge of moral philosophy

The philosopher Stanley Cavell once described “the conditions of democratic morality” in terms of a kind of three-fold acknowledgement: an acknowledgement of our complicity in the persistent failures of democratic society; the recognition of our need to change so that we more truly resemble an inhabitant of some further or future just society; and the lived awareness of our need of moral encounter with others to effect that change – as if we are all, Cavell says, one another’s teachers. It could be said that Cavell has expressed here an understanding of morality that is inherent to democratic life, and without which democracy cannot become a moral reality.

While the renowned Australian philosopher Raimond Gaita, for his part, rarely speaks of “democracy”, few Australian intellectuals have dedicated themselves with greater sensitivity and insight to the task of articulating the demands of living with the moral reality of fellow human beings. Central to those demands, for Gaita, are learning to see others without condescension, and learning to be “authentically present” to one another in conversation and remorse. Through his attentiveness to the conditions of our common life, Gaita’s moral philosophy holds out the possibility of the renewal of a democratic culture threatened by mendacity and mutual contempt.

Date: July 2021 (date TBC)
Time: 6 for 6.30pm
Venue: ACU Melbourne Campus, 115 Victoria Parade, Fitzroy

Further details will be announced as they are confirmed. In the meantime, register your interest in attending the Melbourne lecture using the link below.

Register your interest

About the speaker

Scott Stephens is the ABC’s religion and ethics editor, and the co-host (with Waleed Aly) of The Minefield on ABC Radio National. His book On Contempt is forthcoming in 2021 from Melbourne University Press.

Read more

This 20th anniversary series of the Simone Weil Lecture is a collaboration between ACU and ABC Radio National

The 2021 lectures will be broadcast by ABC Radio National.

In collaboration with


Past lectures

Lectures from more recent years, together with invited speakers, are listed below. Recorded lectures can be accessed via the topic link.

Year Lecturer Topic
2019 Professor Roger Crisp

Virtue in a changing climate:
How do we respond morally to global warming?

Listen via the ABC Radio National

2018 Professor Mark Alfano

Dark humour in dark times: The sustaining virtue of laughter

Listen via the ABC Radio National

2017 Professor Lenart Škof

Democracy as Human Value: On the Idea of Ethical Citizenship

Listen via the ABC Radio National

2016 Professor Robert Audi Transnational Ethics and the Refugee Crisis
2015 Professor Michael Morgan Tears the Civil Servant Cannot See: Ethics, Politics, and the Individual
2014 Professor Eleonore Stump Is Justice Enough? Aquinas on Justice and Care
2013 Associate Professor Jeffrey Bloechl Between Love and Law: Paul and Philosophy - Jeffrey Bloechl (Boston College)
2012 Prof Richard Kearney (Boston College) Narrating Pain: The Power of Catharsis
2011 Prof Kevin Hart FAHA On Forgiveness: Narrative and Lyrical
2010 Antony Duff To Whom Must We Answer? Responsibility, Community and Criminal Law
2009 Miranda Fricker Knowledge and Prejudice
2008 Professor Jonathon Glover Uprootedness, Narratives and National Conflict
2006 Professor Susan Mendus Terrorism and Religion
2005 Professor Susan Neiman Moral Clarity
2004 Stephen Mulhall The Conversation of Mankind
2003 Professor Simon Critchley "I want to die, I hate my life": Phaedra's Malaise
2002 Professor Ray Monk A Wonderful Life: Philosophy and Biography
2001 Professor Avishai Margalit A Moral Witness
2000 Professor Christine M. Korsgaard Human Action and Normative Standards

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