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.

2022 Simone Weil Lecture

‘We do not breathe well’: Tending the moral conditions of our common life

To be delivered by Scott Stephens, the ABC’s religion and ethics editor, and co-host of The Minefield.


Tuesday 8 November 2022
6.00pm for 6.30pm start
ACU Melbourne Campus
Philippa Brazill rsm Lecture Theatre
20 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

Register to attend in Melbourne


Thursday 10 November 2022
6.00pm for 6.30pm start
ABC Brisbane Centre
114 Grey Street, South Brisbane

Register to attend in Brisbane

About the lecture

Over the past three years, nothing has preoccupied us more than the air around and between us. First came the pandemic – which made us profoundly wary of our fellow breathers, unwilling to occupy the same space lest they deprive us of the ability to breathe. Then came the murder of George Floyd – which provoked many hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets with banners or their bodies inscribed with the words “I can’t breathe”, signifying the extent to which the toxic legacy of cruelty and contempt had condemned them to a state of moral suffocation. Finally, the “airwaves” themselves, the mass media – both mainstream and social – which once bore the promise of turning the hearts of citizens toward one another in mutual recognition, grew so foul with all manner of mendacity, hatefulness, contemptuousness, vanity and outright intimidation that it has become effectively unbreathable.

What was Walt Whitman intimating when he wrote, “Democracy most of all affiliates with the open air”? He was suggesting something about the moral conditions of our common life, remembering that the etymology of the word conditions presumes the activity of speaking-together. The health of a democracy relies on the quality of the air, and the space between citizens. It depends on the daily cultivation of certain habits and dispositions like attentiveness, hesitation, patience, forthrightness, forbearance, mutual accommodation.

Under the conditions of a pandemic, we have become unreal to one another and inattentive to one another’s words. Now, as the pandemic seems to be nearing its end, can we yet recover a proper sense of what it might mean for democracy to become a moral reality? If we can, it will have to involve waging against the corruptions of our shared air.

About our speaker

Scott Stephensis the ABC’s online religion and ethics editor, and the co-host, with Waleed Aly, of The Minefield on ABC Radio National. He is also the co-author, with Waleed Aly, of Quarterly Essay 87: Uncivil Wars – How Contempt is Corroding Democracy (2022).

In collaboration with

 ABC Radio National

The 2022 Simone Weil Lecture is a collaboration between ACU and ABC Radio National.

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
2021 Scott Stephens
Exploring the moral conditions of democratic life
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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