The Simone Weil Lecture on Human Value is hosted by the ACU School of Philosophy. First held in 2000 as 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.

2023 Simone Weil Lecture

Beyond banality: deception, Eichmann and evil

The 2023 lecture was delivered in Brisbane on Tuesday 21 November and in Melbourne on Thursday 23 November by Associate Professor Matthew Sharpe.

About the speaker

Associate Professor Matthew Sharpe joined ACU in 2023. His research focuses on the interconnections between theoretical thinking and forms of transformative practices. He has published widely in psychoanalytic theory, political theory, and the history of ideas. His work has centred on the idea of philosophy as a way of life, focusing on the Stoic tradition in particular. He also writes on the troubling history of far-right thinking, including the role of different forms of philosophical thought in history and today.

About the lecture

In 1963, following her attendance at the trial of SS officer and bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann – the principal organiser of the trains which took millions of men, women and children to the death camps – the philosopher Hannah Arendt coined the controversial idea of the “banality of evil”. Eichmann, she claimed, was thoughtless, without any passion (including antisemitism), prone to sentimental clichés, and almost like the man next door: anything but a monster. Yet Arendt did not attend all of the trial, including those sessions which considered the tapes that Eichmann recorded with Nazi comrades while still at large in Argentina. These show an Eichmann still passionately committed to the Nazi cause, a fighter “for the freedom of the blood”, convinced that the Jews were agents of a world conspiracy against the free peoples of the world, and repentant only that he could not have been involved in the deaths of all 11.3 million of these “enemies”. Eichmann, it is clear, was neither banal nor motiveless or without the capacity for independent thought: alongside the bureaucrat he would play in Jerusalem, there was the “fanatic”.

So where does that leave the idea of the banality of evil, especially in a period in which the far right is troublingly reascendant, and the need to understand the crimes of the Nazis remains as pertinent as ever? Eichmann’s use of deception, in Jerusalem, to present himself as the man next door will give the clue to the ideas this lecture will explore: evil and fascism (as Fichelstein has recently so well explored), implicate forms of deception, which are tied to forms of disrespect, disregard and ultimately dehumanising others. Even when this takes the form of scheduling trains (while deceiving those embarking on them about where they were going), it is far from banal, far from thoughtless and far from being without motive.

Register your interest in future events

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
2022 Scott Stephens
We do not breathe well: Tending the moral conditions of our common life

Listen via the ABC Radio National
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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