Scott Stephens to deliver 20th anniversary Simone Weil Lecture

Moral philosopher, writer and journalist, Scott Stephens, will deliver Australian Catholic University’s 20th anniversary Simone Weil Lecture in Human Value.

Mr Stephens is the co-host of Radio National’s The Minefield with Waleed Aly, and the editor of ABC Online Religion and Ethics.

This 20th anniversary address in the ACU School of Philosophy’s annual public lecture series is titled Human Value, ‘We do not breathe well’: Tending the moral conditions of our common life.

“Like most of us, I suspect, for the better part of the last three years, I’ve been preoccupied with the air between us,” Mr Stephens said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic made us acutely conscious and wary of our fellow breathers. We came to see them as threats to our capacity to breathe.

“In a different way, those who marched after the murder of George Floyd were also declaring that the air had become unbreathable for some due to the persistent legacy of racial cruelty and contempt.

“In a different way still, many of us are struggling in a time when social media platforms, politicians and pundits are pumping the kind of social toxins into our shared air that make us feel as though we are suffocating.

“Given all this, I wanted to reflect a little more deeply on the moral importance of “the air” in and for a democracy, and how we cultivate the spaces between us such that they allow us to encounter the moral reality of these other persons whom chance and choice have brought together.”

Mr Stephens said ACU’s School of Philosophy lecture series was an important way to elevate public discourse in a time of increasing polarisation.

“In our social media saturated age, we prefer to rush; we like our daily diet of hot-takes and take-downs. But that is precisely the diet that is now corroding the conditions of democratic life,” Mr Stephens said.

“We’ve come to think of our fellow citizens as little more than stereotypes, as friends or enemies, but not as participants in a shared political project from whom we have much to learn, and with whom we might aspire toward a common future.

“Nothing can substitute for physical gatherings around a common object of love or concern. By devoting my lecture to the moral conditions of our democratic life, I’m hoping to provide just such an object.”

The School of Philosophy’s lecture series is named in honour of Simone Weil – a French philosopher, political activist and teacher whose work focused on social justice and education.

The annual event was launched in 2000 by then ACU Professor of Philosophy Raymond Gaita. ACU philosophy lecturer Associate Professor Richard Colledge said the lecture series provided a philosophical framework to engage with contemporary moral, social and political debates.

“The lectures are inspired by the Christian intellectual and activist Simone Weil’s ethical vision that is rooted in radical attentive compassion and obligation to others,” Assoc. Prof. Colledge said.

ACU Faculty of Theology and Philosophy Executive Dean Professor Dermot Nestor said the study of philosophy was an integral part of ACU’s mission as a Catholic university.

“The discipline of philosophy allows students to inquire into the larger questions that often go unexamined, and assumptions that often go unchallenged,” Professor Nestor said.

“In nurturing a spirit of intellectual inquiry, it allows us to address fundamental human questions, drawing on wisdom both ancient and modern, including our Catholic intellectual tradition.”

Event details


Tuesday 8 November, 6pm arrival for 6.30pm start
Philippa Brazill rsm Lecture Theatre
ACU Melbourne Campus
20 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Registration is essential by Monday 7 November as places are limited.

Register to attend in Melbourne


Thursday 10 November, 6pm arrival for 6.30pm start
ABC Brisbane Centre
Studio 420 Main Production Studio
114 Grey Street, South Brisbane
Registration is essential by Monday 7 November as places are limited.

Register to attend in Brisbane

Both lectures will be followed by a Q&A session with the audience.

Have a question?

We're available 9am–5pm AEDT,
Monday to Friday

If you’ve got a question, our AskACU team has you covered. You can search FAQs, text us, email, live chat, call – whatever works for you.

Live chat with us now

Chat to our team for real-time
answers to your questions.

Launch live chat

Visit our FAQs page

Find answers to some commonly
asked questions.

See our FAQs