The Uehiro Lectures in Practical Ethics

Shelly Kagan
Shelly Kagan
Shelly Kagan
Shelly Kagan


Each year the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics invites a world leader in the field of practical ethics to present a series of public lectures in Oxford, and to produce a book on the same topic.

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'How to Count Animals, More or Less'

We were honoured to welcome Professor Shelly Kagan to Oxford to deliver the 2016 Uehiro Lectures. The lectures were held on 14, 15 and 16 November 2016, and were very well-attended.

Much contemporary writing on animal ethics is "egalitarian" in the sense that otherwise similar harms (or goods) for people and nonhuman animals are thought to count equally.  In this sense, animals and people can be said to have the same moral status ("pain is pain").  In these lectures, however, I will explore an alternative, hierarchical approach, according to which animals differ from people, and from one another, in terms of the moral significance of their lives, their goods and bads, and the various rights that they possess.  I'll sketch what a hierarchical approach might look like in a consequentialist framework, and--more complicatedly--in a deontological one, closing with some thoughts about the position of animals in foundational moral theories.

Audio files of the lectures are available to download:

Lecture 1 'Consequentialism for Cows' [MP3]

Lecture 2 ' Deontology for Dogs' [MP3]

Lecture 3 'Foundation for Frogs' [MP3]

Shelly Kagan is Clark Professor of Philosophy at Yale. After receiving his B.A. from Wesleyan University in 1976, and his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1982, he taught at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Illinois at Chicago before coming to Yale in 1995. He is the author of the textbook Normative Ethics, which systematically reviews alternative positions concerning the basic rules of morality and their possible foundations, and The Limits of Morality, which challenges two of the most widely shared beliefs about the requirements of morality. Other books includeDeath and The Geometry of Desert.

'Why Worry about Future Generations?'

Why should we care about what happens to human beings in the future, after we ourselves are long gone? Much of the contemporary philosophical literature on future generations implicitly suggests that our primary reasons for concern are reasons of beneficence. In these lectures, I propose a different answer. Implicit in our existing values and attachments are a variety of powerful reasons, which are independent of considerations of beneficence, for wanting the chain of human generations to persist into the indefinite future under conditions conducive to human flourishing.

Temporal Parochialism and Its Discontents

Most of us who live in contemporary liberal societies lack a rich set of evaluative resources for thinking about the human beings who will come after us. We do not possess a highly developed set of ideas about the value of human continuity, or about the values we hope will be realized in the future, or about the values and norms that should inform our own activities insofar as they affect future generations or depend on the expectation that there will be future generations. Yet we are hardly indifferent to the fate of our successors, and it is not uncommon for issues like climate change that implicate our attitudes toward the future to generate passionate interest and intense controversy. Much of the philosophical literature dealing with future generations focuses on issues of moral responsibility and approaches these issues from a broadly utilitarian perspective, devoting special attention to the puzzles of “population ethics”. In this lecture, I explain why I take a different approach. Rather than focusing exclusively on issues of moral responsibility, I want to consider the broader question of how future generations feature in or are related to our practical and evaluative thought as a whole. My aim is to explore the evaluative commitments that may be latent in our existing attitudes and may help to enrich our thinking about the significance that future generations have for us.

Reasons to Worry

In this lecture I argue that, quite apart from considerations of beneficence, we have reasons of at least four different kinds to try to ensure the survival and flourishing of our successors: reasons of love, reasons of interest, reasons of value, and reasons of reciprocity.

Conservatism, Temporal Bias, and Future Generations

The reasons discussed in the previous lecture all depend in one way or another on our existing values and attachments and our conservative disposition to preserve and sustain the things that we value. The idea that our reasons for caring about the fate of future generations depend on an essentially conservative disposition may seem surprising or even paradoxical. In this lecture, I explore this conservative disposition further, explaining why it strongly supports a concern for the survival and flourishing of our successors, and comparing it to the form of conservatism defended by G.A. Cohen. I consider the question whether this kind of conservatism involves a form of irrational temporal bias and how it fits within the context of the more general relations between our attitudes toward time and our attitudes toward value.

Bio: Samuel Scheffler is University Professor and Professor of Philosophy and Law at NYU. He received his AB from Harvard and his PhD from Princeton. He taught at Berkeley from 1977 to 2008. He works primarily in the areas of moral and political philosophy and the theory of value. His books and articles have addressed central questions in ethical theory, and he has also written on topics as diverse as equality, nationalism and cosmopolitanism, tolerance, terrorism, immigration, tradition, and the moral significance of personal relationships. His publications include five books: The Rejection of Consequentialism, Human Morality, Boundaries and Allegiances, Equality and Tradition, and Death and the Afterlife, all published by Oxford University Press. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has held Guggenheim and NEH Fellowships. He has been a visiting fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and he serves as an advisory editor of Philosophy & Public Affairs. Webpage.

'Fellow Creatures:  The Moral and Legal Standing of Animals'

We are very grateful to Professor Christine M. Korsgaard (Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University) for delivering the 2014 Uehiro Lectures in December 2014. 

How should we human beings treat the other animals?  What do we owe to them, if anything?  These are not only questions that we have to address at the legal and political level, but also questions that we all make personal decisions about every day of our lives.  We make them when we decide what to eat, what to wear, what products to use, what medications to take, and how to use land. In these lectures I will raise some fundamental questions about the moral and legal standing of the other animals: about the basis of our moral obligations to them, and what those obligations are, and about whether it makes sense to think that animals might have legal rights.

Animals, Human Beings, and Persons

Legitimate differences in the ways we treat animals, human beings, and other entities that have moral or legal rights – legal persons – must be based on the differences between them. Philosophers have traditionally cited a variety of factors – rationality, sentience, having interests – as morally significant.  In this lecture I discuss what the morally relevant similarities and differences between these kinds of entities might be.

The Moral Standing of Animals

Human attitudes towards the other animals exhibit a curious instability.  Nearly everyone thinks we have some obligations with respect to the other animals – that whenever possible, we should treat them “humanely.” Yet human beings have traditionally regarded nearly any reason we might have for overriding this obligation, short of malicious enjoyment of their suffering, as a sufficient reason.  We kill or hurt animals in order to eat them, in order to make useful or desirable products out of them, because we can learn from experimenting on them, because they are interfering with our own agricultural projects, or even for sport.  Could it really be true that animals have moral standing, but that it never has any force against human interests?  In this lecture I will present an account of why animals have moral standing, based in Kant’s moral philosophy, according to which the answer to this question is no. Our duties to animals are more stringent than our current practices reflect.

The Question of Legal Rights for Animals

The instability in human attitudes about the moral standing of animals is reflected in our laws.  Animal welfare laws offer animals some legal protections, but those protections do not take the form of animal rights. Partly as a consequence, these laws are often ineffective. Organizations with an interest in activities that are harmful to animals, such as factory farms or experimental laboratories, often manage to get their own activities exempt from the restrictions or the animals they deal with exempt from the protections. On the other hand, many people find the idea that animals either should have legal rights or do have natural rights absurd.  Rights, many believe, only exist among those who can stand in reciprocal relations to each other, and who can have obligations correlative to their rights. Animals do not stand in such relations to us, or to each other. In this lecture I will argue for a Kantian conception of a kind of legal rights for animals is not subject to these objections.

Bio: Professor Korsgaard got her BA from the University of Illinois at Urbana and her PhD at Harvard, where she studied with John Rawls. After working at Yale, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the University of Chicago, she returned to Harvard in 1991. She works in moral philosophy and its history, the theory of practical reason, the philosophy of action, and personal identity.  She is the author of The Sources of Normativity (Cambridge 1996), an expansion of her 1992 Tanner Lectures on the grounds of obligation; Creating the Kingdom of Ends (Cambridge 1996), a collection of papers on Kant’s moral philosophy and Kantian approaches to issues in contemporary philosophy; The Constitution of Agency (Oxford 2008), a collection of papers on practical reason and moral psychology, and Self-Constitution:  Agency, Identity, and Integrity (Oxford 2009), an account of practical reason and obligation that grounds them in the nature of agency.  She is currently working on The Natural History of the Good, a book about the place of value in nature.

Two-Day Conference at the University of Oxford

Dates: 13th & 14th November 2012

Venue: St Peter’s College, Oxford


13:30-14:00 Registration 
14:00-15:30 Professor Simon May (King’s College London), “Is Nietzsche a Life-Affirmer?” 
15:45-17:15: Dr Daniel Came (Oxford), “Affirmation and Horrendous Evil” 
17:30-19:00: Professor Ken Gemes (Birkbeck & New College of the Humanities), “Nietzsche, Nihilism and the Paradox of Affirmation”


10:00-11:30 Professor Bernard Reginster (Brown), “The Will to Nothingness” 
11:45-13:15 Professor Maudemarie Clark (UC Riverside & Colgate), “Saving the Will” 
14:30-16:00 Professor Chris Janaway (Southampton), “Who—or what—says Yes to life?” 
16:30-18:00 Professor Brian Leiter (Chicago), “The Truth is Terrible”

Registration fee (which includes refreshments): £15.00 (staff), £7.50 (students).

To reserve a place, please contact the conference organiser:

Dr Daniel Came 
St Hugh's College 
Oxford OX2 6LE 

Sex in a Shifting Landscape

All three lectures will take place in the TS Eliot Lecture Theatre, Merton College, Oxford OX1 4JD

Wednesday 14 November, 5 – 7 pm     Video (MP4) / Audio (MP3)

Wednesday 21 November, 5 – 7 pm     Video (MP4) / Audio (MP3)

Wednesday 28 November, 5 – 7 pm     Video (MP4) / Audio (MP3)

Abstract: After a hundred and fifty years of feminism, we are still struggling to achieve a satisfactory legal and social framework for managing the relations of the sexes. This is partly, of course, because so many men have been unwilling to give up their traditional privileges, and the original feminist project is still far from finished. But more fundamentally than that, we have no clear conception of what a fair arrangement would be. You can regard some kinds of inequality as definitely unjust while being in considerable doubt about others. And even if we ever thought we had reached an ideal solution, the endlessly shifting landscape of technological change would soon throw things into turmoil. Reproductive technology alone has already taken us far out of our moral depth.

Even if there could be no such thing as a definitive solution, however, a good deal can be said about particular aims and attitudes. There is still a great deal of confusion in public debate, in which many arguments depend on fallacies of equivocation or dubious, unrecognized presuppositions. By drawing on some elements of the original nineteenth-century debate, I hope to show how various present-day ideas and arguments can be rescued from some of this confusion, and cast light on such contested areas as sex equality, the natures of women and men, ideology, political correctness and the appropriate aims of feminism.

Further details: All welcome, no booking required. Places will be allocated on a 'first-come first-served' basis.

Making Good: The Challenge of Robustly Demanding Values


Robust demands and the need for virtue

My loyalty or fidelity or honesty means that I can be relied upon to display a concern for your interests across a range of possible scenarios, not just in actual or probable circumstances. But the good constituted by this robust concern materializes as a result of my virtuous dispositions, not just as a result of what I do. And so virtue is a way of making good, not just an aid to doing good; it creates value in its own right.

5–7 pm, Thursday 2nd June 2011

Robust demands and the need for law

The common subjection to law means in any community that we give each other certain legal rights robustly, not just actually or probably. The freedom, respect and dignity that you thereby enjoy come about as a result of how we others are legally constrained; they do not materialize just as a result of what we do, or even, unlike virtue-based goods, as a result of what we are disposed to do. And so law is a distinct way of making good, not just an aid or prompt to doing good; it too creates value in its own right.

(Please note, to enable anyone also wanting to attend the lecture by Amartya Sen (Wolfson College, shortly after 6 pm.), Professor Pettit’s presentation will conclude at 5.45 pm., but will be followed by Q&A for people wishing to stay.)

5-7 pm, Friday 3rd June 2011

Virtues, laws and consequentialism

The debate between consequentialism and opposing doctrines turns on whether doing right always means doing good: that is, promoting expected value. How is that debate going to develop once we see that we are required to be virtuous, not just to act virtuously; and to be legally constrained, not just to act legally? Which side in the debate is going to be better able to accommodate the robust demands of virtue-based and law-based values?

The lectures will be held in the Gulbenkian Lecture Theatre, St Cross Building, Manor Road, Oxford OX1 3UL. All are welcome and no booking required.

‘Modes of Responsibility’ 

In these lectures, I will discuss criminal responsibility from a philosophical point of view (including some Japanese perspectives). I will scrutinize these issues by distinguishing three perspectives on criminal responsibility, namely, that of the “victim”, “offender”, and “punishment”. My aim in discussing the issue of victims is to raise and analyse a question of who constitutes a victim, particularly in the case of homicide. This question is examined by confronting a contemporary problem in the metaphysics of death, that is, whether dead people could suffer harm or not. Secondly, I will investigate how to estimate, as far as is scientifically possible, how responsible an offender is for their offence. This problem would be tackled by considering the notion of mens rea, taking into account the contemporary debates on free will and neuroethics. In considering this issue, I intend to adopt a probabilistic approach and propose concepts of “degrees of freedom and responsibility”. Thirdly, I will discuss the new and traditional problem of how to justify a system of punishment. In particular, my focus here is upon the issue of capital punishment and the concept of restorative justice (notwithstanding the fact that capital punishment has been abolished in the UK). My approach to this issue might be called “impossibilism” rather than retentionism or abolitionism. These three topics which I will consider roughly correspond to three basic modal concepts, namely, “actuality”, “possibility”, and “necessity (i.e. normativity)” respectively, so I have called these lectures “Modes of Responsibility”.

Who is a victim of homicide?

In this lecture I will discuss the question of an ontological status of a victim of homicide in order to clarify the significance of homicide in contexts of legal and moral philosophies. The starting point is in that the victim must be understood as a non-existence by definition. Does that victim suffer harm? If we answer yes as we usually suppose, we should face a traditional view of death proposed by Epicurus, which I will call ‘the harmlessness theory of death.’ I will tackle this problem by considering causal influence brought about by what the victim left before their death. I will also mention the issue of posthumous predications, suggesting proper semantics for that through the argument on the causal influence of the victim.

Freedom, Responsibility, and Natural Phenomena

In this lecture I will examine an aspect of the traditional problem of freedom and responsibility by taking a biological point of view into account, in order to aim at clarifying criminal responsibility. First, I will raise two of my strategies in confronting the issue of freedom and responsibility, namely, making the distinction of tenses and introducing the notion of degrees. Then, I will examine two proposals concerning freedom and responsibility from viewpoints of life science, i.e. Libet’s experiments and criminal genes. Finally, I will try to apply my strategies to those proposals. What I want to highlight is how intrinsically uncertain criminal responsibility is.

Death Penalty and Human Rights

In this lecture I will take a historical approach to investigate the issue of the death penalty. Namely, I will examine John Locke’s theory of property rights, i.e. the labour theory of property, on the basis of which I will discuss the justifiability and possibility of the death penalty. The crucial question is whether our lives themselves could be categorized as an object of our property rights or not. Arguing this question, I will propose my view, which might be called ‘impossibilism’ on the death penalty rather than retentionism or abolitionism. The impossibilism is a hypothetical or conditional view presupposing the theory of human rights. Thus, I will finally scrutinize how to estimate the theory of human rights in general.

Professor at The University of Tokyo. His main research interests are causation, probability, and the concept of person. Publications include in 1997, ‘The Rise of Person-Knowledge Theory: The Moment of John Locke’ published by The University of Tokyo Press (in Japanese) and in 2001, The Labyrinth of Cause and Effect’ published by Keiso publishing company (in Japanese) and in 2006, ‘The Labyrinth of Cause and Reason: The Philosophy of "Because"’ published by Keiso publishing company (in Japanese). In 1998 he won the Watsuji Tetsuro Prize of Culture and the Nakamura Hajime Prize. An example of his publications in English can be downloaded from here.

"Beyond Humanity? The Ethics of Biomedical Enhancement"

"Ethics for Enemies: Terror, Torture and War"

"Ethics and World Poverty "

"Responsibility and Liability in War"

Unjust Warfare

Just Warfare

Killing Civilians

"Messy Morality"

Moralism, Realism and Political Violence

Ideals and the Moral Life

Is Corruption Necessary to Political Life?