College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Baroness O’Neill

The first contributor to the 2013-2014 Gifford Lectures is Baroness O’Neill.

Baroness O'Neill

From Toleration to Freedom of Expression

A Special Gifford Lecture in Memory of Professor Susan Manning (1953-2013)

Event details

Date: Monday 28 October 2013, 5.30pm - 6.30pm

Venue: Playfair Library, Old College


Onora O'Neill has taught at various universities in the US and the UK. She was Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge from 1992 to 2006, President of the British Academy from 2005-09, and chaired the Nuffield Foundation from1998-2010.

She currently chairs the Equality and Human Rights Commission and is on the board of the Medical Research Council. She has been a member of the House of Lords since 1999, and is an independent, non-party peer. She served on House of Lords Select Committees on Stem Cell Research, BBC Charter Review, Genomic Medicine, Nanotechnology and Food and Behavioural Change.

She writes on ethics and political philosophy, with particular interests in conceptions of justice, in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and in bioethics, and has published mainly in philosophical journals. Her books include Faces of Hunger: An Essay on Poverty, Development and Justice (1986), Constructions of Reason: Explorations of Kant's Practical Philosophy (1989), Towards Justice and Virtue (1996) and Bounds of Justice (2000), Autonomy and Trust in Bioethics (2002), A Question of Trust (the 2002 Reith Lectures) and Rethinking Informed Consent in Bioethics (jointly with Neil Manson, 2007).

She currently works on practical judgement and normativity; conceptions of public reason and of autonomy; trust and accountability; the ethics of communication (including media ethics), and on Kant’s philosophy.

Lecture abstract

Communication has a myriad purposes, but two are ubiquitous. One is theoretical: we hope (and often need) to judge whether others' claims are true or false. The other is practical: we hope (and often need) to judge whether others' commitments are trustworthy or untrustworthy. Yet many contemporary discussions of speech rights and speech wrongs seem ambivalent or indifferent to norms that matter for judging truth and trustworthiness. By contrast, In the early modern period, arguments were put forward for tolerating others' speech, even if untrue or untrustworthy. These arguments often maintain that tolerating falsehood helps the discovery of truth. By contrast, contemporary views of speech rights stress various freedoms, in particular freedom of expression, yet seem to marginalise both the space for toleration, and the importance of truth and trustworthiness. If everyone has rights to free speech, or indeed to self expression, toleration can come to be seen as a minimal matter, rather than as a demanding and epistemically important virtue. Has the contemporary focus on the speech rights of individuals distracted us from wider ethical and epistemic issues that bear on truth and trustworthiness, and on their communication?

Prof Manning

Professor Manning (1953 – 2013)

Grierson Professor of English Literature and Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh

Professor Manning was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, and a Trustee of the Kennedy Memorial Trust. At the University of Edinburgh, she was Deputy Chair of the Research Committee of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and a member of both the Press Committee of Edinburgh University Press and the Gifford Lectureships Committee. She also served on the Advisory Boards of the Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels and the Stirling/South Carolina Edition of the Works of James Hogg.

Her primary research interests lay in the fields of the Scottish Enlightenment and in Scottish-American literary relations. Her books include The Puritan-Provincial Vision (CUP, 1990), and Fragments of Union (Palgrave, 2002). She was one of the co-editors of The Edinburgh History of Scottish Literature, which was published in three volumes in 2006, and (with Andrew Taylor) of the first Reader in Transatlantic Literary Studies. She edited several collections of essays in Enlightenment studies, as well as the works of Henry Mackenzie (including a new edition of Julia de Roubigné), Walter Scott's Quentin Durward, Washington Irving's The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., and Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer. Her edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble Faun was published by OUP in 2002.

Professor Manning was a Board Member and Past President of the Eighteenth-Century Scottish Studies Society. With Dr Nicholas Phillipson, she convened a three-year research project on The Science of Man in Scotland, funded by the Leverhulme Trust. She also co-ordinated the Carnegie funded STAR (Scotland's Transatlantic Relations) initiative. Recent research projects included a new EUP series on "Transatlantic Literatures", a major study of Character, and the development of methodologies for interdisciplinary and transnational studies.

Lecture video