Justice and Humankind’s Heritage

Wed May 11th 2022, 5:00 - 6:45pm
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The 2022 Tanner Lectures are given by Cécile Fabre, Senior Research Fellow in Politics at All Souls College, Oxford, and Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Oxford. 

The overall title of these Tanner Lectures is: "Snatching Something From Death – Value, Justice, and Humankind’s Common Heritage."

When Notre-Dame Cathedral was engulfed by fire on April 15, 2019, the world (it seemed) watched in horror. On Twitter, Facebook, in newspapers and on TV cables ranging as far afield from Paris as South Africa, China and Chile, people expressed their sorrow at the partial destruction of the church, particularly the collapse of the spire, and anguish at what very nearly happened - the complete destruction of a jewel of Gothic architecture whose value somehow transcends time and space.  When President Trump threatened to bomb Iran's cultural sites in the closing days of 2019, in defiance of the laws of war, he elicited outrage, not just on behalf of Iranians but on behalf of the world at large: the ancient city of Persepolis, for example, is widely regarded as one the world's most significant archeological sites. 

The thought that there are landmarks - some human-made, others natural, others still at the intersection of the human and the natural world - which have universal value is a familiar one. It also raises some deep concerns, not least regarding conflicting interpretations of what it means for a landmark to have outstanding universal value, and, relatedly, regarding the risks of undue cultural appropriation, particularly on the part of former colonial or quasi-colonial powers towards peoples and territories which they once held in their grip. 

Nevertheless, the aim of these lectures is to offer a philosophical account and defence of World Heritage's central ideal, to wit, that there is such a thing as humankind's common heritage, and that this heritage makes stringent moral demands on us.

Hybrid Event. In-person attendance is open to the general public.

This lecture is the second of two lectures and is entitled: Justice and Humankind’s Heritage

In the second lecture, Fabre will argue that the protection of humankind's heritage is a duty of justice. This is not a widely held, let alone well developed, view.  Whilst the field of heritage studies is replete with claims to the effect that we owe it to future generations to preserve that heritage, the contours and grounds of our duties are left relatively unexplained. As for contemporary moral and political philosophy, at least in the Anglophone world, it has been largely silent on this particular issue. Save for a handful of seminal articles on cultural cosmopolitanism in the mid 1990s to the mid 2000s, theories of global justice pay little attention to culture. Theorists of territorial rights, for their part, accept that the state's right to exercise sovereignty within its borders is constrained by due consideration of outsiders' interests. However, when articulating those interests, they restrict themselves to resource distribution and the use of interstate violence.  When they consider the value of cultural heritage, they do so in relation to minorities within the state. They do not envisage the possibility that outsiders might have very strong interests in the state's decision with respect to those landmarks which are deemed to have universal value - interests which are strong enough, in fact, to warrant protection at the bar of justice. It is that possibility which Fabre wishes to explore. 

Cécile Fabre is Senior Research Fellow in Politics at All Souls College, Oxford, and Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Oxford. She previous taught at the London School of Economics and the University of Edinburgh. She holds degrees from La Sorbonne University, the University of York, and the University of Oxford. Her research interests include theories of distributive justice, issues relating to the rights we have over our own body and, more recently, just war theory, and the ethics of foreign policy. Her books include Cosmopolitan War (OUP 2012), Cosmopolitan Peace Cosmopolitan Peace (OUP 2016), Economic Statecraft (Harvard UP 2018). In her most recent book, Spying Through a Glass Darkly (OUP, forthcoming 2022), she investigates the ethics of espionage. She is a Fellow of the British Academy. 

Lecture 1, entitled "Valuing Humankind Heritage," takes place on Tuesday, May 10.

A discussion seminar that focuses on both lectures takes place on Thursday, May 12.


Anna Stilz is Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Politics and the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. Her research interests include the history of political thought; nationalism; political obligation, authority, and state legitimacy; rights to self-determination, land, and territory; colonialism and decolonization; and theories of collective agency.  She is the author of two books: Liberal Loyalty: Freedom, Obligation, and the State (2009), and Territorial Sovereignty: A Philosophical Exploration (2019), and many articles.  She is the current Editor-in-Chief of Philosophy and Public Affairs.

This event is part of a new, year-long Ethics & Political Violence series jointly sponsored by the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society and the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). The series of seminars and public lectures will feature philosophers, lawyers, historians, social scientists, human rights activists, soldiers and political leaders grappling with vexing moral questions raised by uses of violence in international relations and domestic politics.

Hybrid Event. In-person attendance is open to the general public.