British Philosopher Nominated to chair Top Public Body.

(I am grateful to Bill Wringe for pointing out an error in the first version of this post)

Onora O’Neill, a Cambridge philosophy professor who has also taught at the University of Essex, has been nominated by the British government to chair the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.  The appointment has to be confirmed by the relevant House of Commons committee, but I would be very surprised if they find any reason to block her appointment.  The Commission incorporates what had been separate bodies dealing with racial relations, gender inequality, and disability rights.

O’Neill has an excessive faith to my main in the idea that we should trust professionals and public servants, like herself.  Nevertheless, I get the impression she lives up to her own ideals, and is an honourable representative of her point of view.  A member of the British establishment, what is sometimes known as the Good and the Great, who speaks an old fashioned upper class accent (it’s very unpleasant of me to mention this, but it is just part of how much she seems like  a classic member of the British establishment) , and who deserves respect as an individual not just for her status.

In philosophy, O’Neill is best known to me as a Kant commentator.  She belongs to the Rawlsian tendency amongst Kantians, that is she wrote her doctoral thesis with John Rawls the influential ethical and political theorist, and has gone back to Kant who was maybe the biggest influence of Rawls from among the great philosophers of the past.  The other big name in that category is Christine Korsgaard (Harvard) though her approach to Kant looks different to me. There is a common concern with rationality and ethics in Kant and Rawls.

Other areas that O’Neill has researched and broadcast on include bioethics, professional ethics and trust.  One of the doctoral students who has written about O’Neill’s work in the area of Kant and ethics was Thomas Besch, who is known to me from his time at the department of philosophy in Bilkent University, Ankara.  Thomas is now based at the University of Sydney.  Thomas thought it worth going from his native Germany to Oxfordto study Kant according to O’Neill.  Another Kant scholar I met in Turkey, at a conference did the same.  That is Oliver Sensen of Tulane University, New Orleans.


BBC Reith Lecures 2002. A Question of Trust (podcast)

philosophy bites, Onora O’Neil on Trust (podcast)

philosophy bites, Onora O’Neill on Medical Consent (podcast)

Reuters Memorial Lecture 2011 

Kant: Rationality as Practical Reason (pdf of prepublication version of academic paper)

A Simplified Version of Kant’s Ethics (a power point file which starts downloading as soon as you click on this link)


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