The London Lectures: A Philosophers' Manifesto

The use of reconciliatory sentencing, amnesty for immigrants and a universal basic income are among the ideas being promoted in the Royal Institute of Philosophy’s annual lecture series, which this year is called “A Philosophers' Manifesto”. The series, which has been running since 1966, will give a wide range of philosophers the opportunity to make the philosophical case for a radical new policy or law.

The lectures will be given online on our YouTube page from 6.30 - 8pm, followed by a live Q &A. 



POSTPONED:  Apologies, but we hope to reschedule this event soon.

Ingrid Robeyns

Nationalizing the Fossil Fuel Industry


Much of philosophical thinking on climate change is about the moral principles that climate policies and outcomes should meet. From that perspective, it sounds plausible to ask, for example, how we will determine the remaining global budget for greenhouse gas emissions, or what compensation high-emitters owe to low-emitters. But while this kind of thinking is interesting, philosophical contributions to climate change would be much more effective if they were to focus on institutional change. Concretely, I will argue that if we want to take robust action on climate change, we should nationalize the fossil fuel industry. I will build on arguments from contemporary political philosophy, economic philosophy and ethics to show that this would be a legitimate and just policy choice.


Ingrid Robeyns holds the chair in Ethics of Institutions at Utrecht University, the Netherlands. She has worked on a variety of questions in economic and political philosophy. She is currently directing the Fair Limits Project, which looks at the question whether upper limits to the holding of economic and ecological resources can be justified.



February 19, 6.30-800pm

Rajeev Bhargava

For state-funded multi-religious education

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I will argue that states already committed to the rule of law, that guarantee a bundle of meaningful individual rights, criminalize hate speech and have an established system of ‘secular’ education, should shed their inhibition about religion and adopt a policy of inter-religious education. This is neither an argument for formal religious instruction in schools which states might legitimately discourage, nor, given deep religious diversity in all modern societies, the advocacy of teaching the dominant religion. Instead, my claim is that states must assume responsibility for teaching the ethical traditions of all religions. Religious education should not be left to the family where learning is largely unsystematic and informal, nor be confined to schools run by private (individual or community) money where biases might go unchecked. Unbiased inter-religious education alone enables citizens to learn about and responsibly criticize each other’s ethical values. It also helps place their own ethical tradition in critical perspective. This is necessary for social harmony, a value irreducible to individualistically-construed moral values. The argument is strengthened by a discussion of inter-religious problems in India.   


Rajeev Bhargava is currently Honorary Professor and Director of the Parekh Institute of Indian Thought, CSDS, Delhi. He was formerly the Director of CSDS.  He has taught and held fellowships in various national and international universities and institutes and is also Honorary Fellow, Balliol College, Oxford. His publications include Individualism in Social Science (1992), The Promise of India’s Secular Democracy (2010) and What is Political Theory and Why Do We Need It (2010). He is currently working on pluralism in ancient Indian Thought. He writes a regular column for an Indian national daily. 



March 5, 6.30-800pm

Diane Coyle

Reclaiming the online world for the public realm

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This may be Facebook’s year of reckoning. But the various government actions against it will fail to eliminate the toxins of conspiracy theories if they don’t tackle the central problem: the imperative for clicks. As long as almost all digital companies care only about attracting the most advertising, nothing will change. My proposal: an outstanding public service social media company, funded by taxes, to provide competition on innovation and service, rather than who can spread the most outrageous viral lies.


Professor Diane Coyle is the inaugural Bennett Professor of Public Policy at the University of Cambridge. She has been a government adviser on economic policy, including throughout the covid-19 pandemic. Her latest book, Markets, State and People – Economics for Public Policy examines how societies reach decisions about the use and allocation of economic resources. She was awarded a CBE for her contribution to the public understanding of economics in the 2018 New Year Honours.



March 12, 6.30-800pm

Heisook Kim

Individual freedom in the post pandemic era

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A column published in the French business daily Les Echos in last April 6 under the title “COVID-19 and tracking: let's not sacrifice our individual liberties” said that the Korean administrative policy of tracing the movements of confirmed cases and opening the information of traces to the public was the worst case in terms of the respect for individual freedom. In the age of Covid 19, we are witnessing the conflict between the right to pursue individual freedom and the moral obligation to keep the community and the neighbors safe from the dissemination of virus. This conflict often is manifested in instituting policies concerning wearing masks and building a tracking system. I observed an interesting contrast between the East and the West concerning the public conception of individual freedom. In my talk, I will argue that individual freedom is a moot concept being in need of wider contextual approach in analysis. I examine various contexts including the contemporary digital culture in order to better understand where we are in view of individual freedom.


Dr. Heisook Kim is the 16th President of Ewha Womans University. Dr. Heisook Kim received her BA and MA from Ewha Womans University. Upon completing her doctorate in philosophy at the University of Chicago, she returned to Ewha as a professor in the philosophy department, where she has taught since 1987. Dr. Kim’s philosophical interest has been focused on philosophical methodologies and comparative studies between the intellectual traditions of the East and the West. Dr. Kim has successively filled leading posts in national, as well as international academic societies of philosophy including President of the Korean Philosophical Association. She served as a committee director of the International Federation of Philosophical Societies and as one of nine board members of the International Association of Women Philosophers.


POSTPONED: Apologies, but we hope to reschedule this event soon.

March 19, 6.30-800pm

Seyla Benhabib

Can we Still Defend the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees? 


The 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol are the main legal documents governing the movement of refugees and asylum seekers across international borders. As the number of displaced persons has reached 70 million people in our times, and even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, states resorted to measure to circumvent their obligations under the Convention.  


In view of the increase of state-non-compliance tactics, together with some of the conceptual difficulties in the Convention itself, has the time come to ask whether the 1951 Convention is still a useful instrument to address the predicament of refugees and asylum seekers in our times? 


Seyla Benhabib is Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Philosophy, Emerita, Yale University. She has written extensively on the work of Hannah Arendt and Jurgen Habermas as well as on citizenship, migration, cosmopolitanism and cultural difference.  He latest book is Playing Chess with History. Exile, Statelessness, and Migration from Hannah Arendt to Isaiah Berlin (Princeton, 2018) 



March 26, 6.30-800pm

Debra Satz

A Requirement of National Public Service

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In today’s unequal societies, particularly in the United States, there are very few remaining institutions and associations where people from different social groups interact. Rich and poor, black and white, rural and urban live increasingly different lives, have access to very different information (and misinformation) and know little about the lives of the others. This segregation and social differentiation poses significant problems for a democracy. Division, distrust, the erosion of any sense that we are all in this together dominate national politics. I will argue that a requirement of  a year of national for all Americans between the ages of 18 and 21 can help respond to this problem as well as address infrastructure needs.


Debra Satz is the Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Philosophy and Professor (by courtesy) of Political Science at Stanford University. She is the author of books and articles which consider the nature and consequences of inequality including Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy, and Public Policy (with Daniel Hausman and Michael McPherson) and Why Some Things Should Not be For Sale: The Moral Limits of Markets. Twenty years ago, she co-founded a program where Stanford faculty teach humanities classes to women just released from prisons. 


2020- you can watch last year's speakers on our YouTube Page -- links below.


30 October

Thaddeus Metz

For Reconciliatory Sentencing

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After briefly articulating a conception of reconciliation informed by the African tradition, I advance it as a candidate for being the proper final end of a criminal trial, contending that, far from requiring forgiveness, seeking reconciliation can provide strong reason to punish offenders. Specifically, a reconciliatory sentence is one that roughly has offenders reform their characters and compensate their victims in ways the offenders are expected to find burdensome, thereby disavowing the crime and tending to foster cooperation and aid. I argue that this novel account of punishment is a prima facie attractive alternative to familiar retributive and deterrence rationales, and note that it entails that widespread practices such as imprisonment, mandatory minimum sentences, and (probably) the death penalty are unjust.


Thaddeus Metz is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. Many of Metz’s more than 250 books, chapters, and articles address themes in African philosophy. Recently Prospect Magazine named Metz one of the World’s Top 50 Thinkers for having brought African philosophical ideas to global audiences.


6 November

Lea Ypi

Amnesty for immigrants

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I will make the case for general, unconditional amnesty and naturalisation of all irregular migrants. I will argue that if the supersession of historical injustice can be invoked to justify the rights of states to exclude, it can also be invoked to justify the claims of irregular migrants. I will explore some analogies and disanalogies between the cases, and suggest that we should hold states to the same stringent standards of compliance with just norms that they apply to the assessment of the moral conduct of individual migrants. I further argue that those standards ought to orient migrants and citizens’ moral assessment of how their states handle questions of irregular migration and to inform political initiatives compatible with these moral assessments.


Lea Ypi is Professor in Political Theory in the Government Department, London School of Economics. She is the author of Global Justice and Avant-Garde Political Agency and coauthor of The Meaning of Partisanship (both published by Oxford UniversityPress). Her latest book, Free, will come out with Allen Lane/Penguin Press next year.


13 November

Jonathan Wolff

No More Benefit Cheats

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People in the UK who, for whatever reason, cannot find work, are typically reliant on state benefits. It is very hard to manage on the resources provided, and some people resort to informal paid work simply in order to be able to afford simple things, such as birthday presents for their children. This puts them into the category of being a ‘benefit cheat’ are liable to court appearance and punishment. There are many reasons for objecting to such a state of affairs: it criminalises a group of people who are already deeply disadvantaged, and in doing so may well cause stress-related health conditions. In this paper I consider, in outline, ways of reforming welfare systems to avoid a situation that criminalises ordinary people who are simply trying their best to get by.


Jonathan Wolff is the Alfred Landecker Professor of Values and Public Policy and Governing Body Fellow at Wolfson College. He has had a long-standing interest in health and health promotion, including questions of justice in health care resource allocation, the social determinants of health, and incentives and health behaviour. He writes a regular column on higher education for The Guardian.


20 November

Myisha Cherry

Anti-racism Training in Federal and State funded programs

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Recently, the Trump administration has instructed federal agencies to end racial sensitivity trainings that address topics like white privilege and critical race theory. The president has also threatened to penalized U.S. Schools who incorporate material from The New York Times' 1619 Project into their curricula--a project that teaches on the history of slavery and Black Americans. The reason: it's divisive, Anti-American; and teaches that the US. is inherently racist or evil. My goal is to defend anti-racism training. I'll also argue that it should also be extended to state funded programs.


Myisha Cherry is an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of California, Riverside. Her research interest lies at the intersection of moral psychology and social and political philosophy. Cherry’s books include The Moral Psychology of Anger, co-edited with Owen Flanagan (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018) and Unmuted: Conversations on Prejudice, Oppression, and Social Justice (Oxford University Press, 2019).


27 November

Jesse Norman

The Wisdom of Mentor

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Modern society is beset by the problems of social division, loneliness and isolation. Drawing on Aristotle, Hobbes and Oakeshott, Jesse Norman analyses the philosophical roots of the idea of society, and argues for mentoring as a moral, social and economic solution.


Jesse Norman MP is Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and the author of recent biographies of Edmund Burke and Adam Smith.



4 December

Catherine Rowett

A universal basic income

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A universal basic income is an unconditional allowance that is paid out in cash to everyone in a society, out of the public purse, like a universal tax-free allowance, and regardless of income (in the way that, for instance, child benefit is paid). The aim is to ensure that every person has a guaranteed secure income, sufficient to cover their basic living costs, no matter what may befall, before they add whatever earnings or private pension they are able to accumulate, and before adding any special-needs-based benefits for those with disabilities etc.


There have been several pilot schemes, and the idea is currently much talked of as a simple and effective solution during the Covid-19 crisis period, but although some countries are said to be doing something like it, none is doing the real thing as a permanent national policy. It’s been Green Party policy for years. But why? I shall raise and explore the many interesting philosophical questions that arise, about notions of fairness, entitlement, desert, stigma and sanctions, and the value of unpaid work, the proper ambitions of a good society, and our preconceptions about whether leisure (time for recreation and free creativity) or jobs (working to give the proceeds of our labour and the luxury of free time to someone else!) are the thing we should prize above all for free citizens. I shall ask about the answers offered by the ancient world to some of these questions. And then there are the practical and economic questions, including the intriguing possibility that it might actually increase economic activity and enterprise, and substantially reduce mental health costs, social care costs and the bill for NHS drugs—and how, if at all, it might contribute to a solution to the climate crisis


Catherine Rowett is Professor of Philosophy, School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies at the University of East Anglia. In May 2019 she was elected to the European Parliament as the Green Party MEP for the East of England, serving until the UK left the EU in January 2020. She now divides her time between philosophy (research and a little teaching) and freelance political work.


11 December (NB: 1 pm)

Joseph Chan and Brian Wong

Treating legal transgressions as a response to state injustice: towards a non-punitive approach

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Traditional accounts of civil disobedience and the ethics of contentious politics predominantly focus on individuals and their obligations and rights in relation to lawbreaking. We instead seek to articulate a cogent framework by which the state ought to respond to crimes of such nature. Examining the empirical issues that arise concerning rehabilitative justice and the post-imprisonment welfare of ex-convicts, we will make the case for a state duty to recognise and take seriously the unique nature of citizens who violate the law with the intentions of resisting and protesting structural and regime-based injustices, e.g. the Black Lives Matter protests in the US.


Joseph Chan is a Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Hong Kong and Global Scholar and Visiting Professor in the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. His recent book is Confucian Perfectionism: A Political Philosophy for Modern Times (Princeton, 2014).


Brian Wong is a Rhodes Scholar (Hong Kong, '20) and DPhil in Politics (Theory) candidate at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Their research interests primarily constitute rectifying historical and tackling structural injustices under non-ideal circumstances. They co-founded the Oxford Political Review


Next year's talks will be announced here soon.

Past Lecture Series

Although lectures in London have been arranged since the Institute was founded, it was in 1967 that the first series was published. In the forward to first volume, The Human Agent, the editor, Godfrey Vesey, writes, "On Friday evenings in the winter months London members of the Royal Institute of Philosophy and their friends meet in a small hall in Bloomsbury -- 14 Gordon Square, London W.C. 1 -- to listen to, and discuss, lectures by foremost British, and visiting, philosophers .... In response to requests by members of the Institute living too far form London to attend the lectures (the Institute has a world-wide membership) arrangements have been made for ... them to be published in a yearly volume."


Here's is a list of all the published London Lectures Series.


2019 How Do We Know? The Social Dimension of Knowledge

2018 A Centenary Celebration: Anscombe, Foot, Midgley and Murdoch

2017 Passions and the Emotions

2016 Metaphysics

2015 Philosophy of Action

2014 History of Philosophy

2013 Mind, Self, and Persons

2012 Philosophical Traditions

2011 Philosophy and Sport

2010 The Arts

2009 The Environment

2008 Religion

2007 Conceptions of Philosophy

2006 Epistemology

2005 Philosophy of Science

2004 Philosophy, Biology and Life

2003 Agency and Action

2002 Modern Moral Philosophy

2001 Minds and Persons

2000 Logic, Thought and Language

1999 Philosophy at the New Millennium

1998 Philosophy, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful

1997 German Philosophy Since Kant

1996 Current Issues in Philosophy of Mind

1995 Verstehen and Humane Understanding

1994 Karl Popper: Philosophy and Problems

1993 Philosophy, Psychology and Psychiatry

1992 Ethics

1991 The Impulse to Philosophise

1990 The A. J. Ayer Memorial Lectures

1989 Wittgenstein Centenary Lectures

1988 The Philosophy in Christianity

1987 Recurrent Philosophical Themes

1986 Contemporary French Philosophy

1985 Philosophers Ancient and Modern

1984 American Philosophy

1983 Philosophy and Practice

1982 Objectivity and Cultural Divergence

1981 Philosophy and Literature

1980 Of Liberty

1979 Marx and Marxisms

1978 Idealism -- Past and Present

1977 Philosophers of the Enlightenment

1976 Human Values

1975 Communication and Understanding

1974 Impressions of Empiricism

1973 Nature and Conduct

1972 Understanding Wittgenstein

1971 Philosophy and the Arts 

1970 Reason and Reality

1969 The Proper Study

1968 Knowledge and Necessity

1967 Talk of God

1966 The Human Agent