Discussion: The idea of a common humanity and the universality of international criminal law with Raimond Gaita

Event date: 
5 Sep 2014
12:30pm to 2:00pm
Staff common room, level 2, UNSW Law
Humanity, morality and international criminal law
Raimond Gaita
Any questions? Call us on 9385 1803

Many people believe that the philosophical/jurisprudential elaboration of what it means for the peoples of the earth to share common humanity would yield a universal basis for morality and for international criminal law.  They believe it would yield, for example, the universal ethical meaning of what it is for a crime to be a crime against humanity. Obviously the concept of humanity that is at play here is ethically loaded, as it is when we speak of seeing or failing to see the full humanity of another person or peoples. The philosophical task, therefore, is to try to understand the significance of that loading. 

I shall argue that it is a mistake to seek that understanding in highly general principles abstracted from the historically and culturally contingent idioms in which peoples of the earth express their sense of what it means to have been wronged by a breach of international criminal law. I shall try to show why we will better understand the kind of universality appropriate even to international criminal law if we if we compare it to the universality of great literature, translated, not into a common language like Esperanto, but from one natural language into another."

Raimond Gaita is Professorial Fellow in the Melbourne Law School and the Faculty of Arts, University of Melbourne and Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy at King’s College London. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

Gaita's books, which have been widely translated, include: Good and Evil: An Absolute ConceptionRomulus, My Father, which was made into a feature film of the same name; A Common Humanity: Thinking About Love & Truth & JusticeThe Philosopher's DogBreach of Trust: Truth, Morality and Politics, After Romulus,  and, as editor and contributor, Gaza: Morality Law and Politics, Muslims and Multiculturalism and (with Alex Miller and Alex Skovron( Singing for all he’s Worth: Essays in Honour of J.G Rosenberg.