By Paul Gray
It might not attract quite the same numbers as World Youth Day, but Sydney is set to stage another important international gathering this year – for philosophers, ethicists and major Catholic thinkers.
The gathering will feature some of the biggest names from the worlds of ethical and legal thought, including Prof John Finnis from Oxford University, Robert George from Princeton University and the world’s major Thomist scholar, Prof John Haldane.
The place will be Notre Dame University’s Sydney campus. The conference, titled Truth and Faith in Ethics, has been announced for June.
Conference co-ordinator Prof Hayden Ramsay told The Record: “We have some of the greatest names in Catholic moral thinking and many other distinguished guests from various fields of ethics.
“It would be difficult to imagine how the range of speakers could be bettered.”
The conference follows the example of Pope Benedict XVI who has made a longstanding practice, both as Pope and previously as head of Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, of visiting and speaking at universities to engage with both Catholic thinkers and non-Catholic thinkers about major philosophical issues.
Prof Ramsay says that as well as being a meeting of scholars, the Sydney conference will also give Australians the opportunity to encounter the thinking of some of the world’s great minds on ethical issues.
“The event will interest those curious to explore how close – or far apart – Catholic and general ethical views are today,” he said.
Other international guests will be the Dean of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America, Jude Dogherty, Prof Julia Annas from Arizona, who is a distinguished commentator on ethics in the ancient world, English author Anthony O’Hear, whose books Plato’s Children and The Great Books are currently selling in secular bookstores around Australia and Nancy Sherman from Georgetown University, another classical ethicist who has written a highly successful book on military philosophy, Stoic Warriors.
Australian author and philosopher Raimond Gaita, who is well-known for the book and film based on his early life, Romulus, My Father, will also speak at the conference.
One of the conference’s main speakers, the Australian-born Prof Finnis, is a former Rhodes scholar who has been an internationally recognised Oxford professor of law and legal philosophy since the 1980s.
Influenced by St Thomas Aquinas, he has developed “Thomist ideas” for application in legal thinking in several countries, including Britain, the United States and Australia.
Another leading speaker, Robert George, is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton in the United States, and is also a member of the US President’s Council on Bioethics.
As well as directing the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, and is author of several books including In Defense of Natural Law.
Prof George has done significant work applying natural law ideas in areas such as bioethics and marriage and the family.
Prof John Haldane, from the University of St Andrews in Scotland, is widely regarded as the world’s leading Thomist scholar.
He is the author of An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Religion and Faithful Reason, among other works.