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Baroness Onora O’Neill Delivers Inaugural Burke Lecture

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Apr 25, 2014

Can human rights be saved from mere abstraction and truly embedded in modern society? The thorny issue of how best to ‘realise’ human rights was examined by leading moral philosopher Baroness Onora O’Neill at a public event in Trinity College Dublin recently.

One of the most respected moral philosophers of our time, Baroness O’Neill is chair of the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission. Her 2013 TED Talk on trust and accountability in public life, What We Don't Understand About Trust, has been viewed by over a million people.

Baroness O’Neill’s lecture, What Would Edmund Burke Think About Human Rights?, was the inaugural Edmund Burke Lecture instituted by the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts & Humanities Research Institute to mark the university’s deep connection with the 18th-century philosopher, historian and politician Edmund Burke. The lecture series has been made possible by a generous endowment from the Fallon family in honour of Trinity graduate Padraic Fallon.

Pictured at the Inaugural Burke Lecture were Sabina Higgins, President Michael D Higgins and Baroness Onora O'Neill Burke 

This year’s lecture was also one of Trinity’s contributions to the President of Ireland's Ethics Initiative and President Michael D. Higgins attended the lecture.

In her lecture Professor O’Neill took Edmund Burke’s criticism of the abstract nature of the Declaration of the Rights of Man as a point of departure to discuss how human rights, as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights, can be truly ‘realised’.


Baroness O’Neill commented: “Scepticism about the Rights of Man played a central and memorable part in Edmund Burke’s thought. What might he have thought about the Human Rights proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights, which enjoy such wide resonance at the start of the 21st Century? Would he have reiterated his criticisms of the abstract character of the supposed rights of man, and rejected human rights as a revised but still inadequate form of abstract liberalism? Or would he have concluded that contemporary commitments to ‘realise’ human rights save them from mere abstraction, and embed them in our times and our communities?”

Professor Jürgen Barkhoff, Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub, added: “The 18th-century philosopher, historian and politician Edmund Burke is one of Trinity’s most famous and most distinguished graduates. To mark the university’s deep and lasting connection with him and to highlight the inspiration his life and work as a public intellectual offer to us today, the Trinity Long Room Hub has instituted the annual Edmund Burke lecture.”

“One of Burke’s central and lifelong concerns was what moral codes should underpin the social order and inform our behaviour as responsible citizens. This is as important today as it was in Burke’s time, and the Edmund Burke Lectures will keep his manifold legacies alive by providing a prominent forum for contributing in his spirit to the wider discourse about what society we want to live in and what traditions, perspectives and values we need to draw on in the shaping of our future. We are delighted that the inaugural lecture in this series will be delivered by Baroness O’Neill, a leading public intellectual of our time, on a topic so central to the President’s Ethics Initiative.”

Pictured at the Inaugural Burke Lecture with members of the Fallon family were Sabina Higgins, President Michael D Higgins, Professor Jurgen Barkhoff and  Vice Provost Linda Hogan

The Annual Edmund Burke Lecture is supported the Fallon family in honour of Padraic Fallon (1946-2012), one of Trinity’s more recent distinguished graduates. Educated at Blackrock College and Trinity, where he graduated in Business Studies in 1969, Padraic Fallon moved to London where he pioneered a new kind of financial journalism focused on the banking and financial markets. As executive chairman of Euromoney Institutional Investor plc for nearly 30 years, he was responsible for building one of the world’s leading international publishing, events and electronic information groups with a value today of more than £2 billion.


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| | Last updated: April 28, 2014