Loading Events
This event has passed.

Our attempts to deal with the effects of COVID-19 have revived significant interest in a question of enduring philosophical interest: what do we owe to each other?  This series of public lectures will examine our responsibilities (if any) to others. It will include discussions on the evolution of altruism, on the idea that both individuals and collectives can have moral responsibilities, on how moral philosophy might assist us in thinking about whether we ought to mandate vaccination for Covid-19 once a vaccine is developed, and finally, on what it would mean to grant legal personhood status to non-human animals. 

The annual philosophy lecture series is prepared in partnership with the Rotman Institute of Philosophy, the Department of Philosophy at Western University, and the London Public Library. This year’s events will be held via Zoom webinar and will take place on Thursdays in November. Attendance is free, but advance registration will be required in order to obtain the link to join the webinar.

  • Nov 5  at 12:00 pm | Evolution, Selfishness & Altruism | Samir Okasha, University of Bristol
  • Nov 12 at 7:00 pm | Individual and Collective Responsibility and Interests during COVID-19 | Tracy Isaacs, Western University
  • Nov 19 7:00 pm | Ethics in the Time of Coronavirus | Anthony Skelton, Western University
  • Nov 26 7:00 pm | Animals as Legal Beings: Contesting Anthropocentric Legal Orders | Maneesha Deckha, University of Victoria

Each event will begin with a short presentation by the speaker, lasting approximately 30 minutes. Rotman Institute Associate Director, Eric Desjardins, will act as host and ask the speaker a number of follow-up discussion questions. Registered attendees will have the option to ask additional questions live via Zoom, or to submit questions in advance via email. This will be a new format for our annual library series and we look forward to having an engaging discussion with everyone in attendance in this new online setting!

Please see the tabs below to view talk abstracts, speaker profiles, and suggested readings for each event.

Evolution, Altruism & Selfishness

Thursday, 5 November 2020
12:00 – 1:00 pm

It is sometimes thought that Darwinian evolution implies that organisms will evolve to be “selfish”, that is, to behave in a way that furthers their own biological interests rather than those of others. However, biologists have long recognized that “altruistic” behaviour is quite common in nature, and have sought to reconcile this finding with evolutionary principles. This talk focuses on the philosophical implications of this classic biological issue, and asks how biologists use of terms such as “altruism” and “selfishness” relate to their vernacular use.


Samir Okasha

Samir Okasha is a Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Bristol. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, and President of the European Philosophy of Science Association. His philosophical interests fall into two main areas: (i) philosophy of biology / evolutionary theory; and (ii) epistemology /philosophy of science.

Within philosophy of biology, he is especially interested in foundational and conceptual questions surrounding evolutionary theory. For many years, his research focused on the ‘levels of selection’ question in evolutionary biology, and the related issue of individual versus group conflicts of interest. This culminated in his book Evolution and the Levels of Selection (OUP 2006), which was awarded the 2009 Lakatos Prize for an outstanding contribution to philosophy of science. He continues to work on these topics.

Within epistemology / philosophy of science, he is interested in topics including probability and induction, evidence and confirmation, causality, theory choice, scepticism and knowledge, and epistemological holism.

Read more about Samir Okasha.


Want to learn more? Our speaker & librarians from the London Public Library have a list of suggested readings & a film that complement this talk. You can find all of these at the London Public Library!

Okasha, Samir, Philosophy of Biology: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2018).

Murthy, Vivek Hallegere, Together: the healing power of human connection in a sometimes lonely world (Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2020)

Ackerman, Jennifer, The bird way : a new look at how birds talk, work, play, parent, and think (Penguin Press, 2020)

Hare, Brian, Survival of the friendliest: understanding our origins and rediscovering our common humanity (Random House, 2020)

Pfaff, Donald W., The altruistic brain : how we are naturally good (Oxford University Press, 2015)

Schwartz, Peter, In defense of selfishness: why the code of self-sacrifice is unjust and destructive  (Palgrave Macmillan Trade, 2015)

Why Help? The Story of the Babbler Birds – Kanopy film

Individual and Collective Responsibility and Interests during COVID-19

Thursday, 12 November 2020
7:00 – 8:00 pm

Lots of large global issues require collective, coordinated responses.  For example, if only a handful of individuals make choices that might reduce climate change if large numbers of people made the same choices (many of which involve sacrifice), that’s not enough to make a difference.  But if enough people are contributing to make a difference, then (sadly) it can be tempting for others to embrace “exceptionalism,” wherein they experience the benefits of the collective effort without making the sacrifices. The response to the global pandemic is similar, where the collective public health effort requires that individuals work together with the common goal of curbing the spread of COVID-19. This raises ethical questions about how to balance individual and collective interests. My talk will focus on these questions, offering an argument for why, when we face these sorts of global issues, individuals ought to feel an ethical investment in and be guided by the collective goal.


Tracy IsaacsTracy Isaacs is an Associate Dean (Academic) in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and a Professor in the Departments of Philosophy and of Women’s Studies and Feminist Research (WSFR) at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada.

Her research focuses on issues of responsibility in collective action contexts, collective obligation, ethics, and feminist ethics. She also works on feminist issues in sport and fitness, food, dieting, and body image.

She blogs with her colleague, Samantha Brennan, and a great group of guest bloggers, at Fit Is a Feminist Issue.

Read more about Tracy Isaacs.

Ethics in the Time of Coronavirus

Thursday, 19 November 2020
7:00 – 8:00 pm

We face and will continue to face numerous ethical challenges as we attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Moral philosophy seems poised to help with some of these challenges. This presentation focuses on what may emerge as a pressing ethical question once we discover a safe and effective vaccine for Covid-19, namely, ought the state to mandate vaccination for Covid-19? This presentation examines several philosophical arguments in favour of an affirmative answer to this question. It concludes that there are good reasons for the state to mandate vaccination.


Anthony Skelton

Anthony Skelton is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the Uni- versity of Western Ontario. He specializes in normative ethics and the history of ethics. He has published articles in Ethics, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Jour- nal of the History of Philosophy, and Utilitas, among others. He is the co-editor of Bioethics in Canada, second edition published by Oxford University Press and the author of Sidgwick’s Ethics forthcoming on Cambridge University Press. He is an associate editor of the Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy. In 2015, he received the Faculty of Arts and Humanities Teaching Excellence Award and in 2019-20 he was the Graham and Gail Wright Distinguished Scholar in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the University of Western Ontario.

Read more about Anthony Skelton.


Want to learn more? Our speaker & librarians from the London Public Library have a list of suggested readings that complement this talk. You can find all of these at the London Public Library!

Giubilini, Alberto, The Ethics of Vaccination (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019).

Schwartz, Meredith Celene, ed., The Ethics of Pandemics (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2020).

Reich, Robert B., The common good (Alfred A. Knopf,  2018)

Marshall, Richard, ed., Ethics at 3:am : questions and answers on how to live well (Oxford University Press, 2017)

Animals as Legal Beings: Contesting Anthropocentric Legal Orders

Thursday, 26 November 2020
7:00 – 8:00 pm

In this talk, Maneesha Deckha presents the argument in her forthcoming book from University of Toronto Press of the same title. She calls for a non-anthropocentric reorientation for Canadian law, by criticizing the colonial legal treatment of animals as property under the common law, but also finding fault with personhood as an appropriate animal-friendly replacement. Instead, marshalling feminist and postcolonial insights, as well as critical animal studies, the book theorizes a new legal category altogether, namely beingness, as better able to protect animals from exploitation and value animals for who they are. Professor Deckha’s talk will delineate this new concept as well as outline how the foundations of Canadian law must otherwise change to move toward justice for animals.


Maneesha DeckhaManeesha Deckha is Professor and Lansdowne Chair in Law at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include animal law, feminist theory, critical animal studies, vulnerability studies, health law, bioethics, and reproductive policy. Her interdisciplinary scholarship has been funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. She also held the Fulbright Visiting Chair in Law and Society at New York University. Professor Deckha currently serves as Director of the Animals & Society Research Initiative at the University of Victoria as well as on the Editorial Boards of Politics and Animals and Hypatia. She is an inaugural fellow of the Brooks Animal Studies Academic Network at the Brooks Institute for Animal Rights Law & Policy, and is a graduate of McGill University (BA), the University of Toronto (LLB) , and Columbia University (LLM). She is widely published and a recipient of several teaching-related awards.

Read more about Maneesha Deckha.


Want to learn more? Our speaker & librarians from the London Public Library have a list of suggested readings & a film that complement this talk. You can find all of these at the London Public Library!

M Deckha, “The Save Movement and Farmed Animal Suffering: The Advocacy Benefits of Bearing Witness as a Template for Law” (2019) Canadian Journal of Comparative and Contemporary Law 77-110 (open access).

M Deckha, “The “Pig Trial” Decision: The Save Movement, Legal Mischief, and the Legal Invisibilization of Farmed Animal Suffering” (2018) 50:1 Ottawa Law Review 65-98 (open access).

M Deckha, “Humanizing the Nonhuman: A Legitimate Way for Animals to Escape Juridical Property Status?” in John Sorenson and Atsuko Matsuoka, eds, Critical Animal Studies: Towards a Trans-Species Social Justice (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), 209-233.

Matthieu, Ricard, A plea for the animals : the moral, philosophical, and evolutionary imperative to treat all beings with compassion (Shambhala, 2016)

Corbey, Raymond ed., The politics of species : reshaping our relationships with other animals (Cambridge University Press,  2014)

Grimm, David, Citizen canine : our evolving relationship with cats and dogs (PublicAffairs, 2014)

Boyd, David R., The rights of nature : a legal revolution that could save the world (ECW Press, 2017)

Jane Goodall: The Animals We Are – Kanopy film

View a copy of the event poster.
Western Arts & Humanities logo
London Public Library logo
Photo credit: Mother and daughter on grass by Daria Obymaha from Pexels.

Share This, Choose Your Platform!