Professor Scanlon Discusses Moral Philosophy

Philosophy Professor Thomas M. Scanlon Jr. questioned whether people who are treated unjustly by an institution should be required to obey the laws of that institution at a lecture he gave in Pound Hall yesterday.

Scanlon centered his discussion on the relationship between individual moral philosophy and the political philosophy of institutions, challenging audience members to consider the importance of morality.

Scanlon said people have a reason to care about morality because “we have reason to care about our relations with others.”

“The distinction between what we owe to other people versus what we owe to causes and ideals was illuminating,” said first-year Law School student Al-Amyn S. Sumar, who said he had read an article by Scanlon while a graduate student at the University of Cambridge.

Scanlon also spoke about former Harvard Professor John Rawls’ influential theories on justice.

First-year Law School student Jeremy D. Farris said he believes Rawls’ theories served as a catalyst for “discussion on the relationship between justice and legitimacy.”

“I normally thought political philosophy was about the justification of coercion,” he said. But according to Scanlon, “political philosophy is actually about firstly complying with certain institutions,” Farris added.

After his talk, Scanlon answered several questions from members of the audience.

The speech was hosted by the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. Scanlon praised the center after his speech for working to “[bring] together people from FAS and the professional schools.”