Prassas, Conrad & Winters - Humane Philosophy Mini‐Conference

Additional Information

Category Lecture
Speakers Prassas, Nikolas & Conrad, Richard & Winters, Robbert-Jan
Year 2015

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Humane Philosophy Mini‐Conference


Nikolas Prassas University of Oxford


Human Dignity and the Human Difference


The purpose of this paper is twofold; first, to demonstrate how the ground of human dignity can only be apprehended if we have an adequate conception of what it is that gives man his specific difference among the animals. Second, to propose that, in thinking about this subject, we should make recourse to the work of Elizabeth Anscombe, who was among the few philosophers of the twentieth century to understand adequately the conditions and entailments of human dignity. I shall argue first that man is an animal but one that, contrary to the suppositions of naturalistic Darwinism, stands at the very limit of the world of animals; second, that the reason for his peculiar eminence within the created order is that he must be understood, if we are to conceive of him correctly, as a spiritual – which is to say, a rational animal; third, I mean to show that being such an animal, man has, as Anscombe has said, the radical capacity to ‘get a conception of the eternal, and to be concerned with the eternal as an objective.’ These propositions, I contend, must be acknowledged before we can speak of the dignity of man.


Fr Richard Conrad OP, University of Oxford Aquinas' vision of trustworthy political goodness, healed, enlarged and affirmed by caritas


Robbert-Jan Winters University of Lieden


“We’re not apes but good Christians” Michael Oakeshott on the human difference and the need for politics


Michael Oakeshott, one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century, developed a theory of modality that allows us to distinguish between understanding human beings as the outcome of a non--‐intelligent evolutionary process and as intelligent self--‐ interpreting animals. In this short paper, I will draw out the implications of this pluralist epistemology for debates about what is referred to as ‘the human difference’, i.e. what makes human beings distinct from other animals or the rest of the cosmos. In an early essay, Oakeshott argued that this difference is constituted by ‘intelligence’, which he took to mean a creative faculty for interpreting experience. This interpretive capacity also gives rise to the need for politics, because humans, unlike animals, are not bound to a ‘fixed condition of things’. Ultimately, the idea of modality can accommodate both scientific explanations of human behaviour and hermeneutic explanations of human conduct, while respecting the categorical difference between these two modes.