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Brian Barry Memorial Lecture 2014

Dirty Hands and Moral Absolutes



Date: Tuesday 13 May
Time: 18:30 – 20:00
Venue:The Alumni Theatre
Chair: Lea Ypi
Speaker: Susan Mendus




Since at least the time of Machiavelli, it has been widely accepted that politicians must be willing to do what is morally wrong. Politics is not the place for absolutists, or so it is claimed. However, in recent years, and especially since 9/11, a number of philosophers and legal theorists have defended absolutism in politics and have argued that there are things which should not be done whatever the consequences. In this lecture I discuss the absolutist case and ask whether it is possible, or desirable, for politicians to keep their hands clean.


Susan Mendus is Morrell Professor Emerita in Political Philosophy at the University of York. She has been associated with the Morrell Centre for Toleration at York for 30 years, and has published widely on problems of toleration, and on modern and historical political philosophy more generally.


Her publications include:

  • Toleration and the Limits of Liberalism
  • Impartiality in Moral and Political Philosophy
  • Politics and Morality

Brian Barry Caricature