Sydney Ideas Public Lecture Series: Key Thinkers

The University of Sydney hosts a series of free evening lectures on the key thinkers who have shaped our society’s institutions and beliefs. University of Sydney academics, from a range of disciplines, will share their specialised knowledge in a 45-minute lecture on an exceptional thinker who has informed their research and teaching.

All lectures start: 6.30pm to 8.00pm in Lecture Theatre 101, New Law School, Eastern Avenue, The University of Sydney.
Contact: Information Centre, phone 02 9351 3100, email infocentre at mail dot usyd dot edu dot au
More information: www.usyd.edu.au/sydney_ideas/lectures/thoughts_thinkers

All are welcome to attend this free lecture series—and no booking or registration is required.

5 August 2009*
John Maynard Keynes on Liberal Capitalism
Tony Aspromourgos
Professor of Economics
Faculty of Economics and Business

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) was the most distinguished British economist and an extraordinarily energetic public intellectual of his time. His enduring contribution to economic theory was focused on the level of economic activity as a whole, thereby providing a new approach to explaining aggregate employment and unemployment. Keynes’ demand-side economics theory became the basis for his policy dealing with the Great Depression. This lecture will provide an account of Keynes’ life and activities, his theory of economic activity, and his views on economic policy. The current global financial crisis and associated contractions of the global economy naturally have revived interest in Keynes’ thought.

*The Key Thinkers Lecture series will be launched at tonight’s event by the Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney, Professor Stephen Garton

9 September 2009
Konrad Lorenz and the rise of Sociobiology
Paul Griffiths
Professorial Research Fellow
Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science

The Nobel prize-winning Austrian biologist Konrad Lorenz initiated the modern, Darwinian science of animal behaviour. In the 1960s Lorenz’s popular writings on Darwinism and human affairs, and particularly his 1966 book, On Aggression, had the same high public profile that Richard Dawkins’ books have today. Modern sociobiology, behavioural ecology and evolutionary psychology are all descended, both intellectually and often sociologically, from Lorenz and his collaborators. This lecture will explain why Lorenz’s work, and that of his Dutch collaborator Niko Tinbergen, represented a radical break with earlier Darwinian accounts of the mind, examine the young Lorenz’s involvement with Nazism and explain his hostility to the emergence of sociobiology in the 1970s.

23 September 2009
John Rawls on Social Justice
Duncan Ivison
Professor of Political Philosophy and
Head of the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry (SOPHI)

John Rawls (1921-2002) has been hailed as one of the most important liberal political philosophers of our times. He is best known for his hugely influential book, A Theory of Justice (1971), which defended a vision of social justice in which individual rights and social equality were seemingly reconciled—something many consider to be impossible. For Rawls, justice was the “first virtue” of social and political institutions and should structure the way fundamental rights and opportunities (as well as burdens) are distributed in a society. His conception of “justice as fairness” attempted to reconcile the often competing ideals of liberty and equality by setting out principles of justice that individuals, conceived of as rational and “free and equal”, would be willing to accept. Technically innovative, often dizzyingly abstract and yet deeply informed by the history of philosophy, Rawls’s work has shaped philosophical thinking about justice—for better or worse—ever since.

30 September 2009
Kurt Gödel and the Limits of Mathematics
Mark Colvyn
Professor of Philosophy and
Director of the Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science

Kurt Gödel was one of the foremost mathematicians and logicians of the 20th century. He proved a number of extremely surprising results about the limitations of mathematics. Perhaps the most significant of these is his celebrated incompleteness theorem, which tells us that there are mathematical “blind spots”: parts of mathematics that traditional methods of proof cannot access. These results are thought by many to have far-reaching consequences for computing and for our understanding of the nature of the human mind. Gödel’s results have thus been the subject of a great deal of popular attention. Indeed, few other results in the history of mathematics have had such an impact outside of mathematics. For those of us who have never heard of Gödel, this lecture will give an accessible outline of his work and achievements.

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