Snatching Something From Death – Value, Justice, and Humankind’s Common Heritage

Published: 7 February 2020

Monday 17 February, 6pm - Professor Cecile Fabre (University of Oxford)




Monday 17 February, 6pm

Venue: Sir Charles Wilson Building


‘Snatching Something From Death – Value, Justice, and Humankind’s Common Heritage’

Speaker: Professor Cecile Fabre, University of Oxford

Respondent: Ranald MacInnes, Historic Environment Scotland


Venue: Sir Charles Wilson Building (corner of Gibson Street and University Avenue)


When Notre-Dame Cathedral was engulfed by fire on April 15, 2019, the world (it seemed) watched in horror.  When President Trump threatened to bomb Iran's cultural sites in the closing days of 2019, in defiance of the laws of war, he elicited outrage, not just on behalf of Iranians but on behalf of the world at large.  The thought that there are landmarks – some human-made, others natural, others still at the intersection of the human and the natural world – which have universal value is a familiar one.  It also raises some deep concerns, not least regarding conflicting interpretations of what it means for a landmark to have outstanding universal value, and, relatedly, regarding the risks of undue cultural appropriation, particularly on the part of former colonial or quasi-colonial powers towards peoples and territories which they once held in their grip.


Nevertheless I argue first that there are cultural and natural landmarks which are universally valuable, such that they together constitute our common heritage. Second, I seek to show that the protection of humankind's heritage, qua humankind's, not only is a moral imperative: more strongly put, it is a duty of justice.


Professor Dudley Ross Knowles (1947 – 2014) was a renowned political philosopher who taught at Glasgow University from 1973 to 2011.  He was a strong supporter of the Stevenson Trust and argued for the importance of political philosophy in the public arena.


All are welcome.  

First published: 7 February 2020