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Understanding what it means to be human

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"The School of Athens" by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, 1509–1511. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
“The School of Athens” by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, 1509–1511. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

With laws around the country being changed to support euthanasia, transgenderism and abortion, it is helpful to stop and consider what the Catholic tradition says about what it means to be human and the proper dignity due to human persons.

To this end, five experts will be giving a series of talks for the St Thomas More Society on fundamental issues concerning natural law, human existence, identity and culture from 2 to 30 May.

The series of talks, called Questions in Philosophy Series 3, has the overarching theme of “Metaphysics of humanity: Life, death, identity”.

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Associate Professor in Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, Dr Angus Brook will provide an overview of the natural law tradition.

“This is of particular importance to understanding current debates in ethics and law, for example, whether law is intrinsically connected to morality or not and is also crucial to understanding contemporary disagreements about human nature and the purpose of human life,” Dr Brook told The Catholic Weekly.

Head of Palliative Care at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Dr Maria Cigolini will consider the implications of the push for euthanasia for health policy and health care workers, how it will impact medical practice and the “real and urgent healthcare agendas of our society”.

“As social and political agendas alter the Health Care landscape, authenticity, ethical practice and truth telling become side-lined through the commoditisation of Medicine, and the expectation of governments that legality will simply create agency for these agendas in Health Care,” Dr Cigolini said.

Dr Michael Quinlan, Dean of the School of Law at Notre Dame, will look abortion laws and the impact on people who believe the practice to be immoral.

“Whilst in Australia abortion does not attract the media attention that the issue garners in the United States, it is perhaps an even more important contemporary issue in this country,” Dr Quinlan said.

“All but NSW have now decriminalised the practice and increasingly states are moving to punish those—like mainstream Catholics—who continue to believe that abortion is a great moral evil.”

Dr Renee Kohler-Ryan, Dean of the School of Philosophy and Theology at Notre Dame, will speak on the underpinning beliefs of the current “trans movement”.

“Transgenderism is an issue that keeps coming up in current-day discussions about what it means to be human and to live in society. But what transgenderism actually is and what it means can often be misunderstood,” Dr Kohler-Ryan said. “I will discuss how different theories of what humans are lead to variant understandings of gender, and thus of transgenderism.”

Lawyer, Dr Iain Benson, will discuss the interplay between language and morality.

Dr Benson told The Catholic Weekly his paper will argue that when the Catholic tradition adopted the language of “values” instead of “virtue” it made “a significant mis-step” that still reverberates today.

He said this mistake is “demonstrated by the fact that not one student in a hundred coming through Catholic education can lay out the content and nature of the cardinal and theological virtues or why they are both personal and shared”.

Questions in Philosophy Series 3 will be held over five consecutive Thursday evenings from 2 to 30 May at the University and Schools Club, Cnr Elizabeth and Bent Streets, Sydney. Cost is $20 per lecture. More info: [email protected]

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