Life According to Nature: The 2016-2017 Gilbert Ryle Lecture Series

Members of the Department of Philosophy at Trent University are pleased to announce the annual Gilbert Ryle Lecture Series will be delivered by Professor Catherine Wilson March 14 - 16, 2017. The series is titled: Life According to Nature.

Moral Theory After Darwin
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
4-6 pm – Bagnani Hall, Traill College

‘Life According to Nature’ has been an ideal of philosophers since ancient times. By this, they have meant a life adapted to human needs, interests, and capabilities that are so basic as to be independent of cultural variation. But morality, as Kant pointed out, is a universal need, interest, and capability that seems to involve going against nature. In this lecture, Professor Wilson will indicate a partial solution by outlining the conception of the human moral platform presented by Darwin and elaborated since in light of anthropological and psychological research.

The Way We Live Now
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
4 - 6 pm – Bagnani Hall, Traill College

In the second lecture of the series, Professor Wilson will consider the scandal, and inspiration, created by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the mid-18th century. Drawing heavily on the civilisations-critique of the 1st century Epicurean philosopher-poet Lucretius, Rousseau condemned the stress, exploitation, and hypocrisy of his society, contrasting it with an earlier stage of happiness and equality lost with the chance invention of agriculture and metallurgy. Professor Wilson will discuss how such analyses, especially as they pertain to work and to relations between the sexes, appear today in light of our understanding of the few remaining hunter-gatherer societies.


Life According to Nature  
Thursday, March 16, 2017
4 - 6 pm – Bagnani Hall, Traill College

In the final lecture of the series, Professor Wilson will pick up on Rousseau’s claim that he never meant to recommend, as he put it, ‘a return to the forest to live like bears,’ though his critics accused him of precisely that. In his Social Contract of 1762, he went further in performing a kind of about-face, praising the accidents that had raised human beings from what he now termed ‘stupid animals’ into noble representatives of their species. Without necessarily abandoning the insights gained from studying human beings outside civilisation, Professor Wilson will explore the use that might be made today of the notion of a social contract and its relationship to the ideal of a life according to nature, as the Stoic philosophers understood it in relation to special human competencies.


Catherine Wilson is the Anniversary Professor of Philosophy at the University of York in England, as well as a Visiting Professor of Philosophy in the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Professor Wilson earned a BA, BPhil, and PhD in Philosophy from Yale, Oxford, and Princeton, respectively. She is the author or editor of a dozen books and dozens of articles that treat a wide variety of topics in the history of philosophy, the history of science, and ethical theory, including Epicureanism at the Origins of Modernity (Oxford/Clarendon, 2008), which won the prize for best book from the Canadian Philosophical Association in 2009. Professor Wilson is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

The Gilbert Ryle Lecture Series was established by the Philosophy Department at Trent in 1977 in honour of the late Gilbert Ryle. This year’s lectures are supported by the Franklin L. Matchette Foundation, the Office of the Dean of Arts & Sciences—Humanities, The Kenneth Mark Drain Chair in Ethics, Traill College, Lady Eaton College, and by funds from members, alumni, and friends of the Department of Philosophy.

All members of the University and the general public are cordially invited to attend this free series of lectures.

For more information, please contact Kathy Axcell at 705-748-1011 x7166 or or visit

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