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Should we risk lives to save history?

Tuesday, July 17, 2018 - 18:00 to 19:45
Berrill Lecture Theatre, Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA
Shutterstock-684536470 Ruins of Palmyra in Syria

The dilemma of how to protect culture and heritage in war zones, while making human life a priority, will be addressed by Derek Matravers, OU Professor of Philosophy, in his inaugural lecture on Tuesday 17 July.

Should we ever kill people to save buildings?

In Heritage in War: Protecting Cultural Property and Human Harm, Professor Matravers, will explore whether we should risk lives to protect historical buildings. He will go on to assess the values of buildings and the deeper moral obligation to not kill human beings.

“We all know what the value of human life is, so we can make sense of using our soldiers to protect human life,” said Professor Matravers. “But what is the value of cultural property such that you can balance it against human life?”

Damaging cultural property is now a war crime

As the UK recently ratified the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, the UK Military are now bound by the articles of this convention. In particular, if UK combatants damage cultural property, without military necessity, that would be a war crime. This has increased the pressure to understand notions such as necessity, proportionality, and making decisions in conditions of uncertainty.

What does ‘just war theory' say?

Professor Matravers has a particular interest in a particular branch of philosophy called ‘just war theory’, which goes back to at least medieval times. He will highlight the need to rethink big sections of this theory in order to include an assessment of the value of buildings.

Read what Professor Matravers says on OpenLearn about ‘just war theory’

New research into the ethics

Professor Matravers has been awarded £409,094 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to research the ethics of protecting symbols of culture and identity in war zones.

He will work with Professor Helen Frowe, Director of the Stockholm Centre for the Ethics of War and Peace, a specialist in the philosophy of war, to formulate the principles, and thus guide the practice of cultural protection.

About Professor Matravers

Derek Matravers is Professor of Philosophy at The Open University. Before joining the OU, he was a research fellow at Darwin College Cambridge. He is the author of Art and Emotion, (OUP: 1998), Introducing Philosophy of Art In Eight Case Studies (Routledge: 2012), Fiction and Narrative (OUP: 2014), and Empathy (Polity: 2017). He has also published on aesthetics, ethics, mind, and politics.

Watch the video trailer below to hear what Derek Matravers has to say about his lecture:

Timings Item
18:00 - 18:45 Lecture: Heritage in War: Protecting Cultural Property and Human Harm
18:45 - 19:00 Q&A
19:00 - 19:45 Drinks and canapes

To attend the event in person: Registration

Can't join in person? Watch the event live online (link will be live before the event)

If you are viewing the event by live stream, please do take the opportunity to have your questions answered by our speakers LIVE during the event by emailing the Comms-Inaugural-Lectures mailbox.