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Reason and Identity

Isaiah Berlin Lecture, delivered by Professor Lord Parekh FBA, on 2 April 2008.

The nature of the relation between reason and identity lies at the heart of moral and political philosophy. In the dominant view that goes back to Plato, reason is seen as an impersonal and transcendental faculty. It is abstracted from the individuality and social affiliations of the moral agent, and expected to deliver universally valid judgements about the good life and the right course of action. This view ignores the vital role of identity in human life, and the way it influences the range of reasons the moral agent considers relevant and finds persuasive. While a well considered theory of reason needs to take full account of individual identity, it runs the risk of placing identity outside the ambit of rational scrutiny and severely limiting the role of reason in moral and political life. This lecture explores ways of resolving the tension between reason and identity.

Professor Lord Parekh FBA is Professor of Political Philosophy, University of Westminster. He was elected a Fellow of the Academy in 2003. He chaired the Runnymede Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, 1998 to 2000. He is Vice-Chairman of the Gandhi Foundation, and a trustee of the Anne Frank Educational Trust and a member of the National Commision on Equal Opportunity.

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