FLJS Annual Lecture delivered by Harvard Professor

12 December 2008

The Foundation's Annual Lecture was delivered by Professor Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, at St Hugh's College, Oxford on Thursday 4 December. The lecture, entitled 'Natural or Naturalizing? The Law's Ways with Truth and Justice', was warmly received and provided a stimulating opening to the following one-day workshop on The Capacity of Courts to Handle Complex Cases.

In her wide-ranging and nuanced lecture, Professor Jasanoff cited examples from a variety of technological and scientific developments that had tested the courts. One such case was that decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, where an Indian-American scientist who had invented a microbe that eats oil spills, Dr. Ananda Chakrabaty, won the argument that persons may be granted patents for useful manufacture of living organisms. She defeated the U.S. Patent Office, that argued that living things may not be patented, thus establishing the legal foundation for the biotech industry, (Diamond vs. Chakrabaty, 1980).

Professor Jasanoff also used theoretical ethical dilemmas to illustrate how people's responses change when actually confronted by an impossible moral choice, to make a plea against linearity in legal reasoning, whilst also maintaining that the law should not lessen its responsibility in deference to scientific knowledge.

In her concluding remarks, she called not for unbridled relativism, but the acknowledgment that it is not certainty but doubt, both cognitive and normative, that dominates our lives and keeps us enlightened and also human.

A podcast of the lecture is now available to download.

Further details of the event including the programme and participants are available at www.fljs.org/pastevents