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Asking big questions: What is wrong with slavery? – University of Reading

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Asking big questions: What is wrong with slavery?

Release Date 10 October 2013

Dr David Owens

The University of Reading launches its latest series of public lectures for 2013/14 with a special event to mark Black History Month.

‘What is wrong with slavery?' is the first of many free talks for the new academic year, aimed at tackling big issues head on and sharing the University's ethos of learning and inquiry with members of the public.

Professor David Owens, one of Reading's leading philosophers and authors, will explore the morality of slavery - an institution which has existed throughout human history and still exists in some forms to this day - in a public lecture on Wednesday 16 October.

"Since civilisation began, most human societies have allowed one adult human being to own another," Professor Owens said.

"While we now think of slavery as morally abhorrent, the actual reasoning behind this position has become rather lost since the 19th century, when the issue was settled both in debating chambers and on the battlefield.

"So what is actually wrong with slavery - is it because slavery causes misery? Is it because it is based on racism? Or is it because claiming to own another person involves denying the dignity of that person? I'm looking forward to exploring these and other issues which still have resonance in today's society."

David Owens is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading. He has held visiting appointments at All Soul's College, Oxford, Yale University, London University, Sydney University, New York University and the University of Lublin.

His recently published book Shaping the Normative Landscape investigates blame, wronging and obligation and their involvement in forgiveness, friendship, promising and consent. His current research project focuses on notions of ownership, on how we come to own parts of the world around us and on the limits of such ownership - particularly the wrongness of slavery.

‘What is wrong with slavery?' takes place at 8pm on Wednesday 16 October at the University of Reading's Palmer building, Whiteknights campus. Doors open at 7.15pm.

The University's Public Lecture Series is free to attend, with no ticket required, although groups can reserve seats in advance from 0118 378 4313 or For more information visit

To join the debate via Twitter  - or ask questions on the night - follow @UniofReading #UoRLectures

See details of all our upcoming events >>>

The University of Reading is a top 1% global university (THE World University Rankings 2013/14). Its Department of Philosophy is ranked third best in the UK for research - above both Oxford and Cambridge - and scored 96% satisfaction among undergraduates in the most recent National Student Survey.

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