St. Olaf College | News

Ethicist to lecture on ‘Sanctity vs. Dignity’ of beginning, ending life

Timothy Jackson’s newest book, “Political Agape,” examines the place of Christian love in a pluralistic society dedicated to “liberty and justice for all” — and what it might look like when applied to such issues as the death penalty, same-sex marriage, and adoption.

Emory University Professor of Christian Ethics Timothy Jackson will deliver a lecture at St. Olaf College December 8 titled Sanctity vs. Dignity in the Beginning and Ending of Life: A Response to Singer and Dworkin.

The lecture, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 7 p.m. in Viking Theater. It will also be streamed and archived online.

Jackson contends that theological and philosophical discussions of the meaning or value of life and death often fail to distinguish between “sanctity” and “dignity.” Absent clarity on this distinction, ethical debates over issues like abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment are, he says, “impoverished.”

He will begin his talk by grounding the definition of “dignity” and “sanctity” in their Latin roots, and will then elaborate on the contrast in order to criticize moral philosopher Peter Singer’s utilitarianism and legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin’s liberalism. Jackson argues that both authors offer implausible or self-defeating accounts of when human life begins and when and how it may be ended.

In addition to teaching in Emory’s Candler School of Theology, Jackson is a senior fellow at the university’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion.

He has previously held teaching posts at Rhodes College, Yale University, Stanford University, and the University of Notre Dame. He has been a visiting fellow at the Center of Theological Inquiry, the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale, the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton, and the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard.

Jackson is the author of five books, including Political Agape: Christian Love and Liberal Democracy.

His visit to St. Olaf is sponsored by the college’s Institute for Freedom and Community, which aims to foster intellectual inquiry and meaningful discussion of important political and social issues.