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Personal Liberty in the Contemporary World

Lecture Center for Global Humanities Lecture/Seminar Series

Sarah Conly

Sarah Conly

When can we interfere with individual liberty? We know it is permissible to stop an individual who is about to assault another person, but many of today’s dangers don’t work like that. Climate change, overpopulation, water pollution, the eradication of topsoil, habitat destruction, all cause harms that are very great, but no one person is doing much damage. This is troubling because it suggests that intervening to stop any particular person is wrong—it would be wrong to interfere in personal liberty to stop someone who is only contributing a tiny bit to the overall harm. Yet, we really need to prevent these harms. In this lecture, Conly will argue that our ideas about personal liberty need to change when we face a world where circumstances have changed, and in these circumstances, there is no need to respect personal liberty even when it comes to essential things like childbearing. I will focus on the specific case of overpopulation, but the same reasoning applies to all such global harms.


Sarah Conly is the author of One Child:  Do We Have a Right to More? (Oxford University Press, 2016) and Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism (Cambridge University Press, 2013,) and has published op-eds in The New York Times and The Boston Globe.  She studied philosophy at Princeton University and did her graduate work at Cornell, and now teaches philosophy at Bowdoin College. 


WCHP Lecture Hall in Parker Pavilion
716 Stevens Avenue
Portland, ME 04103

Assigned Reading

Sarah Conly, One Child: Do We Have a Right to More? (Oxford University Press, 2015)


5 p.m. in the UNE Art Gallery (Portland Campus)


(207) 221-4435

Personal Liberty in the Contemporary World Lecture Poster
6:00 PM
WCHP Lecture Hall in Parker Pavilion

Portland Campus

Free and open to the public