Skip to content
Main menu hidden.

Burman Lectures

The Burman Lectures in philosophy have been given annually by internationally leading philosophers since 1996. The lectures are arranged by the Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Umeå University.

The Burman Lectures in Philosophy 2021:
The Ethics of Creating, Saving, and Ending Lives

Jeff McMahan, Sekyra and White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of Oxford
Time:  1-3 December 2021, at 13.15-15.00 PM
Place: Umeå University, NAT.D.450

Learn more about Jeff McMahan

Lecture 1: Abortion, Prenatal Injury, and What Matters in Alternative Possible Lives

Wednesday December 1, 13.15-15.00, Hörsal NAT.D.450

Abstract: There are certain assumptions about the nature of interests and the basis of rational egoistic concern that imply that death is not a misfortune for an individual of our kind for a certain period after that individual comes into existence. If this implication is correct, and if the nature of a fetus provides no basis for attributing to it a moral status that makes killing it wrong even though its death is not a harm, then there may be no moral reason not to have a painless abortion. On these assumptions, having an abortion is relevantly like preventing a person from coming into existence, which most regard as permissible. Yet the same assumptions imply that a fetus has no present interest in avoiding a painless injury. The obvious response is that, although abortion does not frustrate any interest of the fetus, prenatal injury is likely to frustrate interests that the fetus will later have independently of whether it is injured. I will argue, however, that although this is true to a limited extent, it is insufficient to show that prenatal injury will later be worse for the injured person in the relevant sense of “worse for.” I will conclude that the infliction of prenatal injury is often relevantly like causing a less well-off person to exist rather than a different, better-off person.

Lecture 2: The Population Ethics Asymmetry and the Permissibility of Procreation

Thursday December 2, 13.15-15.00, Hörsal NAT.D.450

Abstract: Many people accept that there is a moral reason to cause a better-off person to exist rather than a different, less well-off person. I will argue that most of those who do not already accept this claim ought to do so since, because of Parfit’s Non-Identity Problem, it provides the only plausible basis for a strong moral objection to causing future people to suffer a great range of bad effects as a consequence of such phenomena as climate change. I will also argue, however, that it is difficult to identify an account of the nature of the reason to cause a better-off rather than a less well-off person to exist that is compatible with the common sense view that there is no moral reason to cause a person to exist just because that person’s life would be well worth living. This puts pressure on us to reject this latter view, which, I will argue, is also incompatible with another common sense view with which it is often paired – namely, that there is a strong moral reason not to cause a person to exist if that person’s life would be intrinsically bad, or not worth living.

Lecture 3: Moral Reasons to Cause People to Exist

Friday December 3, 13.15-15.00, Hörsal NAT.D.450

Abstract: I will continue to explore the tensions between the idea that there is a strong moral reason to cause a well-off person to exist when the alternative is that a different, less well-off person will come into existence instead, but no moral reason to cause a well-off person to exist when the alternative is that no new person will come into existence. I will consider, for example, whether it makes sense to suppose that the reason to cause a well-off person to exist is conditional either on the inevitability of someone’s coming into existence or on one’s decision to cause a person to exist. I will argue that there is a reason to cause a person to exist both when the alternative is that a less well-off person will exist and when the alternative is that no new person will exist. If that is right, we must determine how strong this reason is in each case and how the strength of the reason compares with, for example, the strength of the reason to save a person’s life.

All interested are welcome to these lectures!

Previous Burman Lectures


Professor Ingrid Robeyns, Utrecht University
Why worry about wealth?
Lecture 1: What is limitarianism?
Lecture 2: Arguments for economic limitarianism
Lecture 3. Objections to economic limitarianism


Prof. Jennifer Saul, University of Sheffield.
Race, Manipulative Language, and Politics
Lecture I: Dogwhistles, Political Manipulation and the Philosophy of Language
Lecture II: Racial Figleaves, The Shifting Boundaries of the Permissible, and the Rise of Donald Trump
Lecture III: 'Immigration' in the Brexit Campaign: Dogwhistle Terms in Complex Contexts


Jenann Ismael, University of Arizona
Determinism, Time, and Totality
Lecture I: Determinism and the Causal Order
Lecture II: Time and Transcendence
Lecture III: Totality


Karen Bennett, Cornell University.
Making things Up
Lecture 1: Building
Lecture 2: Causing
Lecture 3: Relative Fundamentality


Elizabeth Anderson, Professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies at the Department of Philosophy, University of Michigan.
Pragmatism in Ethics: Why and How
Lecture 1: Why Pragmatism?
Lecture 2: How to Be a Pragmatist 1: Correcting Moral Biases
Lecture 3: How to Be a Pragmatist 2: Experiments in Living


Michael Smith, McCosh Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University
What We Should Do and Why We Should Do It
Lecture 1: "The Standard Story of Action"
Lecture 2: "A Constitutivist Theory of Reasons"
Lecture 3: "A Case Study: The Reasons of Love"


David Chalmers, Australian National University and New York University
Structuralism, space, and skepticism
Lecture 1: Constructing the world
Lecture 2: Three puzzles about spatial experience
Lecture 3: The structuralist response to skepticism


Stephen Finlay, University of Southern California
Metaethics as a Confusion of Tongues
Lecture 1: Metaethics: Why and How?
Lecture 2: The Semantics of "Ought"
Lecture 3: The Pragmatics of Normative Disagreement


Dag Prawitz, Stockholm University
Bevis, mening och sanning


Tim Crane, University of Cambridge
Problems of Being and Existence
Lecture 1: Existence, Being and Being-so
Lecture 2: Existence and Quantification Reconsidered
Lecture 3: The Singularity of Singular Thought

Older lectures

Jerry Fodor, Rutgers University
What Darwin Got Wrong
Lecture 1: What kind of theory is the Theory of Natural Selection?
Lecture 2: The problem about 'selection-for'

Susanna Siegel, Harvard
The Nature of Visual Experience
Lecture 1: The varieties of perceptual intentionality
Lecture 2: The contents of visual experience

Alex Byrne, MIT
How do we know our own minds?
Lecture 1: Transparency and Self-Knowledge
Lecture 2: Knowing that I am thinking

Jonathan Dancy, University of Reading and University of Texas, Austin
Lecture 1: Reasons and Rationality
Lecture 2: Practical Reasoning and Inference

Ned Block, New York University
Consciousness and Neuroscience
Lecture 1: The Epistemological Problem of the Neuroscience of Consciousness
Lecture 2: How Empirical Evidence can be Relevant to the Mind-Body Problem

John Broome, Oxford

Wlodek Rabinowicz, Lund
Värde och passande attityder

Kevin Mulligan, Genève
Lecture 1: Essence, Logic and Ontology
Lecture 2: Foolishness and Cognitive Values

Hubert Dreyfus, Berkeley
Lecture 1: What is moral maturity? A Phenomenological Account Of The Development Of Ethical Expertise
Lecture 2: The primacy of the phenomenological over logical analysis: A Merleau-Pontian Critique of Searle's Account of Action and Social Reality

Herbert Hochberg, University of Texas, Austin
Lecture 1: A Simple Refutation of Mindless Materialism
Lecture 2: Universals, Particulars and the Logic of Predication

Susan Haack, University of Miami
The Science of Sociology and the Sociology of Science
Lecture 1: Social Science as Semiotic.
Lecture 2: Sociology of Science: The Sensible Program.

Howard Sobel, University of Toronto
Lecture 1: First causes: St. Thomas Aquinas's 'Second way'.
Lecture 2: Ultimate reasons if not first causes: Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz on 'the Ultimate Origination of Things'.

Ian Jarvie, York University
Science and the Open Society

David Kaplan, UCLA
What is Meaning: Notes toward a theory of Meaning as Use

About the Burman Lectures

The Burman Lectures started in 1996 on the initiative of Inge-Bert Täljedal, then mayor of Umeå and later vice chancellor of Umeå University. The lectures commemorate Erik Olof Burman (1845-1929), Umeå's "first professor of philosophy".

Burman was born in Yttertavle outside of Umeå, went to high school in Umeå, and became professor of practical philosophy 1896-1910 at Uppsala University. Nowadays Burman is best known as the teacher of Axel Hägerström, who is known for his expressivist theory of moral judgments, among other things.

A longer presentation of Erik Olof Burman, written by Inge-Bert Täljedal (Pdf in Swedish)