Cunningham Lecture 2004: The esteem engine

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About the Speaker

Professor Geoffrey Brennan, FASSA, is in the Social and Political Theory Program at the Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University. He is author of The Reason of Rules (with Nobel Laureate James Buchanan) Democracy and Decision (with Loren Lomasky) and most recently The Economy of Esteem (with Philip Pettit). He is also a singer of some renown.

A resource for institutional design

It is an honour to have been asked to deliver the 2004 Cunningham Lecture. I know people always say that sort of thing; but on this occasion I say it not just in deference to the conventions of politeness (which I may later violate anyway) but also with a certain ‘special intellectual intent’. Because honour, glory, fame, regard, approval – and their corresponding opposites – dishonour, contempt, shame, disregard, disapproval – constitute the theme of this lecture. My interest in this family of phenomena is not just as objects of social analysis in their own right, but more especially in the normative possibilities they offer – their possible role as a resource in institutional design.

I shall generally use the term ‘esteem’ to stand for the whole family. I don’t deny that there are distinctions to be drawn between, say, esteem and approval, or between esteem and fame. But I also don’t want here to engage in fine-grained logic-chopping – so I hope that I will be forgiven if I suspend a lot of relevant distinctions in the interests of painting on a slightly larger canvas.

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