Personhood as a Foundation of the Western Legal Order - Prof. Gerard Quinn Inaugural Lecture

Prof. Gerard Quinn will be delivering his Inaugural Lecture on Personhood as a Foundation of the Western Legal Order, and its Uncertain Future in the age of Robots and Enhanced Humans.

This talk will be appeal to anyone with an interest in ethics and the law, as well as those interested in how technological developments such as artificial intelligence, autonomous robots and enhanced humans will impact upon existing legal norms and principles. 


Few ideas are more important than personhood in ethics and in law.  It acts as a portal to exercise rights and liberties and protects the individual in the exercise of his/her autonomy.  Yet is among the least explored postulates of our legal order.  However, it is looming larger in legal analysis as new realities such an enhanced humans and autonomous robots tax our existing legal order to breaking point. 

In this talk Professor Quinn will lay out the history of the idea in ethics and in law.  He will reveal how it has changed both function as well content over the years.  He will link the evolution of the idea to the phenomenon of human essentialism (abstracting certain criteria said to be ‘essential’ to be seen as a human and a person like cognition) whilst stressing that one does not have to be a human to be a person in law.  He will range over certain inevitable boundary issues that plague human essentialism (e.g., why not ascribe personhood to animals that possess a higher level of cognition?).  And he will look to future challenges including the legal status (?) of enhanced humans as well as the merger of artificial intelligence with machines.  His talk is not aimed at specialists. Rather it is aimed at opening up the contours of an emerging field with manifold applications throughout the law.

About the Speaker

Gerard Quinn is Professor Emeritus in law at the National University of Ireland (Galway).  He holds degrees in political science (B.A.) and law (LL.B.) from the National University, is a qualified barrister-at-law (B.L., Kings’ Inns) and a graduate of Harvard Law School (LL.M., S.J.D.). 

He has had a varied career in public service.  He was a former Director of Research at the Irish Government’s Law Reform Commission and has served two terms on the Irish Human Rights Commission.  He has served on other Government bodies such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Joint Committee on human rights and the Government’s Commission on the Status of Persons with Disabilities.  He is currently a Presidential appointee to the Council of State which provides constitutional law advice to the President of Ireland. 

He currently sits on the scientific committee (advisory board) of the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency (EU FRA, Vienna).  He has worked as a temporary civil servant in the European Commission (EU) on equality policy and also rose to be First Vice President of the Council of Europe’s Social Rights Committee (a treaty monitoring body on economic and social rights in Europe).  He has directed large studies for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and led the delegation of Rehabilitation International during the drafting of the new UN treaty on the rights of persons with disabilities.  

Because he has led several large scale EU-funded research projects and PhD networks he has been declared a ‘Champion of EU Research’ by the Irish Government (Dept. of Enterprise, 2011).  He has been a joint honoree with Senator Tom Harkin of the United States International Council on Disability (2014) and received a Presidential Award from Rehabilitation International in 2009 for his work in drafting the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  He sits, and has sat, on many advisory boards including those of the Soros-Open Society Foundations Human Rights Initiative (Washington DC) and Human Rights Watch disability programme (NYC).  

He directs a Centre on International Disability Law & Policy at the Law School of the National University of Ireland, Galway which is one of the first of its kind in the world with a dedicated masters (LLM) and PhD programme in international disability law.  He holds an adjunct chair in the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR), Hyderabad, India, is a former Visiting Fellow at Harvard Law School, is a former Visiting Professor at the University of Haifa, Israel, and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

Please click here to register for Gerard's Inaugural Lecture.

The lecture will be followed by a wine reception.

Location Details

Moot Court,
School of Law
Liberty Building
University of Leeds

For sat navs, please use the postcode for Moorland Road, LS6 1AN. 

The Liberty Building can also be found on the campus map

All welcome. This is a free event, though registration is required.

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