THE MORALITY OF FREEDOM
After I finished my law degree, I did an MA in political philosophy in the Politics Department at University College Dublin. It was a fantastic course run by Attracta Ingram and was a hugely formative time for me. It exposed me to a kind of literature and mode of inquiry I had never encountered before. During the course, we were asked to read The Morality of Freedom by someone called Joseph Raz. I went off to the library to get it. I will never forget the experience of reading that book. It made a dramatic impact on me. Not only did it seem true, it felt true. I found it enormously insightful, not only about political freedom or questions about how a State should regulate or protect freedom, but about the nature of freedom, the role of freedom in a person’s life.
I loved how it was crafted and how, chapter after chapter, another dimension of the multi-faceted object of inquiry was placed under the spotlight, dissected, challenged, unravelled and then – as far as I was concerned – clarified and ultimately solved. I was deeply impressed by its subtlety and deftness, its painstaking attentiveness to nuance, its searingly critical treatment of opposing arguments, its perspicacity, its lack of pretentiousness, and above all, its insightfulness. During that year, I decided I would go on to do a doctorate. I applied to Oxford (amongst other places) and included the obligatory two pieces of written work, one of which was an essay on The Morality of Freedom. It landed on the desk of Joseph Raz, who accepted me as one of his doctoral students. So that book was a beginning in more ways than one.
A QUESTION OF TRUST
Since then, I have read lots of good books. It is hard to choose and nothing compares to the impact a book can have during an early formative time. However, in the last couple of years, a book which stood out for me and struck me as true and insightful and thought-provoking is A Question of Trust by Onora O’Neill. As the text of the BBC Reith Lectures in 2002, it is a short book which can be read in one sitting. It packs a punch. It is brimming with insight on the nature of trust, how it is formed, how it is lost and what can be done to build it up. It is a philosophical book which does not stand aloof. It engages with contemporary issues of huge importance concerning the perceived lack of trust in public services in this country. It challenges wide spread views (and lots of political rhetoric) about the value of transparency and the need for measurable criteria by which to assess the performance of public institutions, including universities, hospitals and schools. I have been reminded of it more often than any other book I have read in recent times.