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Hourani Lecture Series

The UB Philosophy Department is indebted a former chair of the Department, George F. Hourani, whose generous endowment allows us to bring to our campus many talented philosophers.

The Hourani lecturers include, to date—David Velleman, Philip Pettit, John Martin Fischer, Jeff McMahan, Anthony Appiah, Martha Nussbaum, Onora O’Neil, Shelly Kagan, Michael A. Smith, and David S. Oderberg—virtually a Who’s Who in moral philosophy today.

On this page:

2013 Hourani Lecture Series: "The Metaphysics of Good and Evil"

A series of lectures on "The Metaphysics of Good and Evil" was presented September 23 to 27, 2013 by the acclaimed ethicist David S. Oderberg, Professor of Philosophy, University of Reading, U.K.  The lectures were titled, 'Good: A Theory of Fulfillment',  'Evil: A Theory of Privation', and, 'Morality: A Theory of Orientation'. The series also featured a debate between David S. Oderberg (Reading, UK) and Patrick Toner (Wake Forest, NC) on the question: What survives death: the person or just the soul?  The debate was sponsored by the Christian Philosophy Reading Group.

2012 Hourani Lecture Series: "A Constitutivist Theory of Reasons"

The 2012 Hourani lectures were presented by Michael Smith, McCosh Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University. Smith has written widely in ethics, moral psychology, philosophy of mind and action, political philosophy and philosophy of law. During the 2012 Hourani Lectures, he presented a series of lectures entitled “A Constitutivist Theory of Reasons,” “The Standard Story of Action,” “Reasons for Desires,” and “Constitutivism, Reasons, and Rationality.” The lectures took place from April 10-13, 2012.

2011 Hourani Lecture Series: "Solitude and Sociality"

The 2011 Hourani lectures were given by J. David Velleman, of New York University. The series, which took place in UB’s Center for Tomorrow Ballroom, was entitled "Solitude and Sociality". It included a presentation defending reasonable relativism, another, “Regarding Doing Being Ordinary”, about socially constructed action-types, and a final presentation on personhood.

2009 Hourani Lecture Series: "The Conversational Imperative: Communication, Commitment and the Moral Point of View"

The 2009 Hourani lectures were given by Philip Pettit, Laurence S. Rockefeller University Professor of Politics and Human Values, of Princeton University. The lectures, titled "The Conversational Imperative: Communication, Commitment and the Moral Point of View," took place over three days during the second week of November. Pettit argued that on the basis of norms of communication we commit ourselves to networks of mutual respect, networks that, in turn, give reason to adopt norms of morality. The lectures will be published with Wiley Blackwell under the title, Reconstructing Morality: A Genealogy of Commitment and Respect.

1996 to 2006 Hourani Lecture Series

Fall 2006: Jefferson McMahan (Rutgers University) "War and Morality"

Fall 2004: K. Anthony Appiah (Princeton University) "The Ethics of Identity"

Fall 2002: Martha Nussbaum (University of Chicago) "Hiding from Humanity"

Fall 2000: Onora O'Neill (Newnhan College, Cambridge) "Action, Reason, and Judgement"

Fall 1996: Shelly Kagan (Yale University) "The Geometry of Desert"

Profile of George F. Hourani

George Hourani was born in 1913 in a suburb of Manchester, England to parents who had emigrated from Southern Lebanon. The Houranis were a Greek Orthodox family that converted to Presybterianism. His father was a successful merchant exporting cotton goods.

George was the 4th of six children. One brother, Albert, was a distinguished Oxford scholar of the modern Middle East who published an international best seller A History of the Arab Peoples. Albert trained more mideastern scholars than any one of his generation. The most prestigious book prize in Middle Eastern Studies is named after him. Another brother, Cecil, was an economic adviser to Tunesian President Bourguiba.

George Hourani won a fellowship to study classics at Oxford from 1932-1936. A trip to the Near East in 1934 led to his first publication, a criticism of French rule of Syria entitled “Syria Under the French Mandate” in the 1938 Contemporary Review. This work influenced his decision to continue his graduate studies in Princeton’s Department of Oriental Studies in 1937.

Hourani received his Ph.D. in 1939. The title of his dissertation was ‘Arab Navigation in the Indian Ocean in the 9th and 10th centuries AD.’ A teaching position as lecturer at the Government Arab College in Jerusalem followed, and he began teaching Classics, logic, and history of philosophy. The Government Arab College, where Hourani taught, represented the highest education institution for Palestinian Arabs during the British mandate.

Around that time he met his wife Celeste ‘Lello’ Habib, who came from a well-known Egyptian Coptic family. In 1940 they were married in Egypt. In 1948, the British Mandate came to an end, and the Houranis, British citizens, moved to England. George spent 1948-49 writing the first draft of his book Ethical Value under the guidance of the philosopher J.P. Mabbott – a well respected philosopher of the time. The book, published years later by Allen and Ullwin and the University of Michigan, rejected non-naturalism and intuitionism in ethics and endorsed a variety of utilitarianism.

He was then offered a job as an assistant professor in newly founded Department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan in 1950. It was during Hourani’s years at Michigan that he began to concentrate on Islamic philosophy. He is responsible for definitive Arabic editions and translations of Ibn Rushid, better known as Averroes—an Islamic philosopher renowned for his commentaries on Aristotle. He also worked on the Mu’tazili scholar Ab dal Jabbar from an Islamic school of speculative theology that flourished in the cities of Basra and Baghdad during the 8th–10th centuries. 

From 1964-1970, Hourani served as the associate editor for the Journal of the American Oriental Society. In January 1967, he delivered a lecture at the Department of Philosophy at SUNY Buffalo and was soon afterwards asked to join the department. Soon after arriving at Buffalo, according to one student who eulogized him years later, “he took a constructive and moderating stand during the turmoil of 1969-1970.”

In 1971 OUP published his book Islamic Rationalism. In 1970, the Society for the Study of Islamic philosophy and Science was founded with Hourani as its vice president. The society published a series of books entitled “Studies in Islamic Philosophy and Science." In 1968, Hourani was elected president of the Middle East Studies Association and delivered the Presidential address “Palestine as a Question of Ethics" which had considerable impact on its listeners and readers.

Hourani was the chair of the UB Philosophy department from 1976-1979. He developed a popular seminar in Greek ethics and taught medieval philosophy. In 1980 he was promoted to the rank of distinguished Professor of Islamic Theology and Philosophy. A festschrift in his honor, Islamic Theology and Philosophy, was published in 1984 by SUNY Press.

Recurring heart problems led to Hourani's death in 1984. At his memorial service, a former student spoke of  “his rationality, fairness and the courage to speak out on sensitive issues. He took students under his wing, inviting them to his home and giving them reassurance during times of distress.” He was memorialized as “uncompromising in his quest for truth, insisting on the highest standard of scholarship, of clarity and thought and the shunning of the sophistical and pretentious."