Conferral of the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa on Professor John Finnis

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Winter 7-7-2011

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame, Sydney Campus

Publication Place



On Wednesday 6th July, the University of Notre Dame Australia was delighted to confer the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws on Professor John Finnis FBA.

Professor Finnis is a thinker of the utmost distinction in the fields of Philosophy, Law and Bioethics.

Born in South Australia, he graduated in law from the University of Adelaide, becoming the 1962 South Australian Rhodes Scholar recipient for University College, Oxford. He graduated D.Phil (Oxford) on completion of his thesis on the idea of judicial power, with special reference to Australian federal constitutional law. For many years he served at a number of eminent universities such as the University of California, University of Malawi and Boston College of Law. From 1995 to present, Professor Finnis serves as the Biolchini Family Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame in the United States. Having only recently retired from his Personal Chair, Law and Legal Philosophy, at University College, Oxford, he remains as Emeritus Professor.

Known for his work in moral, political and legal theory, as well as constitutional law, Professor Finnis has also served as a Governor of the Linacre Centre for Health Care Ethics, as a member of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales Joint Committee on Bioethical Issues, on the International Theological Commission and the Pontifical Council for the Justice and Peace. He is presently serving on the Pontifical Academy Pro Vita.

A capacity audience including federal and state judiciary, Members of Parliament, the Executive Council of the University and family and friends, joined to honour Professor Finnis and celebrate his life of achievement.

Following the celebration of Mass at St Benedict’s Church on the Sydney Campus, Professor Finnis responded by delivering the inaugural Michael O’Dea Oration, whereby he discussed a leading precept of justice often formulated as ‘treat like cases alike’, adding a significant caveat that ‘different cases should be treated differently’.

In a splendidly crafted address Professor Finnis explained the basis of the grounds we offer in support of our principles of equality and equal concern; he went on to explore laws and social policies that pursue equality by selectively prohibiting direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, vilification and offence. His reference to a number of contemporary moral problems ranging from the nature of our responsibilities for refugees to questions about the preference we might justifiably show towards our own loved ones engaged and stimulated an appreciative audience.

Media Contact: Patrick Collins 02 82044409