Professor Josiah Ober, Mitsotakis Professor of Political Science and Classics at Stanford University, delivered this year’s Hellenic Australian Lawyers Association NSW Chapter Oration.

Professor Ober spoke on the topic “The Origins of Social Order: self-interest, rationality and the common good”.

Those attending included the Patron of the NSW Chapter of HAL,
The Hon Melissa Perry, Justice of the Federal Court of Australia, Patron of the Queensland Chapter of HAL, The Hon Anthe Philippides
Justice of Appeal, Supreme Court of Queensland, and other eminent jurists, HAL Chapter representatives and guests.

It was held on Monday 18 November 2019 at Sparke Helmore Lawyers, followed by a reception.

Professor Ober works on the history of institutions and on legal and political theory, with an emphasis on democracy and on the political thought and practice of the ancient Greek world.

Synopsis of The Origins of Social Order: self-interest, rationality and the common good

How can rationally self-interested persons ever manage to cooperate in ways that allow for the emergence of law and order, and thereby the consolidation of a workable society?

Is extensive cooperation in a law-based regime possible without a lawless third-party enforcer?

Thomas Hobbes raised the first question and answered the second in the negative in his great work Leviathan.

They remain at the center of contemporary work by social scientists on rationality of choice and game theory. But 2000 years before Hobbes, and 2400 years before the invention of modern choice theory, Greek philosophers raised the same hard questions and answered them very differently.

Plato’s dialogues (and other Greek texts) offer a profound theoretical exploration of the question of why cooperation is difficult, how legal order arises without a lawless sovereign, the conditions under which people may rationally agree to obey the law, and under which they will actively join in costly punishment of those who violate the rules.

Professor Ober has provided source material relating to this Oration:

  1. Slides of his presentation “The Origins of Social Order: self-interest, rationality and the common good
  2. Handout material accompanying this Oration.

Pictures from the event

Images supplied courtesy of Mark Friezer