Margaret's Massey

Margaret's Massey McGill University

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McGill Reporter
October 26, 2006 - Volume 39 Number 05
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Margaret's Massey

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McGill's Somerville: Not so much with the answers but fabulous questions
Owen Egan

Margaret Somerville, now best-known to many Canadians for her controversial stand against same-sex marriage, comes across as someone who might otherwise be weaving dream catchers. Kicking off the prestigious CBC-sponsored Massey Lecture tour that will take her across the country, the founding director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, set a congenial tone at the Mount Royal Centre on Oct. 11.

"You've signed on for a journey of the human spirit," said Somerville from the flower-lined stage at the Mount Royal Centre, "at the end of which you'll have many more questions than you came with. I'm here to help you find the questions, not to give you the answers."

This journey, or rather "ethical wallaby," was designed to get us off the beaten path laid down by religion-based faith and linear reason. The Australian men who followed wallaby trails leading to sources of water, communities and work, first did so out of physical necessity. Somerville suggested that the goal of this journey, to establish "a shared ethics" is just as pressing.

"Whether we can find what we seek is likely to be a determining factor of our survival and that of our planet."

Somerville called on mythology and quoted Einstein, Picasso, E.M. Forster and John Ralston Saul, among others, to illustrate her vision. But it was the anecdote about her dog Henri's zig-zag pursuit of a gang of kangaroos in the Australian outback, using only his keen sense of smell, that resonated.

"It was a much longer route than a direct one would have been, but it was accurate nonetheless," reasoned Somerville.

Despite her whimsical approach to tending to the fractured state of the world, some of Somerville's suggestions created an instant testing ground for living with uncertainty, which she insists is a necessary component of "a shared ethics."

The Massey Lectures will be broadcast on CBC Radio's IDEAS November 6-10. They are based on Margaret Somerville's newly released book, The Ethical Imagination.

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