Professor L. Wayne Sumner
Appointed a University Professor in 2002
Professor Sumner is a pre-eminent scholar who is widely recognized as one of the world's leading moral philosophers. He is a leading proponent of a major ethical view – the brand of consequentialism called utilitarianism, and he has provided one of the most careful expositions and most robust defences of this view. Moreover, Professor Sumner has shown how his comprehensive ethical theories can be applied to concrete moral and political issues.
Professor Sumner's books on abortion and utilitarianism, on rights and on welfare, are valuable permanent contributions to ethics and political philosophy, and have both theoretical and practical relevance. The Moral Foundation of Rights (1987) is one of two or three modern classics in rights theory and utilitarianism. This book argues that consequentialism is not only compatible with a commitment to moral and legal rights but actually provides the most secure framework for such rights. Professor Sumner's book, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics (1996) articulates a conception of well-being and argues that utilitarians have been right to regard well-being as the foundational value for ethics. Abortion and Moral Theory (1981) has been extremely influential on debates about abortion. It had a particularly significant impact on, and is quoted at length in, the important 1988 judgement in R. v. Morgentaler. Theoretical explorations of various aspects of utilitarianism have been the subject of many of Professor Sumner's articles, and his next book project is a critical retrospective of the classical nineteenth-century utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham, J.S. Mill, and Henry Sidgwick. His current project, The Hateful and the Obscene, is a book-length treatment of issues in freedom of expression, focusing on both hate speech and pornography.
In his practical work, which includes many essays and reviews on such topics as affirmative action, animal rights, the environment, and hate speech, Professor Sumner's arguments are graspable by non-academics without being over-simplified and lightweight. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Professor Sumner's contribution to ethics discourse in Canada has extended beyond the academy and the law courts, to the general public. Over the past thirty years, he has written for magazines and newspapers and has given numerous public lectures.
Professor Sumner completed his MA and PhD at Princeton and has been a member of the University of Toronto for 37 years. He holds an appointment in the Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts and Science, with cross-appointments to the Faculty of Law, the Joint Centre for Bioethics and the Institute for Women's Studies and Gender Studies. Professor Sumner is a dedicated teacher, for a number of years offering a course in the innovative 199Y first-year seminar program, and is a popular graduate supervisor. He is a recipient of the Northrop Frye Award, the University's highest teaching award, which recognizes the integration of teaching and research.