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Galway native Prof Philip Pettit honoured in queen’s birthday list

Gracious Irish political theorist says ‘it’s the message that counts, not the messenger’

Prof Philip Pettit is regarded as the leading figure in “neo-republican” thought. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Irish political philosopher Philip Pettit has been awarded Australia’s highest civil honour in the Queen Elizabeth’s birthday honours list, which has just been announced.

Prof Pettit, who hails from Ballygar in Co Galway, was named alongside Hollywood actress Cate Blanchett and the chief of Qantas airlines Alan Joyce as a companion in the general division of the Order of Australia.

He has been honoured for “eminent service to philosophy through contributions to moral and political theory, as a distinguished academic, and as a leader of public debate on social, economic and environmental issues”.

Prof Pettit (70) is a distinguished professor of philosophy at the National University of Australia, but also serves as professor of politics at Princeton University in the United States.

Irish Times contributor

He initially studied for the Catholic priesthood at Maynooth, but left before taking final vows and went on to teach at Queen’s University Belfast and University College Dublin before leaving Ireland for Cambridge.

Prof Pettit retains close ties to Ballygar and to Irish academic life. He is an occasional contributor to The Irish Times, most recently setting out a proposal that Northern Ireland should be declared a free economic zone after Brexit.

Regarded as the leading figure in “neo-republican” thought, his 1997 book Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government is deemed especially influential.

In it he defines liberty, not as the power to do whatever one wants but as the condition of not being subject to the arbitrary will of anyone else – a concept known as “non-domination”.

Prof Pettit said he was delighted by the honour: “In a field like mine, and in any related public effort, it’s the message that counts, not the messenger.”