Philosopher Martha Nussbaum wins 2021 Holberg Prize

Committee praises commitment to ‘making a real and lasting difference’ as well as ‘unquestionable academic eminence’

三月 5, 2021
Philosopher Martha Nussbaum in 2010. She has won the 2021 Holberg Prize.
Source: Sally Ryan

The 2021 Holberg Prize, one of the largest awarded annually to leading scholars, has been won by public philosopher Martha Nussbaum.

Professor Nussbaum completed her PhD at Harvard University in 1975, became the first woman to hold the junior fellowship and taught there until 1983. She went on to positions at Princeton University, Wellesley College, Brown University and Oxford University but has been based at the University of Chicago since 1995, currently as Ernst Freund distinguished service professor of law and ethics.

Although she initially established her reputation as an interpreter of ancient philosophy, Professor Nussbaum has gone on to produce 26 books that range widely across politics, ethics, human rights, feminism, literature and law. Despite their range, however, she saw them as “unified by a single overarching theme: reflection about human vulnerability, its beauty and its costs”.

Her “philosophical accounts of emotions” can be found in books such as Political Emotions (2013), Anger and Forgiveness (2016) and The Monarchy of Fear (2018), the last of these a direct response to the election of Donald Trump. In another strand of her work, Professor Nussbaum explained, she has explored the question of “What forms of vulnerability and impeded activity are incompatible with political justice?” In a number of books, including Women and Human Development (2000) and Creating Capabilities (2011), therefore, she has developed a “capabilities approach” to human flourishing and well-being that is now widely used in measuring poverty, social exclusion and inequality.

“While Nussbaum’s eminence in her fields of academic endeavour is unquestionable,” said Graeme Turner, chair of the Holberg Committee, “what is particularly admirable is her dedication to the task of putting her knowledge to work, towards making a real and lasting difference to people across the world.”

Established by the Norwegian Parliament in 2003 and funded by the government through an allocation to the University of Bergen, the Holberg Prize is awarded annually to a scholar who has made an outstanding contribution to research in the humanities, social science, law or theology. Recent winners have included cultural critic Marina Warner, philosopher Onora O’Neill, cultural theorist Paul Gilroy and art historian Griselda Pollock.

If travel restrictions allow, Professor Nussbaum will receive her award – worth NKr6 million (£500,000) – at a ceremony at the University of Bergen on 9 June.



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