Onora O’Neill wins $1 million philosophy prize

Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Culture recognises lifetime achievement in philosophy and public service

October 5, 2017
Onora O'Neill, Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve

Baroness O’Neill, the crossbench peer and emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge, has won the $1 million (£761,000) 2017 Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Culture.

The prize is awarded annually to “thinkers whose ideas have profoundly shaped human self-understanding and advancement in a rapidly changing world”. It was inaugurated last year by the Berggruen Institute, a Los Angeles-based research organisation dedicated to improving governance and mutual understanding across cultures, with particular emphasis on intellectual exchange between the West and Asia.

This year, more than 500 nominees were reduced to a shortlist of five, which included highly distinguished scholars in fields ranging from bioethics to contemporary Chinese philosophy.

The jury, led by the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, praised Baroness O’Neill for providing insight on “the central questions of our time, from the tension between universal rights and national sovereignty to the role of interpersonal trust in enabling autonomy to the moral obligation to take action across borders to relieve famine”.

Baroness O’Neill is an expert on ethics and the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. She was principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, between 1992 and 2006, and her 2002 BBC Reith Lectures, A Question of Trust, sparked widespread public debate. She also served from 2005 to 2009 as president of the British Academy, and from 2012 to 2016 as chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. 

Sir David Cannadine, the current president of the British Academy, said: “Throughout her distinguished career, and especially during her time as president of the British Academy, Baroness O’Neill has constantly combined scholarly work of the highest quality with a deep commitment to public engagement.”

Earlier this year, Baroness O’Neill received the Holberg Prize, given by the Norwegian parliament and worth about $525,000. She also won the 2015 International Kant Prize.

The Berggruen prize will be awarded in a ceremony in New York in December.


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