Gift from Nussbaum’s Kyoto Prize to create award for graduate students

Donation to encourage law and philosophy scholarship

Prof. Martha Nussbaum
Prof. Martha Nussbaum speaks at a Nov. 2 reception at the Law School held in honor of her receiving the Kyoto Prize. Nussbaum said the prize ‘creates an opportunity to do good.’
Photo by
Lloyd DeGrane

Prof. Martha C. Nussbaum will donate a portion of her 2016 Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy to the University of Chicago Law School and the Department of Philosophy to create a financial award designed to encourage law and philosophy scholarship among graduate students.

The award, which will be given each year to a student in either the Law School or the Philosophy Department, was announced by Dean Thomas J. Miles, the Clifton R. Musser Professor of Law and Economics, and Prof. Gabriel Richardson Lear, chair of Philosophy, at a Nov. 2 reception honoring Nussbaum. Nussbaum, who is appointed in the Law School and Department of Philosophy, formally received the Kyoto Prize on Nov. 10.

“Professor Lear and I are enormously grateful and touched by Martha’s tremendous generosity, and we’re thrilled that her gift will continue and augment the interdisciplinarity between the Law School and Philosophy Department,” Miles said. “We look forward to the future scholarship, and the future scholars that this gift will produce.”

Added Lear: “This is a very innovative gift that will not only reward but nurture excellent scholarship in law and philosophy. My colleagues and I are extremely grateful to Martha for supporting our students so generously and thoughtfully—and we are delighted to strengthen our connections to the Law School.”

The Kyoto Prize, which includes a diploma, gold medal and a cash gift of 50 million yen (about $472,000), is among the most significant international accolades for scholarly work and is widely regarded as the most prestigious award in fields that are traditionally not recognized with a Nobel Prize. Winners were announced in June.

Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics and a world-renowned philosopher whose work often centers on questions of human vulnerability, was cited for achievements that include introducing "the notion of incorporating human capabilities ... into the criteria for social justice." Nussbaum worked with Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen to develop the Capabilities Approach, a measure of global welfare that examines what a nation’s individuals are actually able to be and do rather than relying on the country’s Gross Domestic Product as a proxy.

“This prize is a real testament to the global impact of Martha’s work, her thought and her writing,” Miles said. “The Inamori Foundation in particular emphasized the list of capabilities Martha has identified as central to human life and dignity, and the foundation in so doing recognized that she has articulated not only a philosophical idea but also a political and social goal, a baseline for assessing public policy in a wide range of areas. It’s fair that we see the linkage between Martha’s philosophical work and law.”

The honor is bestowed annually by Japan’s Inamori Foundation but given only once every four years in the thought and ethics sub-category. As a Kyoto laureate, Nussbaum will participate in a 10-day event in Kyoto, including her Nov. 11 commemorative lecture, titled “Philosophy in the Service of Humanity.” This week she will lead workshops aimed at university, high school and elementary school students. In 2017, she will deliver lectures in San Diego and Oxford.

Nussbaum is one of three recipients of the Kyoto Prize this year; the others are Tasuku Honjo, a Japanese medical scientist who teaches at Kyoto University and who won the basic sciences award, and Takeo Kanade, a Japanese roboticist who teaches at Carnegie Mellon University and who won the advanced technology award.

At a reception at the Law School earlier this month, Nussbaum said she was particularly grateful for the prize because it “creates an opportunity to do good.” She praised her colleagues as well as her students, some of whom could apply for the award in the future.

“They have inspired me with their work,” she said of her students. “And there are some here who have already written things that have changed my work.”