Martha Nussbaum awarded $1 million Berggruen Prize for Philosophy & Culture

Prof. Martha C. Nussbaum on Oct. 30 was named the winner of the 2018 Berggruen Prize for Philosophy & Culture, a $1 million award given annually to thinkers whose ideas have profoundly shaped human self-understanding and advancement in a rapidly changing world.

One of the world’s leading public philosophers, Nussbaum was selected from more than 500 nominees and a shortlist of five, which included some of the world’s most renowned thinkers in fields including sociology, global justice, animal rights and bioethics.

“Martha C. Nussbaum is rather heroic in the way that she transcends academia. She has taken her transformative and relatable work into public debates about the key questions of national and global political significance. By challenging us to look closely at the capability of humans, as well as our emotions, she has given us strategies for hope and connectivity,” stated Nicolas Berggruen, founder and chairman of the Berggruen Institute. “I am delighted the jury has chosen to award a philosopher who opens windows to other disciplines for this enables us to better understand ourselves and our world.”

“I am thrilled to see Professor Nussbaum receive this unique and richly deserved recognition," said Thomas J. Miles, dean of the University of Chicago Law School and the Clifton R. Musser Professor of Law and Economics. "Professor Nussbaum’s intellectual contributions span such an extraordinary range—from philosophy and ancient and modern literature to education, economics and law—that it is nearly impossible to identify her single-most important contribution.

“Her powerful insights on the emotions and her development of the human capabilities approach are especially towering pinnacles among the many mountains of her contributions. In all her work, she demonstrates the power of philosophy and these other bodies of knowledge to inform and elevate our contemporary public debates. In every work, she combines deep erudition, sparkling insights, passionate commitment and eloquent prose. We are enormously proud of her achievement.”

Nussbaum has, over the arc of her prolific and distinguished career, displayed the power of literature and the classical world to connect with audiences worldwide. As the author of more than 20 books and the editor of another 21, her works provide a framework to understand vulnerability—particularly the emotions in moral and political life—and the conditions for human well-being and happiness.

This is evident throughout her oeuvre and particularly in her early works, The Fragility of Goodness and Love’s Knowledge. Nussbaum’s thought surrounding international development and welfare economics—Frontiers of Justice, Women and Human Development, and Creating Capabilities—collaborates with and furthers the work of the economists who designed the United Nations Human Development Index, an idea that replaced older concepts of development (increasing incomes) with human capacities, life expectancy and education, at its center. This “capabilities approach” has significantly shaped contemporary policy and practice in many regions around the globe.

Her deeply original and widely influential books on the emotions beginning with Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of the Emotions, stretching through to Anger & Forgiveness and her pivotal work on our current political moment, The Monarchy of Fear, have contributed important new insights and timely applications of philosophical thought to contemporary issues. Nussbaum shows how philosophy, far from being merely an armchair discipline, offers a greater understanding of who we are, our place in the world and a way to live a well-lived life.

“The jury is delighted to recognize in Martha C. Nussbaum as an outstanding Berggruen laureate,” said Kwame Anthony Appiah, chair of the Berggruen Jury Prize. “Few philosophers combine depth and lucidity with elegant and moving prose. I don’t believe any other contemporary philosopher combines these virtues with as great an ability to address and influence a wide public.”

Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, where she is a member of the Law School and the Department of Philosophy and holds associate appointments in the Divinity School, Political Science and Classics departments. Nussbaum is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Fellow of the British Academy and Academy of Finland; winner of many prestigious awards such as the Kyoto Prize (2016) as well as the University of Chicago Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and holds honorary degrees from 60 colleges and universities in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe.

Established by philanthropist Nicolas Berggruen, the Berggruen Prize for Philosophy & Culture was first awarded in 2016 to Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor for his impact on the humanities, social sciences and public affairs in deepening understanding among different intellectual traditions and civilization. Baroness O’Neill of Bengarve was the 2017 Berggruen Prize laureate for her work as a citizen philosopher who has elevated the quality of public life and improved the very vocabulary of public discourse.

This year’s Berggruen Prize Jury comprised an international group of Nobel laureates, authors and thinkers including Antonio Damasio, David Chalmers, Amy Gutmann, Amartya Sen, Elif Shafak, Alison Simmons and Wang Hui. The Berggruen Prize for Philosophy & Culture will be conferred in a private ceremony on Dec. 10 in New York.

—Adapted from a story that first appeared on the University of Chicago Law School website.