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Jury Statement on Onora O’Neill, 2017 Berggruen Prize Winner

By The Berggruen Prize Jury

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The jury is delighted to recognize Onora O’Neill as an exemplary Berggruen laureate; someone who meets impeccably the Prize’s aim to honor a philosopher “whose ideas have helped us find direction, wisdom, and improved self-understanding in a world being rapidly transformed by profound social, technological, political, cultural, and economic change.”
 
Onora Sylvia O'Neill, Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve, is one of the most eminent moral philosophers in the world today. Her philosophical work is a critical development of the Kantian tradition in ethics, in which she combines profound historical scholarship with a deep analysis of the central questions of moral life. Indeed, she can claim to be one of a small group of philosophers who began the modern resurrection of that tradition and have given it resonance in our present age. She has argued persuasively that moral principles must be not just applied but enacted, that duties are more fundamental than rights, and that mutual trust provides the necessary background for autonomous human lives. Her philosophical work on these issues has been deeply original, enormously influential, and of the highest quality.
 
Professor O’Neill is also exceptional in combining pure theory—particularly, but not solely, of the Kantian kind—with its practical enactment. As a result, her service has been both intellectual and political. She has brought the resources of philosophy to bear on questions about hunger, medical and environmental ethics, and human rights, writing lucidly and accessibly about them in ways that have helped to guide policy. But she has also served the United Kingdom as the chair of its Equality and Human Rights Commission, as chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, and as a member of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission, all of which play central roles in formulating and implementing just policy. Her scholarly excellence has been recognized through appointments as the President of the British Academy, as the founding President of the British Philosophical Association, and as the current President of the Society for Applied Philosophy. Her public service has been acknowledged by many civil honors, in Britain and elsewhere, including appointment to the House of Lords.
 
Berggruen juror Amy Gutmann, who chaired the US Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, observed: “One of the most striking aspects of Onora O’Neill’s work is that it combines philosophical rigor with timely prescriptions for what we really need to do to make the human condition better.”
 
Many of Onora O’Neill’s numerous books have had profound significance for the major public issues of our time:
 
•     Faces of Hunger (1986) developed a Kantian approach to questions of international distributive justice and clarified moral obligation to those suffering famine. 
•     Autonomy and Trust in Bioethics (2002) challenged prevailing explanations of informed consent in medicine, showed that the Kantian notion of principled autonomy provided a better account of the wrongness of coercion and deception, and led to new articulations of the rights of patients and research subjects. 
•     The Bounds of Justice (2000) rejected the idea that the boundaries of nations set the bounds of our political and economic obligations, and argued influentially that national borders, too, must meet standards of justice; a project continued in 
•     Justice Across Boundaries: Whose Obligations (2016), which argued that we need to ensure that international human rights are secured by identifying groups, including states and other agencies, that have the obligation of protecting them. 
•     A Question of Trust (2002), which originated as O’Neill’s Reith Lectures, distinguished between trust and trustworthiness in ways now important to debates on the political and other implications of new media.