On March 31st, Baroness Onora O’Neill of Bengarve, the 2017 Berggruen Prize laureate, delivered the First Berggruen Prize Lecture to a large and appreciative audience at the 92nd meeting of the American Philosophical Association (APA) Pacific Division in San Diego, California. Professor Craig Calhoun chaired the session, which was introduced by Professor Rebecca Copenhaver, Secretary of the APA. Calhoun’s brief summary of O’Neill’s extraordinary contributions is here.
This first Berggruen Prize Lecture inaugurates a new partnership between the Berggruen Institute and the APA. There will be an annual lecture given by the recipient of the Berggruen Prize, and these will be published in the APA’s volume of Proceedings and Addresses.
The Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Culture is awarded annually to a distinguished thinker who has advanced philosophy broadly understood and its capacity to inform individual life and then public good. Created by Nicholas Berggruen and the Berggruen Institute, it is awarded by an independent jury currently chaired by Anthony Appiah. The first recipient was Professor Charles Taylor.
Professor O’Neill’s lecture, titled “Ethical Justification in the Twentieth Century”, explored the challenges to ethical and political standards and justification, including challenges from numerous versions of subjectivism, relativism and logical positivism in the Twentieth Century. It surveyed the conventional story that this crisis is past, that ethics has been revived and that this is shown by the great flowering both of normative political philosophy and of “applied” ethics - as well as by the fact that many normative claims, including claims about Human Rights and other demands of justice, have penetrated and are now embedded in public life and debate. Professor O’Neill suggests that the crisis remains deeper and more persistent than this optimistic story suggests, and that many contemporary accounts both of standards and of justification remain fragile. You can read the full lecture here.
Professor Andrew Chignell, Lawrence Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Princeton, offered the first response. In lighthearted, but pointed comments, he applauded O’Neill’s major contributions to the Kantian tradition of ethical analysis and her productive practical contributions as an intellectual and public servant. He described both sides of ambivalence toward public philosophy, and the sense of cultural clash evoked by the conjuncture of the intellectual world O’Neill represents with the worlds of celebrity and wealth.
Professor Eric Watkins of the University of California, San Diego, gave the second response. He took up the theme of the diverse demands made on moral thinking in its different contexts of application. Focusing on shifting and often unsuccessful approaches to ethical justification in the 20th Century, he emphasized O’Neill’s refusal to become pessimistic. She rightly recognizes both the necessity of ethics and the virtues of modesty. In some ways a minimalist, she nonetheless advances the Kantian cosmopolitan agenda of perpetual peace.
Nominations for the 2018 Berggruen Prize will close June 30. Click here to nominate now.