A Nobel Prize for Philosophy?  (updated)

A Nobel Prize for Philosophy? (updated)


When Alfred Nobel, the renowned inventor of dynamite, died in 1896, he left behind a will that laid a foundation for the prestigious Nobel Prizes.

He directed most of his wealth to fund prizes for those who confer the “greatest benefit on mankind” in a number of specified fields. Hence we have the Nobel Prizes for physics, chemistry, medicine or physiology, literature, and peace…

Notably, there is no Nobel Prize for philosophy, although Bertrand Russell won the Literature Prize in 1950. Albert Camus also won it (in 1957), as did Jean-Paul Sartre (in 1964), though he chose to turn it down. Camus and Sartre were, of course, largely known as creative writers.

I doubt that any philosophers begrudge creative writers the Nobel Prize for Literature, but a there’s a strong case for a separate Nobel Prize for Philosophy, recognising the discipline’s particular “benefit to mankind”.

So writes Russell Blackford (Newcastle) at The Drum. Reasons he offers in favor of a Nobel Prize for Philosophy include:

  • “Philosophers often bring their skills to the great questions of our time, including problems of global injustice and the risks to humanity’s future”
  • “Major living philosophers… are prominent in public debate across a wide range of urgent issues”
  • “Philosophy provides an indispensable counterweight” to debate that is too often “dominated by tribalism, dogma and emotional manipulation”

Blackford also says that the technical nature or difficulty of some philosophy ought not to disqualify it, as other disciplines, like physics, are also technical and difficult.

Still, he seems skeptical that his arguments will win out over the tradition, and suggests that the new Berggruen Prize could end up being the equivalent of a Nobel for philosophy.

Nobel Prize winners are selected from a pool of nominated candidates by a committee of members of the Swedish Academy. There does not appear to be any fixed criteria, and, at least for the literature prize, “the criteria for winners have changed over the years” as “the committee has during various decades sought to promote different aims.”

If there were a Nobel Prize in philosophy, what would good criteria be? What would the aims of the prize be? And who would be on the short list?

nobel medal 2

UPDATE (10/12/15): In addition to the Berggruen Prize, there is also, as some commenters have pointed out, the Schock Prize. Additionally, there is the University of Pittsburgh’s Rescher Prize (latest winner: Hilary Putnam) about which Anil Gupta says, “We hope, over time, this prize could become the major prize in philosophy like the Pulitzer Prize in journalism and the Fields Medal in mathematics.”

guest
8 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jonas
Jonas
6 years ago

Well, there is the Rolf Schock prize in Logic and Philosophy… http://www.rolfschockprizes.se/engelskasidor/home/laureates2014/logicandphilosophy.55_en.htmlReport

langdon
langdon
6 years ago

Tolstoy, Proust, Joyce, Frost, Woolf, Borges, Nabokov, Updike… None of them got the Nobel in literature. What would make us think that they would do any better with philosophy. They’d probably give it to Zizek.Report

Michael Bench-Capon
6 years ago

While we’re listing philosophers who won the Nobel prize for literature, don’t forget Henri Bergson in 1927. His puntastic citation was “in recognition of his rich and vitalizing ideas and the brilliant skill with which they have been presented”.Report

Eric
Eric
Reply to  Michael Bench-Capon
4 years ago

I was going to mention Bergson. Why the article doesnt mention him? He was a great philosopher!Report

Avi Z.
Avi Z.
6 years ago

Philosophy is a fairly small enterprise compared with the areas that currently receive Nobels. They would soon run out of philosophers worthy of receiving such a prize. Additionally, with the exception of Literature, Nobels seem to be given for “discoveries.” As much as I agree that there is progress in philosophy, I doubt it is very widely believed among non-philosophers that philosophers make “discoveries” except perhaps in logic. We shouldn’t feel bad, though. There’s no Nobel for Mathematics, either (although there is the Fields, of course).Report

Nathaniel
Nathaniel
6 years ago

Yes, a form of government created in 2007 which allows the people to watch the leader of their country called civilocity deserves a Nobel Prize in Philosophy. This is a revolutionary new form of government which allows the people to watch their elected official for the entire time that person is leading their country. This empowers the people allowing them to know everything their elected official does in the time serving. Some say this is the second best form of government ever created. Some say it is the best.Report