Berggruen Launches New Philosophy Essay Competition

The Berggruen Institute, known for, among other things, its $1 million annual “philosophy and culture” prize, has launched a new philosophy essay competition.

The aim of the annual prize is

to stimulate new thinking and innovative concepts while embracing cross-cultural perspectives across fields, disciplines, and geographies. By posing fundamental philosophical questions of significance for both contemporary life and for the future, the competition will serve as a complement to the Berggruen Prize for Philosophy & Culture, which recognizes major lifetime achievements in advancing ideas that have shaped the world.

The contest will accept submissions in English or Chinese, with a winner selected from each language. The winning articles will be published in the institute’s magazines, Noema (English) and Cuiling (Chinese).

The winners will each receive $25,000.

They are not seeking peer-reviewed academic work, nor presumably writing in that style (a few of the examples they provide, such as Thomas Nagel’s “What is it like to be a bat?” were published in academic philosophy journals, but I suppose they’re taken to be not representative of the genre). Rather, they say:

We are inviting essays that follow in the tradition of renowned thinkers such as Rousseau, Michel de Montaigne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Submissions should present novel ideas and be clearly argued in compelling ways for intellectually serious readers.

The deadline for the inaugural contest is June 30th, 2024.

You can learn more about the prize here.


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Errol Lord
1 month ago

It’s worth noting that there is a pretty specific theme:

Humans live on a finite planet on which we depend to survive. Earth operates as an integrated, intricate, and fragile ecosystem, containing myriad layers of interdependency between nature’s systems and living beings – both human and non-human. These systems are geochemical, biological, social, and computational. For the first time in human history, a rapidly developing, planetary-scale technostructure of sensors and supercomputers is enabling us to perceive, monitor, and predict this vast and complex system. In so doing, technology is making the world seem smaller, and our collective belonging to it and each other more undeniable.
In short, the planetary technostructure that humans have created and in which we are embedded is revealing our condition of planetarity — that is, the inescapability of our embeddedness in an Earth-spanning biogeochemical system in which humans cannot thrive unless the ecosystems we inhabit are themselves thriving.
This emergent condition demands a novel framework to parse philosophical, institutional, and political realms.
To date, most ideas about our shared future on this scale have centered on the global (an extension of the traditional nation-state), the international (politics, economics and infrastructures of the global), and the human (other than and dominant over nature). The nation-state is a type of sociopolitical architecture that has historically tended to foster self-interest and encourage competition. The planetary, which represents conditions and ways of being that exceed the human and our anthropocentric categories, is an opportunity to recast both the players and the play.
The Berggruen Institute proposes further developing the concept of the planetary. Framed as an invitation to a deepening understanding of the planet and our shared fate with all living beings, as well as our emerging ability to shape it, it invites us to reevaluate our relationships to each other, to nonhuman others and to the planetary whole. We are looking for new frameworks and categories to understand life on Earth, new ideas that decentralize the human as the premise for understanding the world and building institutions that effectively manage it.
Here are some examples of topics that could be tackled:

  • Philosophical conceptions of the self in a planetary context;
  • New or adapted models of governance that would be optimized for planetary thriving;
  • The definitional instability of the category of “life” as it relates to the planetary;
  • The limits of the sovereign liberal subject codified by Western philosophy to understand planetary interconnectedness and embeddedness;
  • The concept of planetary citizenship as it relates to issues of inclusion and agency;
  • Novel theories of technology in the age of AI, social media and computation that disclose the condition of planetarity;
  • Models of governance optimized for multispecies flourishing and whole-planet thriving;
  • The extraplanetary: Earth as a particular planet that has evolved life of one of many planets that might or might not host life;
  • Ideas from non-Western philosophy that inform the planetary;
  • Simulations, virtual environments and AIs that transform traditional perceptions of the planetary;
  • Nomos of the cloud: New political geographies in a digital world.

We invite you to conceive of and select your own topic related to the planetary as well.

cecelia wobblesbury
cecelia wobblesbury
Reply to  Errol Lord
1 month ago

> In short, the planetary technostructure that humans have created and in which we are embedded is revealing our condition of planetarity — that is, the inescapability of our embeddedness in an Earth-spanning biogeochemical system in which humans cannot thrive unless the ecosystems we inhabit are themselves thriving.

Well I certainly hope that the prize winner(s) write better than that. Yikes.

1 month ago

I was intrigued until I saw that they want references and to know where you studied, etc.

Don Ferderick
Reply to  Thomas
1 month ago

I wouldn’t be too worried about that, I think they are just trying to weed out the crackpots – as long as you have at least some reasonable references and a degree, etc., that’s probably going to be enough.

Patrick Lin
Reply to  Don Ferderick
1 month ago

I think Don’s right.

I know and have worked with Berggruen folks, incl. Nicholas—they’re well meaning, but the circles they run in, e.g., existential AI risks, also attract many self-identified “polymaths” and “autodidacts” (which I would say is a label that must be bestowed upon you by others, like modesty).

Besides weeding out the crackpots, Berggruen wants the winning essay to have longevity, which means the author’s standing among scholars/academics would be a factor; and self-described polymaths, etc. don’t really have that, even if they have their own little cults of personality.

William Bell
William Bell
1 month ago

Mind you I haven’t participated in many essay competitions, but I’ve never seen one that requires character references!

K. J.
K. J.
1 month ago

This is also worth noting:

“By entering this competition, the entrant grants the Berggruen Institute a non-exclusive, royalty-free, fully paid, perpetual, irrevocable, and worldwide license to reproduce, distribute, display, and create derivative works of the submitted essay (along with a name credit) in connection with the competition and promotion of the competition, in any media now or hereafter known. To that end, when you upload, share with, or submit an essay to us, you grant us the non-exclusive, royalty-free, fully paid, perpetual, irrevocable, and worldwide license to: (i) use, host, store, reproduce, modify, prepare derivative works (such as translations, adaptations, summaries, or other changes), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display, and distribute your essay in any manner, mode of delivery, or media now known or developed in the future; and (ii) permit other users to access, reproduce, distribute, publicly display, prepare derivative works of, and publicly perform your content through us (e.g., for users to re-blog, re-post, or download your content).”

Richard Hanley
Richard Hanley
Reply to  K. J.
1 month ago

Yikes! Arguably it’s worth it for the prize winners; but just submission grants “them” all that?

Richard Hanley
Richard Hanley
1 month ago

I just read “The Tyranny of Time,” one of the “exemplary essays that epitomize the genre and style that we look for.” The following analogy will give you the gist. Suppose that I began an essay by pointing out all the ways in which the modern Western equal-tempered musical scale differs from natural scales. Then I strongly suggest that unnatural scales are in some important sense not real. Then I explain the existence of modern scales as driven by and fundamental to capitalism and European imperialism, blinding us to underlying reality and binding us with stultifying uniformity. I end with a general plea to return to nature.

(If anyone writes this essay, and wins, I expect a share of the proceeds.)