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Former British Academy President Onora O’Neill wins $1m philosophy prize

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Former President of the British Academy, Baroness Onora O’Neill of Bengarve, has been named as the winner of a $1million prize for lifetime achievement in philosophy and public service.

Baroness O’Neill, a cross-bench peer and Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, will receive the 2017 Berggruen Prize for Philosophy & Culture. 

The $1million award is given annually to “thinkers whose ideas have profoundly shaped human self-understanding and advancement in a rapidly changing world.” 

It was inaugurated last year by the Berggruen Institute, a research organization based in Los Angeles that is dedicated to improving governance and mutual understanding across cultures, with particular emphasis on intellectual exchange between the West and Asia. 

O’Neill, who served as British Academy President between 2005 and 2009, was selected from more than 500 nominees and a shortlist of five, which included some of the world’s most distinguished thinkers in fields including sociology, linguistics, contemporary Chinese philosophy, and bioethics. 

 Her work focuses on ethics and builds on the tradition of ethical philosophy of Immanuel Kant.

The Berggruen Prize jury, which was led by the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, praised her for providing insight on “the central questions of our time, from the tension between universal rights and national sovereignty to the role of interpersonal trust in enabling autonomy to the moral obligation to take action across borders to relieve famine.”

President of the British Academy, Professor Sir David Cannadine, said: “Throughout her distinguished career, and especially during her time as President of the British Academy, Baroness O’Neill has constantly combined scholarly work of the highest quality with a deep commitment to public engagement.

“On behalf of the Academy as a whole, I offer her my heartiest and most delighted congratulations.”

This is not the first prize that Baroness O’Neill has won this year. In March she received the Holberg Prize, which is awarded by the Norwegian parliament and worth around $525,000. She also won the 2015 International Kant Prize.

The Berggruen Prize will be awarded in a ceremony in New York City in December.  

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