Onora O’Neill Delivers Berggruen Prize Lecture at the American Philosophical Association

Vania Sciolini

On March 31st, Baroness Onora O’Neill of Bengarve, the 2017 Berggruen Prize laureate, delivered the Berggruen Prize lecture at the 92nd meeting of the American Philosophical Association (APA) Pacific Division in the beautiful Westin Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego, California. The APA program included over 100 sessions, including colloquium and symposium sessions and author meets critics sessions that covered all areas of the philosophical tradition. 

The Berggruen Prize 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 surveys 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.

Andrew Chignell of Princeton University and Eric Watkins of the University of California, San Diego responded to O’Neill’s lecture, applauding her work in both the tradition of Kantian ethics and for combining it with its practical application as an intellectual and political public servant. Chignell and Watkins agreed that O’Neill’s work, along with the Berggruen Institute’s recognition of public philosophers through the Berggruen Prize, has elevated the quality of public life and improved the very vocabulary of public discourse. The philosophers gathered in attendance acknowledged this sentiment with a standing ovation.

From left to right: Peter Chignell (Princeton University), Eric Watkins (UC San Diego), Onora O’Neill, and Berggruen Institute President Craig Calhoun.