Despite its importance, philosophy is not generally regarded as a lucrative profession. Perhaps the Berggruen Prize will change that. It is a US$1 million given every year to a thinker “whose ideas have profoundly shaped human self-understanding and advancement in a rapidly changing world.”
This year it was awarded to the controversial Australian bioethicist Peter Singer for his inspiring work in animal ethics and effective altruism.
In some quarters Singer is often criticised for being a utilitarian – but the judges awarded the prize to him precisely because he is a utilitarian: “The Berggruen Prize Jury selected Singer for his widely influential and intellectually rigorous work in reinvigorating utilitarianism as part of academic philosophy and as a force for change in the world.”
Self-described as a consequentialist, Singer believes that actions should be judged by their predictable outcomes. His practical arguments are based on rigorous utilitarian reasoning, which views the welfare of strangers as being equally important to that of oneself and one’s own family. His elaboration of this philosophical approach has led toward his taking positions on issues ranging from factory farming to the global system that keeps billions in poverty.
Apparently Singer’s views on abortion, infanticide and euthanasia did not take any of the shine off his achievements.
Singer plans to give half the prize money The Life You Can Save, a charity he founded to spread the idea of effective altruism.
The Berggruen Prize was launched in 2016 as a kind of Nobel Prize for philosophy. Previous recipients have been Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, bioethicist Onora O’Neill, philosopher Martha Nussbaum, US Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and public health advocate Paul Farmer.
(Sorry, we missed this one, which happened in September.)