Tag Archives: Berggruen Prize

A Philosopher Who Matters

Detail from The Death of Socrates, 1787, Jacques Louis David, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

In the moments before Socrates’ execution, he made a plea to his accusers: “This much I ask from them: When my sons grow up, avenge yourselves by causing them the same kind of grief that I caused you, if you think they care for money or anything else more than they care for virtue, or if they think they are somebody when they are nobody.”  You can’t seek Sophia and Mammon, Socrates warned. Fortunately, most philosophers don’t have to worry about this temptation. Trust me: Nobody’s getting rich dissecting syllogisms or parsing Hegel.

Unless you’re Charles Taylor. This week the Canadian philosopher was awarded the inaugural million-dollar Berggruen Prize for “ideas that shape the world”—what people are describing as the Nobel in philosophy.  (In fact, this is Taylor’s second million-dollar prize, having been awarded the Templeton Prize in religion in 2007.)

The award is well-deserved. Taylor is almost without peer (although I could imagine Jürgen Habermas also receiving this prize), and his work certainly exemplifies what the prize seeks to recognize: that ideas do indeed shape the world. So what is it that distinguishes Taylor’s work and has attracted this kind of attention? I think there are several features of his ongoing contribution that stand out. Continue reading

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