Launched in 2016, the $1 million award honors thinkers whose ideas have profoundly shaped human self-understanding and advancement in a rapidly changing world. Selected from more than five hundred nominees, O'Neill, Baroness of O'Neill of Bengarve, is one of the world's eminent moral philosophers, a cross-bench member of the House of Lords, and an emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge. Building on the tradition of Kantian ethical philosophy, she has contributed new insights into some of 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 of taking cross-border action to help people facing famine.
"Onora O'Neill is a wonderful leader in both theoretical reason and putting ideas into action," said Berggruen Institute president Craig Calhoun. "For example, she has advanced medical ethics not only to avoid abuses but to manifest the values of justice and care in ways that make the whole system more trustworthy. These are core values of the Berggruen Institute, and I am grateful to the jury for choosing a philosopher who exemplifies them so well. We are honored to be associated with Baroness O'Neill."
"I think by philosophical reasoning, we discover how far we can push our claims to knowledge, how far we can push our claims that some things are good, other things are bad, some things are absolutely necessary for justice," said O'Neill in a video message. "I think philosophy is, in the end, a very practical subject. It's about how to answer that question: What to do, what ought we do, why ought we do it, why ought we not do it, if it's something bad. And answering that question is extremely difficult and very preoccupying, but also extremely satisfying if you can make some progress on answering it."