As third award recipient was selected 2020 Onora O’Neill, philosopher, United Kingdom, Member of the House of Lords, born August 1941. Due to the Corona-pandemic the award ceremony could only be held in March 2021.
Onora O’Neill is one of the great figures of international contemporary philosophy. After her PhD with John Rawls, she became famous as an eminent Kant scholar. Constructions of Reason from 1989 is certainly one of the most important books for understanding practical philosophy from recent decades. The book aims to demonstrate the genuine political character of practical reason and to emphasize the importance of public use of reason. O’Neill locates questions of ethics within a broader anthropological and political frame; thus, in her influential book, Towards Justice and Virtue from 1996, she warns against procedural reductions of political philosophy (which is implicitly critical of her teacher John Rawls). In Autonomy and Trust in Bioethics from 2002, she emphasizes the importance of political trust, countering mere proceduralism. In recent years she primarily worked, academically and politically, on the dangers for democracy in the digital age.
The political character of philosophy is not only important for the academic work of Onora O’Neill, she is equally an eminent political person as member of the House of Lords and as former president of the Royal Academy. She served on various committees and has received numerous awards. In recent years, she has investigated concertedly the situation of politics in the digital age; for example, in her capacity as co-chair of the ALLEA working group, Truth, Trust and Expertise. There are few Anglo-Saxon philosophers of comparable prominence who are both internationally visible, as is O’Neill, and also steeped within the German philosophical tradition. As she is fluent in German, she has been very present in Germany.
With Onora O’Neill one of the most important contemporary philosophical voices is honoured. Even if she has not worked expressly on Plessner’s views, her work has many links to the work of Helmuth Plessner, as well her Kant scholarship and her systematic oeuvre. O’Neill’s view of ethics is characterised by deep awareness of the methodical challenges of ethical judgment. Thus, ethical considerations are never possible without abstraction and universalisation and yet they also require the concrete embodiment of the subject of ethical judgment; this conjunction is pre-eminently important to ethics. The tension between the unfathomability of human beings on the one hand and the necessity of justification and legislation on the other, which is so eminently important to Helmuth Plessner, is mirrored in the work of O’Neill. From this follows – among much else – the importance O’Neill emphasizes for trust in human interaction. She sees such trust endangered if one assumes that human interaction could only be ensured and enhanced by codification, supervision, and quality management. She rather emphasizes that joint action is always imperfect and aspects of unfathomability are always connected to human action. For future debates about philosophical anthropology in the tradition of Plessner, the work of Onora O’Neill offers many important, rich connections.
The ceremony of the City of Wiesbaden on the occasion of the awarding of the prize took place on 23 March 2021. Due to Corona, the laureate and laudator were connected, and the event was streamed live on Youtube and can be viewed there.