Nussbaum Honored With Prince of Asturias Award for Social Sciences

Meredith Heagney
Law School Office of Communications
May 16, 2012

Martha C. Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, has received the 2012 Prince of Asturias Award for Social Sciences. The award is given by Prince Felipe of Spain to those whose work in various disciplines “constitutes a significant contribution to the benefit of Mankind.”

Nussbaum was chosen "for her contribution to the Humanities, the Philosophy of Law and Politics and for her ethical conception of economic development," according to the Prince of Asturias Foundation, which is based in Oviedo, on the northern coast of Spain.

"One of the most innovative and influential voices of contemporary philosophy, Martha C. Nussbaum advocates a universalistic conception of human dignity and women’s rights to overcome the limits of cultural relativism," the jury that chose Nussbaum said.

“Her theories are based on the belief that those who have a different understanding of what good is can agree on a number of universal ethical principles that are applicable whenever a situation of inequality and injustice arises. Martha C. Nussbaum defends the role of the humanities in education as an essential element for the quality of democracy.”

Previous winners of the Social Sciences Award include Howard Gardner, the Harvard professor who developed the theory of multiple intelligences, the archaeological team of the Warriors of Xi'an (Terracotta Warriors), and British broadcaster David Attenborough. Nussbaum joins Prince of Asturias Award Laureates in other disciplines, including Al Gore (2007, International Cooperation), Leonard Cohen (2011, Literature), Bob Dylan (2007, Arts), and Google (2008, Communication and Humanities). 

Nussbaum is appointed to the Law School and the Philosophy Department. She has taught at Harvard, Brown, and Oxford universities. She will travel to Spain in October to receive the award from Prince Felipe, who is the heir to the throne of Spain. The award comprises a diploma, a Joan Miró sculpture symbolizing the Prince of Asturias Awards, an insignia bearing the Foundation’s coat of arms, and a cash prize of 50,000 euros.

"I'm totally surprised and thrilled by this prize,” Nussbaum said. “I think it's particularly important for philosophy to be honored for its contributions to creating a better world at a time when philosophy and other humanities programs are being cut back all over the world.  I do want to thank all my colleagues in both the Law School and the Philosophy Department for the stimulus of their criticisms and the challenge of their own creative work. It's wonderful to be part of this intellectual community.  And I plan to donate part of the award to the Law School – after I do a little shopping!”

Dean Michael Schill said he is thrilled but not surprised that Nussbaum has received this prestigious award.

“We are always happy when the greatness we see everyday at the Law School is recognized in the outside world, and particularly in such a prominent way,” Schill said. “Martha is an extraordinary scholar and humanist, a wonderful example of the interdisciplinary scholarship and ‘life of the mind’ that make the Law School great.”

The Prince of Asturias Foundation website has more on the awards.