Photo Courtesy of Isabel Ríos.

Should there be a Nobel Prize in Philosophy?

A field so robust and long-lasting should also have its place as a category of the world’s most prestigious academic award, the Nobel Prize.

Apr 18, 2021

The Nobel Prize, first given out in 1901, is currently annually awarded in six categories: physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, peace and since 1968, economic sciences. The nominees are selected by scholars, scientists and previous Nobel Prize laureates. To date, there is no Nobel Prize in philosophy and, due to tradition which is unlikely to change anytime soon, there may never be.
Although no category exists for philosophy, some philosophers have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. According to Alfred Nobel, this prize is meant to be awarded for “the most outstanding work in an idealistic direction” in writing. Over the last century, notable writers such as Toni Morrison in 1993, Orhan Pamuk in 2006, Ernest Hemingway in 1954 and Gabriel García Márquez in 1982 have been recognized with the prize.
Notably, Jean-Paul Sartre, whose famous works focused on themes of existentialism and humanism, was awarded the Prize in 1964, yet he rejected it. Because the names of nominees are not allowed to be revealed for 50 years from their nomination, it is unclear whether any other philosophers have been nominated for the Prize.
Despite the fact that there are many ways in which philosophers are recognized, giving philosophy its own category would uniquely benefit the discipline and the wider community.
First of all, a Nobel Prize in philosophy would be a true testament to the importance of the field. Philosophy is often not taken seriously, whether by scientists such as Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye “The Science Guy,” or by the general public. While most philosophers probably don’t need reassurance that their studies are worthwhile, more recognition of the field may lead to better funding and more interest among young people in pursuing it.
Secondly, while some may argue that philosophers are still eligible for the literature prize, there are many philosophers whose writing would not qualify. For example, while philosophers who also write novels — such as Sartre — and those who write about topics more generally accessible to the public are more likely to qualify for the literature prize, the work of epistemologists, metaphysicians and philosophers of science among others, would likely not be eligible. Therefore, the contributions of philosophers in those fields would inevitably go unrecognized by the Nobel Assembly.
While other prizes that recognize philosophers exist, these pale in comparison to the Nobel Prize. One of these is the Barwise Prize, awarded to members of the American Philosophical Association “for significant and sustained contributions to areas relevant to philosophy.” The APA also awards a host of other prizes for various achievements within the field, such as the Berger Prize or the Hampton Prize, both of which offer a $500 award — a sum incomparable to the 10 million Swedish krona, or about one million U.S. dollars, that 2020 Nobel Laureate in Literature earned. While these awards recognize the significant achievements of their recipients, they are not as well-known or head-turning outside of philosophy academia as the Nobel Prize.
Philosophy is the oldest academic field and encompasses a broad spectrum of topics and questions. Philosophers chime in on issues of great significance, from the nature of time to global injustice. Having prizes for the field itself is necessary in order to acknowledge philosophers in their niche and in some cases, to encourage young academics in the early stages of their work. A field so robust and long-lasting as philosophy should also have its place as a category of the world’s most prestigious academic award, the Nobel Prize.
Morgane Motlik is a Deputy Copy Chief and Philosophy Columnist. Email her at
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