This holiday season, many of us will receive unexpected gifts. But Onora O’Neill, the British professor emeritus of philosophy at Cambridge University, has just collected a spectacular one: this week, in a swanky ceremony at the New York Public Library, she was awarded $1m for her contributions to philosophy by the Berggruen Institute, a research organisation based in Los Angeles and created by Nicolas Berggruen, the Paris-born philanthropist and investor.
这个圣诞假期，我们很多人都会收到意想不到的礼物。但英国剑桥大学(Cambridge University)名誉哲学教授奥诺拉•奥尼尔(Onora O’Neill)刚刚收获了一份大礼：上周，在纽约公共图书馆(New York Public Library)举行的一场隆重仪式上，她凭借自己在哲学上的贡献获得了博古睿研究院(Berggruen Institute)授予的100万美元奖金。博古睿研究院是一家位于洛杉矶的研究机构，由生于巴黎的慈善家、投资家尼古拉斯•博古睿(Nicolas Berggruen)创立。
There are a number of reasons why this makes me want to cheer. First, there are not many other women of O’Neill’s age (she is 76) who are collecting $1m prizes of any type for their intellectual endeavours – unfortunately, in Britain, many other older female icons around these days appear to be either cooking-show hosts or royalty.
Second, it is wonderful to see philosophy being celebrated. In theory, almost everyone knows that the discipline is ancient and worthy but, in recent years, the main focus of the government and academic world has been on technical and scientific fields; liberal arts and social sciences have taken a back seat, not just in terms of college and school courses, but in the ideas we decide to reward. McKinsey, the global management consultancy, has calculated that there is currently about $350m of prize money on offer in various competitions and awards around the world – a figure that has swelled dramatically in recent years because a host of philanthropic billionaires have been establishing prizes. But if you scroll down the list of awards (including the “XPrize” created by Silicon Valley whizz-kids), most of the money is going towards science, medicine, technology, clean energy and so on. Until the creation of the Berggruen Prize for Philosophy & Culture (last year’s inaugural recipient was the distinguished Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor), there was almost nothing large that recognised “merely” smart philosophical ideas.
第二，看到哲学受到颂扬令人高兴。理论上，几乎所有人都知道，这门学科古老且值得尊敬，但近年来，政府和学术界主要聚焦于技术和科学领域;人文学科和社会科学被置于次要地位——不仅是就大学和学校课程而言，也包括我们决定奖励的思想。全球管理咨询公司麦肯锡(McKinsey)估算，目前世界各地的各种竞赛和奖项总计提供约3.5亿美元奖金——这一数字近年来急剧膨胀，原因是很多亿万富翁慈善家纷纷设立奖项。然而，如果你仔细查看奖项列表(包括由硅谷怪才们创立的“XPrize”)，大部分奖金都流向了科学、医药、技术、清洁能源等领域。直至博古睿哲学与文化奖(Berggruen Prize for Philosophy & Culture)创立——去年的首届得主是加拿大著名哲学家查尔斯•泰勒(Charles Taylor)——几乎没有什么大奖“仅仅”认可智慧的哲学思想。
But perhaps the most important reason why the $1m awarded to O’Neill makes me want to cheer is what she has actually achieved. During her long academic career at Cambridge University, she not only earned acclaim for developing brilliant treatises linked to the work of Immanuel Kant but, as the judges noted, she was also “exceptional in combining pure theory – particularly, but not solely, of the Kantian kind – with its practical enactment”.
More specifically, O’Neill has written books on justice and human rights, chaired the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, run the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission and now sits in the House of Lords, as a cross-party peer. It is enough to make your head spin but it also illustrates a bigger point: it pays to break down some of the silos that haunt our professional worlds, and to get academics involved in public policy (and vice versa). Indeed, at a time when politics is so tribal and petty – in relation to Brexit and much else – we need this more than ever.
更具体地说，奥尼尔撰写了关于正义和人权的著作，执掌纳菲尔德生命伦理学理事会(Nuffield Bioethics Council)，负责英国的平等与人权委员会(Equality and Human Rights Commission)，如今作为一名跨党派成员在上议院(House of Lords)担任议员。这些光环足以令你头晕目眩，但也说明了一个更大的要点：打破困扰我们职业世界的一些“竖井”、让学术人士参与公共政策是有好处的(反之亦然)。的确，在一个政治变得如此部落化和琐碎的时代(无论是英国退欧还是其他事务)，我们比以往任何时候都更需要这样做。
O’Neill has plenty of interesting ideas to share. Take her views on trust. In recent years (as I have noted in recent columns), there has been endless hand-wringing over the idea that, in the west, trust is declining. O’Neill believes this is misplaced. “[People say] the aim is to have more trust. Well, frankly, I think that’s a stupid aim,” she said in a recent TED talk. “I would aim to have more trust in the trustworthy but not in the untrustworthy. In fact, I aim positively to try not to trust the untrustworthy.”
Instead, O’Neill argues that “we need to think much less about trust, let alone about attitudes of trust detected or mis-detected by opinion polls” and focus “much more on being trustworthy, and how you give people adequate, useful and simple evidence that you’re trustworthy”.
This requires better transparency. Another, less discussed, route to building trust is for institutions and individuals to make themselves vulnerable. Companies like Amazon that offer consumers the right to return goods do this: they build trust by making themselves open to criticism (and financial loss) when goods are returned. Online ratings on sites such as Uber and Airbnb do the same: they build so-called distributed trust by letting the seller and buyer rate each other. Maybe, O’Neill says, we should introduce this idea into British politics and government too.
But there is another key point: O’Neill believes we need to concentrate on the concepts of ethics and duty. This has gone out of fashion in recent years; instead, there is more of a focus on citizen rights and regulations. But O’Neill is convinced that it is impossible to cure society’s ills by simply imposing further rules. “You have this compliance mentality gone mad, and it doesn’t work,” she told me over lunch this week. Instead, she wants society to rediscover the forgotten concept of ethics – and to celebrate this.
This won’t necessarily be popular in the modern political world. But it is an interesting idea to ponder, particularly at this time of year. Perhaps it is time to put some of O’Neill’s thoughts – or those of any other modern philosophers – into our Christmas crackers. We could all do with a little more philosophy in the world, with or without a million-dollar prize.