Public Philosophy Award


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Current Competition Details

Note: Submissions are closed for 2019. Check back soon for the next competition.

The Conditions:

The Award Committee is Chaired by Susan Wolf (UNC Chapel Hill). The committee will also include Ken Taylor (Stanford University and Philosophy Talk), and Barry Maguire (Stanford University).

The 2018 competition is closed. Please check back soon for the next competition.

Any inquiries should be sent to Barry Maguire at

Prize Winners

2018 Winners

After going through 178 submissions, we are pleased to announce two winners and two honorable mentions for the 2018 Public Philosophy Award. One winner is for a previously unpublished piece, the other is for a previously published piece.

Winner (previously unpublished): Regina Rini. Title: “The Last Mortals.” (Times Literary Supplement May 14th, 2019)

Abstract: Medical science may be racing toward the elimination of routine human death, perhaps within the next century. But those of us living now probably won’t make it across the finish line. Could it be worse to die knowing you are just short of immortality, rather than never having considered it at all?

Regina Rini is Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of Moral and Social Cognition at York University.

Winner (previously published): Amia Srinivasan. Title: “The Right to Sex,” from London Review of Books. 22 March, 2018 (PDF)

Abstract: Can we have a political critique of desire: one that avoids authoritarian moralism and the logic of entitlement, but that nonetheless takes seriously that who and what we sexually desire is shaped by oppression?

Amia Srinivasan is Associate professor of philosophy at the University of Oxford, and a tutorial fellow at St John’s College.

Honorable Mentions: 

Laura Callahan. Title: “On the Supposed Responsibility to Breastfeed from Moral Concerns” (PDF)

Abstract: Moms today are bombarded with the message that they have a moral responsibility to try to breastfeed. But there is no such moral responsibility. And indeed, although breastfeeding may be admirable in many situations, there are also plenty of situations where not breastfeeding would be better, morally speaking.

Laura Callahan is a PhD candidate in Philosophy at Rutgers University, New Brunswick.

Lee-Ann Chae. Title “Talking to Children about War” (PDF)

Abstract: One early lesson that children learn about war is that there are good guys and bad guys, and that fighting bad guys is good. But if children are to have a chance at sincerely engaging with peace, we must undo the lesson that violence is sometimes morally necessary, and direct their moral imagination towards the possibilities of nonviolence.

Lee-Ann Chae is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Temple University.

2016 Winner

photo of Martin SmithfMartin Smith, University of Edinburgh
Title: “Why Throwing 92 Heads in a Row is Not Surprising” (PDF)

Congratulations to Martin Smith, the 2016 winner of the inaugural Sanders Prize in Public Philosophy for his paper “Why Throwing 92 Heads in a Row is Not Surprising”. The selection committee was chaired by Susan Wolf (UNC Chapel Hill), with Patricia O’Toole (Columbia University), Thomas Hofweber (UNC Chapel Hill), and Barry Maguire, (UNC Chapel Hill). There were 64 essays submitted for the prize competition.

Martin is a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, specializing in epistemology, logic, and philosophy of law. His paper will be published in Philosophers’ Imprint.

Abstract: Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” opens with a puzzling scene in which the title characters are betting on coin throws and observe a seemingly astonishing run of 92 heads in a row. Guildenstern grows uneasy and proposes a number of unsettling explanations for what is occurring. Then, in a sudden change of heart, he appears to suggest that there is nothing surprising about what they are witnessing, and nothing that needs any explanation. He says ‘…each individual coin spun individually is as likely to come down heads as tails and therefore should cause no surprise each time it does.’ In this article I argue that Guildenstern is right – there is nothing surprising about throwing 92 heads in a row. I go on to consider the relationship between surprise, probability and belief.

An honorable mention goes to Regina Rini (NYU), the runner-up for the prize. Her paper, titled ‘“How Should A Robot Be?”, was published in Aeon.

Both Smith and Rini’s essays will be cross-posted in Salon and The Point.