The Prize for Distinguished Achievement in Social Philosophy, 2021

Robert Gooding-Williams

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The first recipient of the Prize in Social Philosophy is Robert Gooding-Williams. His multi-faceted, groundbreaking contributions to social philosophy are too numerous to be detailed in full here. The prize is meant to recognize, among many other things, his arguments, starting in the nineteen-eighties, for treating questions about race as representing not just a valid but decisive area for philosophical study; his work as a historian of American and, in particular, African-American social and political thought, and as the author of In the Shadow of Du Bois, a work that established him as one of the world’s most respected scholars of W.E.B. Du Bois; his work as a specialist in nineteenth and twentieth century European philosophy, with particular emphases on Nietzsche and questions of aesthetics; and his work as a social critic and essayist with an unswerving focus on the horrors of the persistence of white supremacy in the US and, above all, on its manifestations as anti-black racism. We would like to honor him for the insight and originality with which over the years, he has brought these nominally different intellectual pursuits together, for instance, in his argument for situating Frederick Douglass and Du Bois squarely with the canon of political philosophy and in his appeal to the logic of aesthetic modernism as a model for understanding the dynamics of liberating social change. We would also like to honor him for his unusually intense devotion to his political and philosophical ideals with reference not only to his distinguished scholarship but also to his teaching and service to the profession.

On April 29th, 2021, Professor Gooding-Williams accepted the inaugural Prize. The ceremony, co-hosted by the Philosophy Departments at the New School for Social Research and Vanderbilt University, was held online as a result of the pandemic. Professor Gooding-Williams delivered a lecture, “Du Bois, Democracy and Aesthetic Education,” that was followed by brief comments by Cristina Beltrán (NYU) and Linda Zerilli (Chicago).  The lecture was attended by colleagues, former students, and members of the larger community.