August 11, 2015 Philosophers Habermas and Taylor to Share $1.5 Million Kluge Prize

Scholars to be recognized at ceremony September 29th in Washington

Press Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639; Jennifer Gavin, (202) 707-1940
Public Contact: Jason Steinhauer (202) 707-0213

Jürgen Habermas and Charles Taylor, two of the world’s most important philosophers, will share the prestigious $1.5 million John W. Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity awarded by the Library of Congress. The announcement was made today by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. They are the ninth and tenth recipients of the award.

“Jürgen Habermas and Charles Taylor are brilliant philosophers and deeply engaged public intellectuals,” Billington said. “Emerging from different philosophical traditions, they converge in their ability to address contemporary problems with a penetrating understanding of individual and social formations. Highly regarded by other philosophers for their expertise, they are equally esteemed by the wider public for their willingness to provide philosophically informed political and moral perspectives. Through decades of grappling with humanity’s most profound and pressing concerns, their ability to bridge disciplinary and conceptual boundaries has redefined the role of public intellectual.”

Endowed by philanthropist John W. Kluge, the Kluge Prize recognizes achievement in the range of disciplines not covered by the Nobel prizes, including history, philosophy, politics, anthropology, sociology, religion, criticism in the arts and humanities, and linguistics. Awarded by the Librarian of Congress with recommendations from scholars around the globe, it is administered by the John W. Kluge Center, the residential research center within the Library founded in 2000 and also endowed by Mr. Kluge. Ordinarily a $1 million award, in 2015 the Kluge Prize is increased to $1.5 million in recognition of the Kluge Center’s 15th anniversary. Each awardee will receive half of the prize money.

Jürgen Habermas

Born in Düsseldorf, Germany in 1929, Jürgen Habermas has emerged as the most important German philosopher and sociopolitical theorist of the last half-century. Thoroughly conversant with the tradition of German idealism, he countered the pessimistic European critiques of post-Enlightenment modernity by stressing the importance of the expanding public sphere. Habermas situated informed reflection and human freedom along a social dimension—moral autonomy requires not just individual self-direction but institutions that ensure a just and emancipated social environment.

The publication in 1981 of “The Theory of Communicative Action” secured Habermas’ status as a major philosophical voice. Taking seriously the “linguistic turn” in Anglo-American philosophy, but refusing to be constrained by it, he mined the insights of sociological theory to create a conception of interpenetrating individual and social formation. “Communicative action” proposes an understanding of human rationality as forged through intersubjective encounters in non-coercive contexts, environments in which the deliberative process permits mutual correction and adjustment.

Given his persistent focus on the public sphere and the social formation of knowledge, it is not surprising that Habermas soon became a prominent voice in the national and international discussions of important social and political issues. In the 1980s he strongly countered revisionist attempts among German historians to justify Nazi Socialism and to underplay the horrors of the Holocaust. Habermas rejected such efforts to exonerate the German past, asserting that Germans bore a “collective responsibility” for it.

In the years after the fall of the Berlin wall and the unification of Germany, Habermas focused increasing attention on the creation of the European Union and on issues of economic globalization, the growing multiculturalism of German society and the consequent debates about citizenship and asylum. His writings in support of the West’s humanitarian interventions in the Balkans gave rise to an enlarged understanding of human rights as transcending the sovereignty of nation states and requiring a “post-national constellation” of global laws and alliances.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the global focus of Habermas’ writing and speaking increased as non-state actors assumed a greater political and military role and as the world’s most compelling issues clearly required transnational cooperation. The renewed force of religion as a factor on many fronts and the increasing religious pluralism in Europe and elsewhere drew sustained attention from Habermas. His famous conversation with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—soon to be Pope Benedict XVI—published in English as “The Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion”—offers a striking example of this.

Jürgen Habermas taught at several German universities but his longest association has been with the University of Frankfurt, from which he is now retired. He has also spent extended periods as a visiting scholar at Northwestern University.

“Jürgen Habermas is a scholar whose impact cannot be overestimated,” Billington said. “In both his magisterial works of theoretical analysis and his influential contributions to social criticism and public debate, he has repeatedly shown that Enlightenment values of justice and freedom, if transmitted through cultures of open communication and dialogue, can sustain social and political systems even through periods of significant transformation.”

Charles Taylor

Born in 1931 in Montreal, Canada, Charles Taylor, like Habermas, ranks among the world’s most original and wide-ranging philosophical minds. Taylor was educated at McGill University and as a Rhodes Scholar, at Oxford University. Although Taylor has held affiliations at many major universities, his most enduring connection is with McGill where he is now Professor Emeritus. While schooled in the dominant tradition of Anglo-American linguistic analysis, his first book rejected positivist and behaviorist explanations of human action, insisting upon a purposive account as the only way to ground individual moral responsibility. As yet another example of his philosophical ecumenism, in 1975 Taylor published a major study of the German idealist, G. W. F. Hegel.

Taylor’s reading of Hegel, particularly in its insistence on the social nature of human existence, foreshadows themes that would become prominent in his most defining work, “Sources of the Self” (1989). In this masterful survey of moral vision, ranging from ancient Greece to the modern period, Taylor anchors a wide and deep contemporary consensus about core values: universal justice and beneficence, moral equality as a natural right, freedom and self-rule, and the avoidance of unnecessary death and suffering. More controversially, he then argues that purely humanistic, secular sources of inspiration are insufficient to secure these values. Rather, human beings require an intimate connection to something beyond, greater than the self.

As Taylor pursued these themes and their implications in later writings and countless public lectures, he continued to pursue pressing political questions from a deep philosophical perspective. Matters of multiculturalism and the management of national and ethical pluralism in the modern state have been of particular concern to him. Rejecting “clash of civilizations” rhetoric, Taylor has recognized the multiple interpretations and schools within Christian and Islamic thought, as well as within other major religious cultures.

“Charles Taylor is a philosopher of extraordinary eminence,” Billington said. “His writings reveal astonishing breadth and depth, ranging across subjects as diverse as metaphysics, modern culture, human conduct and behavior, modernization and the place of religion in a secular age. He writes with a lucidity that makes his work accessible to the non-specialist reader, ensuring that his contributions to our understanding of agency, freedom, spirituality and the relation between the natural sciences and the humanities will be of lasting import.”

About the Prize

The Kluge Prize is awarded for achievement in fields of humanistic and social science studies, notably history, philosophy, politics, psychology, anthropology, sociology, religious studies, linguistics, and criticism in the arts and humanities. The prize recipient(s) can make his/her contribution in fields such as the media, the performing or literary arts, or in public-service institutions. Prizewinners must have earned unusual distinction within a given area, and their body of work must demonstrate growth in maturity and range over a sustained period of time and must affect perspectives and vision in other areas of study and walks of life. The work of the prizewinner must exemplify values and ways of thinking that have meaning for scholars in a variety of fields, for those involved in public affairs and for the average layperson.

The prize is administered by The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress. The center was established in 2000 to foster a mutually enriching relationship between the world of ideas and the world of action, between scholars and political leaders. The center attracts to Washington outstanding figures in the scholarly world—both very senior and very junior—facilitates their access to the Library’s remarkable collection of the world’s knowledge and engages them in conversation with members of the U.S. Congress and other public figures. For further information on the Kluge Center, visit

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the world’s largest library. It seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding by providing access to its incomparably rich and multi-faceted collections, many of which are freely available on its website at

Previous Kluge Prizes have been awarded to Leszek Kolakowski (2003); Jaroslav Pelikan and Paul Ricoeur (2004); John Hope Franklin and Yu Ying-shih (2006); Peter Lamont Brown and Romila Thapar (2008); and Fernando Henrique Cardoso (2012). Further information is available at


PR 15-125
ISSN 0731-3527