PSA 2020/21 Hempel Award Recipient

Hempel Award 2020


The Governing Board of the Philosophy of Science Association is pleased to announce that the recipient of the Carl Gustav Hempel Award for 2020 is Philip Kitcher. The Hempel Award was established in 2012 to recognize lifetime scholarly achievement in the philosophy of science, and to acknowledge the example of scholarly excellence and collegiality set by Professor Hempel (1905–1997).

Philip Kitcher is John Dewey Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Columbia University. Before Columbia, he taught at the University of California, San Diego, and before that at the University of Minnesota. Kitcher’s trailblazing ideas and outstanding productivity over the past forty years have spanned across fields as wide-ranging as general philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, science and values, ethics, science policy, and pragmatism. Kitcher’s lasting legacy in each and every of these areas has consisted in showing how philosophy is —and ought to be—central to every other branch of inquiry and culture in a fast-changing world. 

Kitcher’s interests have centred on a number of topics—from scientific explanation to unification, and realism in science—that have deep roots in the American pragmatist tradition. His 1993 book The Advancement of Science charted a new course for questions about truth, realism, and progress in science. Science, Truth, and Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2001) opened the path to many central debates about the role of science in democratic societies, debates to which Kitcher remains an important contributor. His work on what role democratic decision-making can—and should—play in tackling the crisis of climate change is just one among other examples in a long history of bringing original philosophical analysis and ideas to problems of huge societal importance.

In philosophy of biology, In Mendel’s mirror: philosophical reflections on biology (Oxford University Press 2003) Kitcher put forward novel antireductionist arguments against projects  designed to reduce classical genetics to molecular genetics. Building on seminal ideas about ‘biologicizing ethics’, in The ethical project (Harvard University Press 2011) Kitcher pursued a rich exploratory project that aimed to reconstruct the evolution of ethics and the very notion of ethical progress (a topic to which also his most recent book Moral Progress—Oxford University Press 2021— is dedicated). The resulting (empirically and naturalistic-driven) ‘ethical project’ is one that sees the role of ethics as that of ultimately advancing a liberal egalitarian society.

Philip Kitcher is the author of 17 single-authored books (several of which have been translated worldwide in Chinese, Korean, French, Spanish and Arabic), and of 178 articles (very many of which published in top philosophy journals). He was the recipient of the 1987 Lakatos award for Vaulting Ambition and his over 30 named lectures delivered range from the Kant Lectures at Stanford, to the Hempel Lectures at Princeton University, from the Terry Lectures at Yale University, to the Leibniz Lectures in Hannover. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the recipient of two awards from the American Psychological Association, the distinguished Prometheus Award from the American Philosophical Association, and the recipient of the 2019 Nicholas Rescher Medal for Systematic Philosophy. 

The nominating letters by colleagues and former students unanimously speak to Philip Kitcher’s rare combination of warmth, humanity, generous availability to mentor early career scholars alongside his extraordinary brilliance. He has served both society and the profession well (not least in his former role as Editor of the journal Philosophy of Science).  

Kitcher was the last preceptor of Peter Hempel’s famous course in philosophy of science at Princeton and is the richly deserving recipient of the 2020 Hempel Prize.