Onora O'Neill

Onora Sylvia O'Neill, Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve CH CBE HonFRS FBA FMedSci MRIA (born 23 August 1941) is a philosopher and a crossbench member of the House of Lords.

The Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve

Official portrait of Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve crop 2.jpg
President of the British Academy
In office
Preceded byGarry Runciman, 3rd Viscount Runciman of Doxford
Succeeded bySir Adam Roberts
10th Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge
In office
Preceded bySheila Browne
Succeeded byPatricia Hodgson
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
Assumed office
25 February 1999
Life peerage
Personal details
Born (1941-08-23) 23 August 1941 (age 78)
Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
Political partyNone (crossbencher)
EducationSt Paul's Girls' School
Alma materSomerville College, Oxford
Harvard University
OccupationPhilosopher and politician

Philosophy career
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolAnalytic philosophy
Main interests

The daughter of Sir Con O'Neill, she was educated partly in Germany and at St Paul's Girls' School, London, before studying philosophy, psychology and physiology at Somerville College, Oxford. She went on to complete a doctorate at Harvard University, with John Rawls as supervisor. During the 1970s she taught at Barnard College, the women's college in Columbia University, New York City. In 1977 she returned to Britain and took up a post at the University of Essex; she was Professor of Philosophy there when she became Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge in 1992.

She is an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, a former President of the British Academy (2005–2009) and chaired the Nuffield Foundation (1998–2010).[1] In 2003, she was the founding President of the British Philosophical Association.[dubious ] In 2013 she held the Spinoza Chair of Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam.[2] Until October 2006, she was the Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, and she was in chair in the Equality and Human Rights Commission until April 2016. O'Neill's work has earned her numerous honors and awards, including the million-dollar Berggruen Prize.[3]


O'Neill has written widely on political philosophy and ethics, international justice, bioethics and the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.

Across various works, O'Neill has defended and applied a constructivist interpretation of Kantian ethics heavily influenced by, and yet critical of, the work of John Rawls, emphasizing the importance of trust, consent and respect for autonomy in a just society. She has written extensively about trust, noting "that people often choose to rely on the very people whom they claimed not to trust" and suggesting that we "need to free professionals and the public service to serve the public...to work towards more intelligent forms of accountability...[and] to rethink a media culture in which spreading suspicion has become a routine activity".[4]

Honours and distinctionsEdit

O'Neill has been President of the Aristotelian Society (1988 to 1989), a member of the Animal Procedures Committee (1990 to 1994), chair of Nuffield Council on Bioethics (1996 to 1998), a member and then acting chair of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission (1996 to 1999) and a member of the select committee on BBC Charter Review. She is presently chair of the Nuffield Foundation (since 1997), a trustee of Sense About Science (since 2002), a trustee of the Ditchley Foundation, and a trustee of the Gates Cambridge Trust. She also served as President of the British Academy between 2005 and 2009. She is on the Advisory Board of Incentives for Global Health, the NGO formed to develop the Health Impact Fund proposal.

In 1999, she was created a life peer as Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve, of The Braid in the County of Antrim, and in 2007 was elected an Honorary FRS.[5] She is also a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1993) and the Austrian Academy of Sciences (2002), a Foreign Member of the American Philosophical Society (2003), and Hon. Member Royal Irish Academy (2003), a Foreign Member of the Leopoldina (2004) and the Norwegian Academy of Sciences (2006)[6] and a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences.[7] She is an elected fellow of the Hastings Center, an independent bioethics research institution.[8] In 2004 she was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Letters) from the University of Bath. She is a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the School of Advanced Study, University of London, an honour awarded in 2009.

O'Neill also received an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 2007, and from Harvard in 2010.[9][10]

In October 2012, she was nominated as the next Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission,[11] and confirmed as such in January 2013.

O'Neill was appointed a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to philosophy and public policy.[12]

In 2014 O'Neill was elected to the German order Pour le mérite für Wissenschaften und Künste.[13]

In September 2015, during the XII. quinquennial international Kant-conference in Vienna, she received the prestigious Kant-Preis of the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung for her scholarly work on the practical and political philosophy of Immanuel Kant. (see https://kant2015.univie.ac.at/en/about-the-congress/program/social-program/)

In February 2016, she was awarded the Knight Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for her outstanding contribution to moral and ethical questions of trust, accountability in civic life, justice and virtue.[14]

Currently, she is the president of the Society for Applied Philosophy, a society founded in 1982 with the aim of promoting philosophical study and research that has a direct bearing on areas of practical concern.[15]

In 2017 she was awarded the Norwegian Holberg Prize for outstanding contributions to research in the arts and humanities "for her influential role in ethical and political philosophy".[16] The same year she was awarded the Berggruen Prize.[17]

O'Neill is an Honorary Fellow of Somerville College.[18]



  • O'Neill, Onora (1975). Acting on principle : an essay on Kantian ethics. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • O'Neill, Onora (1986). Faces of Hunger: An Essay on Poverty, Development and Justice. Allen & Unwin.
  • O'Neill, Onora (1989). Constructions of Reason: Exploration of Kant's Practical Philosophy. Cambridge University Press.
  • O'Neill, Onora (1996). Towards Justice and Virtue. Cambridge University Press.
  • O'Neill, Onora (2000). Bounds of Justice. Cambridge University Press.
  • O'Neill, Onora (2002). Autonomy and Trust in Bioethics (The 2001 Gifford Lectures). Cambridge University Press.
  • O'Neill, Onora (2002). A Question of Trust: The BBC Reith Lectures. Cambridge University Press.
  • O'Neill, Onora (2005). Justice, Trust and Accountability. Cambridge University Press.
  • O'Neill, Onora (2007). Rethinking Informed Consent in Bioethics. Cambridge University Press. (with Neil Manson)
  • O'Neill, Onora (2015). Constructing authorities : reason, politics, and interpretation in Kant's philosophy. Cambridge University Press.
  • O'Neill, Onora (2016). Justice across boundaries : whose obligations?. Cambridge University Press.

Selected articlesEdit

See also: Scanlon, T. M. (December 2003). "Replies". Ratio. 16 (4): 424–439. doi:10.1046/j.1467-9329.2003.00231.x.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Biography of Officers of the British Academy.
  2. ^ Universiteit van Amsterdam. "The Spinoza Chair". uva.nl.
  3. ^ "Former British Academy President Onora O'Neill wins $1m philosophy prize | British Academy". British Academy. Retrieved 30 June 2018.
  4. ^ "Reith 2002: A Question of Trust - Onora O'Neill". OpenLearn.
  5. ^ British Academy Press Release Archived 17 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ House of Lords biography
  7. ^ Debretts People of Today 2007.
  8. ^ The Hastings Center Hastings Center Fellows. Accessed 6 November 2010.
  9. ^ "Annual Review 2007 : Principal's Review". www1.hw.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  10. ^ "Honorary degrees awarded". Harvard Gazette. 27 May 2010. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  11. ^ "Baroness Onora O'Neill to head human rights body". The Scotsman.
  12. ^ "No. 60728". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2013. p. 5.
  13. ^ "Pour le Mérite: Onora O'Neill" (PDF). www.orden-pourlemerite.de. 2018. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
  14. ^ "Scholar Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve awarded Knight Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit". German Missions in the United Kingdom. Archived from the original on 27 July 2017. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
  15. ^ "The Society for Applied Philosophy". The Society for Applied Philosophy President: Baroness Onora O'Neill. Archived from the original on 7 October 2017. Retrieved 19 March 2016.
  16. ^ Holberg Prize Laureates 2017 Archived 1 August 2017 at the Wayback Machine 10. March 2017.
  17. ^ Jennifer Schuessler (3 October 2017). "Onora O'Neill Wins $1 Million Berggruen Prize for Philosophy". The New York Times.
  18. ^ "Emeritus and Honorary Fellows". Somerville College, Oxford. Retrieved 26 August 2018.

External linksEdit

Academic offices
Preceded by
Sheila Browne
Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Patricia Hodgson
Professional and academic associations
Preceded by
Roger Trigg
President of the British Philosophical Association
Succeeded by
Brad Hooker
Preceded by
The Viscount Runciman of Doxford
President of the British Academy
Succeeded by
Sir Adam Roberts
Preceded by
Charles Taylor
Berggruen Prize
Succeeded by
Martha Nussbaum