Philosophy Awards

Awards in Philosophy for Excellent Philosophy Essays

The department offers several awards for outstanding undergraduate work at various levels.  The awards recognize papers written for a philosophy department course or senior ("honors") thesis as being of outstanding quality. All of them require nomination by faculty, who will submit the corresponding student papers to the Director of Undergraduate Studies, who appoints two department members (none of whom may be instructors for any of the papers) to decide whether to award the prizes. Currently, the department awards:

  • the Herder-prize for the best paper written by a First- or Second-Year student in a philosophy course.
  • the Brentano-prize for the best paper written by a Third- or Fourth-Year student in a philosophy course.
  • the David Hull-prize for the best senior thesis of the academic year.
  • the Stephen Toulmin-prize for Best Philosophy GPA of the Year for a Graduating Philosophy Major.
  • the Lula A. Peterson-prize for exemplary citizenship as a philosophy major.

Short information on the namesakes: 

J.G. Herder (1744 – 1803) was a German philosopher and theologian critical of Kant and influential in German Romanticism who was famous for his concern for education, culture and spiritual growth, and for discovering the philosophical relevance of language. 

Franz Brentano (1838 – 1917) was a German-Austrian psychologist and philosopher of extremely deep influence in the phenomenological, analytic and logical traditions of philosophy, as well as teacher of some founders of American pragmatism. His son became physics professor at Northwestern and bequeathed his father's furniture and library to the philosophy department here (you might sit on one of his wooden chairs in some office at some point). 

David Hull (1935 – 2010) was an extremely influential philosopher of biology who revolutionized the field of philosophy of biology by many decisive discoveries about the Darwinian paradigm's feasibility and scope, who taught at Northwestern between from 1985 until his retirement in 2000. He was also known for his unconditional dedication as a teacher, and nationally recognized for his engagement on behalf of the cause of gay rights. 

Stephen Toulmin (1922 - 2009) was an enormously influential British-born philosopher whose 'structure of argument' is still the standard tool in argument-theory and teaching, and whose wide-ranging works in the philosophy of science, ethics and political philosophy became classics. He taught at Northwestern in the 1970's and 80's." 

Lula A. Peterson (1922 - 1977) graduated from Northwestern in 1945 with Phi Beta Kappa honors. She was a writer for the Daily Northwestern engaged with campus issues. But most importantly, she was already then (1941-1945) a civil rights activist and one of the leaders of the NU chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the organization which, 15 years later, would be the key civil rights organization to organize the Freedom Rides that protested against segregation in the South, under great personal risk for the participants. In 1949, Lula Peterson married James Farmer, the leader of CORE who would receive the presidential medal of honor from President Clinton in 1998 for the achievements for equality reached in the freedom rides. According to James Farmer's autobiography Lay Bare the Heart (ch.15), "Lula kept the organization together when no one else knew its direction" throughout the 1950s, only to emerge, as treasurer and budget officer of CORE, as the "soul" of the organization in organizing and coordinating anti-segregationist activities in the 1960's. Her merits as a civil rights leader (who also suffered from Hodgkin's disease, but got two children nonetheless) and her unwavering, courageous citizenship were never acknowledged officially except in her husband's autobiography. The department of philosophy at NU honors her memory as a woman from NU (who also took some philosophy classes) who in her civic work, without ambitions of limelight but also without ever compromising her ethical commitment to equality and freedom, was indispensable at the avantgarde of civil rights.