AwardProf. Dr Volker Gerhardt receives Karl Jaspers Prize

Press Release No. 112/2022
10 November 2022

Award honours his outstanding philosophical work and public outreach

Prof. Dr Volker Gerhardt is to receive the Karl Jaspers Prize for his outstanding philosophical work and his contribution to public life. Heidelberg University is awarding the prize worth 25,000 euros jointly with the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the City of Heidelberg. The honour goes to Prof. Gerhardt not only for his ground-breaking studies in the history of philosophy and seminal systematic writings on reason rooted in existence but also for his role as a “public intellectual” intervening in societal debates. Volker Gerhardt is a Senior Professor teaching at Berlin’s Humboldt University. The award ceremony is taking place on Thursday 17 November 2022, in the Great Hall of the Old University, starting at 5pm.

Preisträger Prof. Dr. Volker Gerhardt

Both with his historical and systemic works in central philosophical disciplines, the prize-winner has gained broad acclaim beyond the boundaries of his subject. “Starting from humanity and individuality, from participation and ‘homo publicus’, from reason and meaning, Volker Gerhardt takes up the thread of Karl Jaspers’ epoch-making achievement by further developing the latter’s existential philosophy into a lifeworld-saturated experimental philosophy,” says the statement of reasons for awarding the prize. “Volker Gehrhardt is notable not only for his philosophical accomplishment and ethical discernment but also for being influential in public life and thereby filling the role of ‘public intellectual’ as demonstrated by Karl Jaspers himself.” In so doing, Volker Gerhardt not only considers the foundations of a free society but also repeatedly evokes the threats it faces. His practical philosophy, developed from Kantian and Socratic-Platonic motifs, permits him to take a position on current issues as well. Involved in social policy and university politics in a host of functions, Prof. Gerhardt has been recognised on several occasions for his contributions to science and to society, notably with an honorary professorship and two honorary doctorates.

Volker Gerhardt studied philosophy, psychology, law and sociology in Frankfurt / Main and Münster. After earning his doctorate and habilitation at the University of Münster he obtained a professorship in philosophy there, also serving as visiting professor for political philosophy at the University of Zurich (Switzerland). From 1988 he taught and did research at the German Sport University Cologne, before transferring to Berlin’s Humboldt University in 1992 as professor of practical philosophy / legal and social philosophy. There he was appointed Senior Professor in 2015. Prof. Gerhardt has been active in academic self-government, in various scholarly institutions and specialist commissions, and as an expert and advisor at the political level. Amongst other offices, he was a member of the National Ethics Council from 2001 to 2007 and of its successor organisation, the German Ethics Council, from 2008 to 2012.

The Karl Jaspers Prize remembers a “scholar whose life’s work in psychopathology, philosophy and world philosophy found international recognition”. Furthermore, the donors wish to pay grateful tribute to Jaspers’ “struggle to combat the evil spirit of an age”. Karl Jaspers (1883-1969), a founder of existentialist philosophy, was one of the most important German-speaking philosophers of the 20th century. After working as an assistant doctor at the University Psychiatric Hospital in Heidelberg he earned his habilitation in psychology and lectured in philosophy at Heidelberg University from the early 1920s to his dismissal by the Nazi regime. After the end of the war, Jaspers was one of the Committee of Thirteen that organised the reconstruction of the university. He resumed his academic work at Ruperto Carola, which made him an honorary senator in 1946. The prize named after Karl Jaspers has been awarded twelve times, most recently posthumously to the sinologist Rudolf G. Wagner (2019), the researcher couple Prof. Dr Aleida Assmann and Prof. Dr Jan Assmann (2017), and the scholar and former education policy-maker Prof. Dr Hans Maier (2014).

Prof. Dr Bernhard Eitel, Rector of Heidelberg University, will open the Karl Jaspers Prize award ceremony. Greetings will follow from Prof. Dr Eckart Würzner, Lord Mayor of the City of Heidelberg, and Prof. Dr Bernd Schneidmüller, president of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. The laudation for the prize-winner will be given by Prof. Dr Andreas Urs Sommer, philosopher at the University of Freiburg. In his keynote address, the guest of honour will speak on “The social dimension of consciousness. A reflection following Karl Jaspers”. Members of the Collegium Musicum – the university orchestra – will provide the musical setting.