Catharine A. MacKinnon Receives American Philosophical Society’s Henry J. Phillips Prize in Jurisprudence

Many people will have read the good news at Brian Leiter’s blog (here) announcing the recent election of three law professors to the American Philosophical Society: James Forman (Yale), Catharine MacKinnon (Michigan/Harvard), and Dorothy Roberts (Penn).

In further good news, in April of this year, Professor MacKinnon received the American Philosophical Society’s Henry M. Phillips Prize, established in 1888. Formerly an award for “the best essay of real merit on the science and philosophy of jurisprudence,” since 1999, the Henry M. Phillips Prize is awarded to “recognize outstanding lifetime contributions to the field of jurisprudence and the important publications, which illustrate that accomplishment.” Prior winners include Karl Llewellyn, John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, Louis Henkin, Bruce Ackerman, Frank Michelman, Cass Sunstein, Martha Nussbaum, Jeremy Waldron, Laurence Tribe, and Owen Fiss. Rare company, indeed.

Professor MacKinnon’s award was presented by Linda Greenhouse who began by noting that in the 125 years since the prize’s inception, the American Philosophical Society has bestowed this award only 27 times. Linda Greenhouse read Professor MacKinnon’s citation:

In recognition of her intellectual and political leadership in international law, constitutional law, political and legal theory, and jurisprudence, and in particular her pioneering work on gender equality, sexual abuse, and sexual exploitation, including sexual harassment, rape, prostitution, sex trafficking and pornography, and her effective framing of such harms as civil rights violations in the United States, in other countries, and in international law, bringing recognition and transformation in theory and practice.

Professor MacKinnon accepted the award with these remarks (reprinted with permission):

This is astounding. Thank you to the Committee and to this Society for this honor of a lifetime.

It is especially meaningful to me to be honored in the memory of Henry M. Phillips, who practiced law for a living.  

I am grateful for your understanding that a vision of equality, critical of the realities of the dominance of men and subordination of women, is philosophy.

Thank you for knowing that practicing law for change in the real world for survivors of sexual violation counts as jurisprudence.

And thank you for lifting up someone whose method is to listen to people designated to be silenced and to act on what they say, someone made “controversial” who acts on seeing and saying what power doesn’t want seen and said.

Thank you especially for seeing through all the lies about my work. 

And thank you to all my angels out there, which is why I am able to be here.

I hope that giving this prize to me inspires young people to choose meaningful work over the lures of conventional career advancement, and encourages them to take real risks to their self-interest and not be corrupted by dangled success.

And I hope that many more women, nonbinary people, trans people, and people of color will be given this high honor and this award in the years to come.

Thank you.

Congratulations to Professor MacKinnon! 



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