University Professor Thomas Nagel received an honorary doctorate of laws on May 27 at Harvard University’s 359th commencement exercises. Nagel, who has been a professor of philosophy at NYU since 1980 and a professor of law since 1986, earned a Ph.D. at Harvard in 1963.

Introducing Nagel at the Harvard commencement, Provost Steven Hyman listed some of Nagel’s philosophical inquiries, such as the mind-brain relationship, the motivation for altruism, and reason’s nature and limits: “His explorations of fundamental questions like these, dating back to his days as a doctoral student at Harvard, have made our next guest one of the most influential philosophers of modern times.... He is a scholar of uncommon breadth whose work ranges from the philosophy of mind to ethical theory to political philosophy and beyond.... While immersed in the most basic questions of his discipline, he has also focused his mind on consequential public matters such as income taxation, the privacy of public figures, and the role of international institutions in advancing global justice.”

Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust then read a citation describing Nagel: “Ranging wide across realms of philosophy, delving deep into consciousness and ethics, a perspicacious reader of other minds who helps us understand what we may never understand.”

Nagel holds an honorary doctorate of letters from the University of Oxford and has received a number of prestigious honors for his work, including the Balzan Prize, the Rolf Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy, the Mellon Foundation’s Distinguished Achievement Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a corresponding fellow of the British Academy, and a member of the American Philosophical Society. Nagel taught at the University of California, Berkeley, and Princeton University before coming to NYU.

Among Harvard’s other honorary degree recipients this year are David Souter, former Supreme Court justice; the artist Richard Serra; and the actress Meryl Streep. Last year Ronald Dworkin, Frank Henry Sommer Professor of Law, also received an honorary doctorate of laws from Harvard.

Posted on June 3, 2010