Philosopher of the Year

Each year we platform a philosopher of the Committee’s choosing to celebrate for their contributions to the field.

Our Philosopher of the Year for the academic year 2022-23 is Charles W. Mills!

Charles W. Mills (1951-2021) was born in London to Jamaican parents and described himself as ‘Carribean-American’. His family moved back to Jamaica shortly after Mills was born, and he grew up in Kingston, after which he studied Physics (Undergraduate) at the University of the West Indies, and Philosophy (Postgraduate) at the University of Toronto. His PhD dissertation discussed the concept of ideology in Marxist thought and until the 1990s, he endorsed a concept of historical materialism. While working at the Toronto, Mills helped to unionize teaching assistants. He then spent a large part of his career teaching at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Northwestern University, and CUNY.

Mills believed that western philosophy failed to recognise the existence of racial inequalities, and dedicated his work to smadditizin, the struggle to be recognised as a person. He felt that philosophy should discuss the world as it is, rather than focusing on some imagined, idealised state. Mills’ first and most well-known book, The Racial Contract (1997), explained his view that the so-called ‘Social Contract’ is reliant on white dominance of minority groups. This book studied and critiqued racial bigotry and human rights violations especially in North America, and argued that all of the ‘classic’ contractarian theories of politics and ethics (for example, Hobbes and Rousseau) were reliant on this implicit assumption.

In his later book, Black Rights/White Wrongs (2017), however, he endorses a form of liberalism, despite his critique of Rawlsian ideal theory. He suggested that the history of liberalism did in fact indicate the dismantling of racial hierarchies. His overall focus was on the influence of racism on political society. Mills died after a short battle with cancer in September 2021. He is nowadays widely considered a pioneer of Critical Race Theory in the philosophy of race, and was described by philosopher Christopher Lebron as ‘the Black Socrates’.

The Philosopher of the Year was introduced in 2019. In the past, previous Philosophers of the Year have included: Frantz Fanon, Hypatia, and Susan Stebbing.