ANU philosopher Bob Goodin has been honoured with the University’s most prestigious award for his work as an “extraordinarily productive and influential philosopher and political scientist” that’s made him among the world’s most cited living philosophers.
The citation for the Chancellor’s Peter Baume award lists Professor Goodin’s achievements over the past 30 years, which include authoring 15 books and becoming a “central player worldwide in political philosophy, in public policy, and in building bridges” between them.
"It is always a great honour to receive such an award from your own institution, from those who know you best,” the School of Philosophy-based Distinguished Professor says.
“Receiving this honour was particularly special, because of those who have won it before me, in whose honour it was given, and from whose hand it was received.
“Peter Baume and [Chancellor] Gareth Evans have both been tremendous forces for good in the world in their post-political careers."
Born in the USA, Professor Goodin says he was sucked into political philosophy while studying at Indiana University in 1968.
“One president had just been driven from office over the Vietnam war and some of the largest protests ever seen crowded the streets and campuses shortly thereafter,” he recalls.
“Everyone on campuses across the country were discussing what obligations, if any, people had to help the government persecute an unjust war. Political philosophy was all around, and it was really important.”
While political protests were the spark, it was the environmental movement during his doctorate at Oxford, unjust socio-economic policies of British and American governments, and the Bush-Blair-Howard “War on Terror” that have sustained his interest.
“There just was always so much work for political philosophers to do.
“Particularly if they do not mind dirtying their hands with empirical facts, which I've always been happy to do – either mugging them up myself or recruiting collaborators from other disciplines to help with the task.
“I did that for my empirical work comparing welfare states and employing sociological time-use data to craft a new way of measuring how much autonomy different sorts of people have in deciding how to spend their time.”
Collaborations since he joined the ANU in the 1980s have included co-authoring Explaining Norms (OUP, 2013) which fed directly into the World Bank’s World Development Report 2015: Mind, Society and Behaviour. His On Complicity and Compromise (OUP 2013) was co-authored with physician Chiara Lepora, who co-starred in an Oscar-shortlisted documentary about her work with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) that served as the inspiration for their book.
He’s also worked with the US State Department on human rights projects in Indonesia and the Philippines, and been a consultant to the Norwegian Parliament and World Health Organisation.
Google Scholar records that Professor Goodin has more than 20,000 citations to his work, including more than 8,600 since 2011.
Professor Goodin’s writing process involves having many projects running simultaneously, because serendipities occur.
“You're looking for things for one purpose, you find something interesting for another,” he explains.
“But I also like to leave things to 'rest' for a time before publishing them. It's always surprising how different something looks, after sitting in the file for a couple of months. Coming back to things with a fresh eye is absolutely essential.
“I also like to co-author a lot, in part because others have expertise complementary to my own, but also because working together with others to crack an interesting problem is just plain fun.”