Elizabeth Anderson ’81, a philosopher who examines how evolving concepts of freedom and equality are experienced in our daily lives, is among this year’s 26 recipients of MacArthur “genius” grants. The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits.
The MacArthur Foundation lauds Anderson for combining a high level of analytical rigor with a pragmatist methodology in her investigations of the ways various institutions, policies, and social practices structure relations among people and serve to promote or hinder conditions of democratic equality and human flourishing.
Across an extensive body of work, the foundation notes, Anderson formulates principles based on empirical evidence about problems of practical importance and urgency—from the persistence of racial segregation to the authoritarian aspects of the modern workplace—instead of engaging in thought experiments or posing hypothetical questions about an ideal world. She has made pivotal contributions to a number of philosophical debates on such subjects as the ethical limitations of markets, the effects of gendered distributions of power on the production and reception of knowledge, and the concept of equality.
Anderson majored in philosophy at Swarthmore and later earned a master’s and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. She joined the faculty of the University of Michigan in 1987, where she is the John Dewey Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor.
Anderson is the fourth Swarthmore graduate in six years to be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship; figurative painter Njideka Akunyili Crosby ’04, H’19 was named a fellow in 2017, education entrepreneur Patrick Awuah ’89, H’04 in 2015, and historian Tara Zahra ’98 in 2014.