Lea Cantor awarded the Oxford Nicolas Berggruen Prize for Best Doctoral Dissertation in Philosophy, Law & Politics 2024

Lea Cantor, who will be joining us in September 2025, has been awarded the Oxford Nicolas Berggruen Prize winner for Best Doctoral Dissertation in Philosophy, Law & Politics 2024.

Lea Cantor smiling to the camera

Lea Cantor will be joining Philosophy at the University of Sheffield in September 2025, so we were delighted to hear that she’s been awarded the Oxford Nicolas Berggruen Prize winner for Best Doctoral Dissertation in Philosophy, Law & Politics 2024.

This prestigious prize, generously funded by Nicolas Berggruen of the Berggruen Institute in Los Angeles, is awarded to the work that is both excellent and transformative in either theory or practice. The selection process is rigorous, with one dissertation nominated by each of the three faculties in Oxford (Philosophy, Law, and DPIR) every year, and the final selection made among the three highly impressive nominees by a committee constituted by the terms of the prize.

The Prize 2024 is awarded to Dr Lea Cantor for her dissertation “Ancient Philosophy within a Global Purview: Parmenides and Zhuangzi on Expressing what Can (and Cannot) be Known”. Dr Cantor’s dissertation argues that “widespread misconceptions about the early history of philosophy undermine the study of ancient philosophy from a global perspective”. Dr Lea Cantor challenges “an influential narrative according to which philosophy emerged through a shift from myth to reason, or mythos to logos” that misrepresents “the history of ancient Greek philosophy, and simultaneously underpins the marginalization of so-called ‘non-Western’ philosophical traditions.” In her work, she examines “how the received narrative engenders interpretive blind spots within specialist work on ancient philosophy, by exploring two foundational philosophers of early Greek and classical Chinese philosophy, Parmenides and Zhuangzi”. The result is a piece of work that is, in the words of the examiners, "an impressive and markedly original thesis", which will become a basis for a monograph.

On hearing she had won the prize, Lea said:

“I am honoured, and delighted, that my doctoral dissertation has been selected for this year’s Oxford Nicolas Berggruen Prize. My doctoral work sought to reconceptualize ancient philosophy, by dispelling misconceptions about the early history of philosophy which persist to this day. My dissertation focuses on two foundational texts in the global history of philosophy: the classical Daoist text Zhuangzi, and the fragments of the Presocratic philosopher Parmenides. It challenges the deep-seated but facile typecasting of Zhuangzi as either an anti-rational relativist or a mystical monist, and of Parmenides as a triumphalist dogmatist. Currently I am working on a monograph based on my doctoral work. My research seeks to foster cross-cultural dialogue on ancient philosophy, and a globally minded approach to philosophy and its history. Going forward I intend to continue pursuing these aims.”

Dr Lea Cantor specialises in classical Chinese philosophy, ancient Greek philosophy, and the global history and historiography of philosophy. She is also interested in the European reception of Chinese and Greek philosophy, as well as early modern Ethiopian philosophy. Dr Cantor is a Carmen Blacker Research Fellow in Philosophy at Peterhouse, Cambridge and will be taking up a permanent Lectureship in the History of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield from September 2025. Apart from her research and teaching, Lea has assumed a lead role in advocacy efforts relating to the representation and study of non-European philosophies in university education and beyond: she founded Philiminality, a student-run platform for cross-cultural and interdisciplinary philosophy at Oxford and Cambridge and has organised and raised funding for numerous talks, panels, mentoring schemes, and international conferences addressing aspects of Chinese, Arabic and Islamic, African, Mesopotamian, Indian, Japanese, and Latin American philosophy. In the future, Dr Cantor intends to continue supporting projects of this kind as a member of the Management Committee of the British Society for the History of Philosophy and of the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on International Cooperation.

We had a chat with Lea when we appointed her to join us in September 2025.