Susan Neiman

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Born (1955-03-27) March 27, 1955 (age 59)
Atlanta, Georgia
Era 20th / 21st-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Enlightenment
Main interests Morality · History of philosophy · Political philosophy · Philosophy of religion

Susan Neiman (born March 27, 1955) is an American moral philosopher, cultural commentator, and essayist. She has written extensively on the juncture between Enlightenment moral philosophy, metaphysics, and politics, both for scholarly audiences and the general public. She currently lives in Germany, where she is the Director of the Einstein Forum in Potsdam.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Neiman left home as a teenager to join the anti-Vietnam War movement. Later she studied philosophy at Harvard University, earning her Ph.D. under the direction of John Rawls and Stanley Cavell. During graduate school, she spent several years of study at the Free University of Berlin. Slow Fire, a memoir about her life as a Jewish woman in 1980s Berlin, appeared in 1992. From 1989 to 1996 she taught philosophy at Yale University, and from 1996 to 2000 she was an associate professor of philosophy at Tel Aviv University. In 2000 she assumed her current position at the Einstein Forum in Potsdam.

Neiman has been a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, a Research Fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation Study Center in Bellagio, and a Senior Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies. She is now a member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Her books have won prizes from PEN, the Association of American Publishers, and the American Academy of Religion. Her shorter pieces have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Globe and Mail, and Dissent. In Germany, she has written for Die Zeit, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and Freitag, among other publications.


Moral inquiry and political activism start where reason is missing. When righteous people suffer and wicked people flourish, we begin to ask why. Demands for moral clarity ring long, loud bells because it is something we are right to seek. Those who cannot find it are likely to settle for the far more dangerous simplicity, or purity, instead.
~ from Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists
Consider what you mean when you tell someone: be realistic. It's another way to say: lower your expectations. It's also connected with a view of maturity that holds growing up to be a process of becoming resigned.
~ from “It’s the Metaphysics, Stupid,” The Boston Globe, February 28, 2008
Like many others, I came to philosophy to study matters of life and death, and was taught that professionalization required forgetting them. The more I learned, the more I grew convinced of the opposite: the history of philosophy was indeed animated by the questions that drew us there.
~ from Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy


  • Slow Fire: Jewish Notes from Berlin, 1992, New York: Schocken.
  • The Unity of Reason: Rereading Kant, 1994, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy, 2002, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Zum Glück, co-editor, 2004, Berlin: Akademie Verlag.
  • Fremde sehen anders: Zur Lage der Bundesrepublik, 2005, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
  • Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists, 2008, New York: Harcourt.
  • Moralische Klarheit. Leitfaden für erwachsene Idealisten, 2010


  • Europe/The Outside/Enlightenment, in: Robertson-von Trotha, Caroline Y. (ed.): Europe: Insights from the Outside (= Kulturwissenschaft interdisziplinär/Interdisciplinary Studies on Culture and Society, Vol. 5), 2011, Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlag

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