US philosopher Michael Sandel awarded top Spanish prize

Political philosopher Michael Sandel, pictured here in Las Vegas, was hailed by the jury for his "exemplary body of work"

US philosopher Michael Sandel, a fierce critic of the influence of the business world on society, was awarded on Wednesday Spain's prestigious Princess of Asturias award for social sciences, with the jury describing him as "one of today's foremost intellectuals".

In a statement, the jury hailed Sandel's "exemplary body of work on the foundations that regulate liberal democracy, as well as the defence of public virtues and the diverse ways of conceiving good in our societies".

"In addition to his public vision of justice, he stands out for his criticism of the excesses of the logic of the market and for promoting debate aimed at solving major moral dilemmas," it added.

The jury also praised the 65-year-old Harvard University professor for taking political philosophy beyond academic circles and making it accessible to the general public on television and online.

Sandel's course "Justice" is the first Harvard course to be made freely available online and on television and has been viewed by tens of millions of people around the world, according to his profile on the university's website.

His writings on justice, ethics, democracy and markets have been translated into 27 languages.

A Harvard professor since 1980, Sandel's method is not to lecture from on high but to lead a kind of Socratic debate in which members of the audience tackle moral conundrums from opposing positions.

Spain's 50,000-euro ($58,000) award for international cooperation is one of eight prizes handed out yearly by a foundation named after Spain's Princess Leonor.

Other categories include the arts -- US film director Martin Scorsese won it this year -- sport and literature.

The awards are handed out in October in the northern Spanish city of Oviedo, capital of the Asturias region, in a glittering ceremony that is broadcast live on Spanish television.

Political philosopher Michael Sandel, pictured here in Las Vegas, was hailed by the jury for his "exemplary body of work"