Former Laureates

Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker

Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker


Like his fellow prize-winner Gabriel Marcel, Carl Friedrich Freiherr von Weizsäcker devoted himself to the struggle for the maintenance of peace.

Born in 1912, Von Weizsäcker earned his doctorate in physics at Leipzig University in 1933. In 1935 he posited the ‘Weizsäcker formula’ for the energy content of atomic nuclei. His scientific work on nuclear fusion and the origin of the earth brought him world fame. In his ideas about physics he was, like Bohr and Heisenberg, and unlike Einstein, a member of the ‘Copenhagen school’. After the war he was held in custody for a year by the British because of his collaboration in the German programme for the development of nuclear energy – and consequently the possibility of nuclear weapons. From 1946 he continued his research as Professor of Physics at Göttingen, Munich and Philosophy in Hamburg. In 1969 he took charge of his own foundation, the Max Planck Institute on the Preconditions of Human Life in Starnberg, near Munich. His experiences in the war had convinced him that as a man of science he had an enormous social responsibility. As early as 1957 eighteen German scientists spoke out, at von Weizsäcker’s instigation, against nuclear armament and against cooperation in the development of these weapons. Von Weizsäcker published his work in physics as such, but he also gave physics a place in a broad historical and philosophical perspective. He tenaciously raised the issue of responsibility and sought new ways to assure a future in peace and freedom in a technological era. Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker died in 2007.

Professor von Weizsäcker used his Erasmus Prize to support two European scientists whose fields of research lay largely outside Europe. Dr Strecker received a contribution for his ethnological research among the Hamar in Ethiopia, into the various thought models of primitive and advanced societies. Also Mr Eidlitz, a researcher of Indian philosophy and wisdom of life, received support.

Erasmus Prize reception 1969

The French philosopher Gabriel Marcel enjoys a glass of wine during the Erasmus Prize award ceremony in 1969.

Laudation HRH Prince Bernhard

HRH Prince Bernhard at the award ceremony in 1969.