Sissela Bok Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Sissela Ann Bok is an eminent philosopher who has specialized in the investigation of practical ethical problems. Born and raised in Sweden, she was the daughter of two Nobel Prize winners: Gunnar Myrdal, an economist, and Alva Reimer Myrdal, a diplomat. In 1955, following two years as a student at the Sorbonne, she married Derek Bok (later president of Harvard University). Continuing her education while raising three children, she completed her B.A. and M.A. degrees in psychology in 1957 and 1958. Transferring to the field of philosophy, she was awarded her Ph.D. at Harvard in 1970.

Bok began her teaching career as a lecturer in philosophy at Simmons College in 1971-1972. She then became a fellow of medical ethics and lecturer at Harvard, and from 1985 to 2000, she was professor of philosophy at Brandeis University. In 1997, Harvard named her senior fellow at its Center for Population and Development Studies. An active member of many task forces and advisory boards, she was appointed chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board in 1996. The numerous awards for her writings include the George Orwell Award and the Frederic G. Melcher Book Award.

Bok’s biography of her mother, Alva Myrdal, includes many perceptions and memories about her own life experiences. Although Bok resented her mother’s leaving the family in 1949 to head a United Nations agency in New York, she later reconciled with her mother and learned to appreciate that her mother...

(The entire section is 582 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Klemerud, Judy. “Sissela Bok: A View of Life and Ethics.” The New York Times 132 (March 6, 1983): p. 66. A short summary of Bok’s views, professional career, and personal life, including interesting reflections on her early life with her parents.

Myrdal, Jan. Childhood. Translated by Christine Swanson. Chicago: View Press, 1991. A noted Swedish novelist presents a very unflattering portrait of his sister, Sissela Bok, and their parents. A fascinating account of the dysfunctional aspects of an overachieving family.

Quinton, Anthony. “The Less Deceived.” New Statesman 97 (January 19, 1979): 85-86. A perceptive analysis of Bok’s view on the ethics of lying, with a comparison between her views and those of Augustine and Immanuel Kant.