U.S. philosopher Martha Nussbaum was named Wednesday as this year's recipient of the Prince of Asturias Award for Social Sciences for her contribution to the humanities, the philosophy of law and politics, and for her ethical conception of economic development.

Nussbaum became just the second woman to be honored in that category in the 32-year history of the Asturias awards, joining former Irish President Mary Robinson.

The jury said the 65-year-old New York City native has a profound knowledge of Greek thought and is one of the most innovative and influential voices of modern philosophy, noting that she "advocates a universalistic conception of human dignity and women's rights to overcome the limits of cultural relativism."

Nussbaum beat out Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells and Italian demographer Massimo Livi-Bacci in the final round of voting.

Shortly after the jury's decision was announced, Nussbaum released a statement saying she felt "thrilled and deeply honored" to receive "this prestigious and important prize."

"It is a recognition that work on such abstract philosophical topics as social justice, human development and the nature of the emotions can contribute to the creation of a more humane and just world," the University of Chicago professor, who also has taught at Harvard, Brown and Oxford, said.

Born into an affluent family, Nussbaum earned an undergraduate degree in theater and the classics at New York University before going on to obtain a doctorate in law and ethics from Harvard.

She has written a score of works, including "The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics" (1994), "Love's Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature" (1990), "Hiding from Humanity: Disgust Shame and the Law" (2004) and the highly influential and acclaimed "The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy."

Nussbaum had been a candidate for the social sciences prize in the previous three editions of the Asturias awards.

Last year's honor went to American developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, while other past winners include British broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough, American economist Paul Krugman, German sociologist Jurgen Habermas, Italian political scientist Giovanni Sartori and the archaeological team of the Warriors of Xi'an.

According to the Prince of Asturias Foundation's Web site, the social sciences award recognizes an individual or institution whose "creative work or research in the fields of history, law, linguistics, education, political science, psychology, sociology, ethics, philosophy, geography, economics, demography or anthropology... constitutes a significant contribution to the benefit of mankind."

The social sciences honor is the second of eight Asturias prizes to be awarded this year, each accompanied by a 50,000-euro (roughly $63,650) cash prize.

Last week, Spanish architect Rafael Moneo was named the recipient of the arts award.

The winners also receive a sculpture by Joan Miro that represents and symbolizes the awards, a diploma and an insignia bearing the foundation's coat of arms.

The prizes, which Spain's Crown Prince Felipe will hand out in October in the northwestern city of Oviedo's Campoamor Theater, are regarded as the Ibero-American world's equivalent of the Nobels.