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The Philsoc Student Essay Prize

Philsoc instituted this essay competition in the Hilary term 2012. Its objective is to promote a serious interest in philosophy and to encourage and stimulate students participating in Oxford University's Department of Continuing Education (OUDCE) philosophy on-line courses, weekly attended classes and summer schools (OUSSA). Entry for the Prize is very simple, since all a student needs to do is submit an essay of 750-1,500 words already written as part of required coursework. The full rules governing the termly essay prize and submission are found here.

Each term all prize-winners (1st, 2nd and 3rd prize) will receive diplomas and prizes of Amazon vouchers (£25, £15 and £10). They will also be awarded one year's free membership of Philsoc and their essays will be published here on the Philsoc website. Essays winning a First Prize will also appear in Philsoc's annual Review. Prize-winners will receive private comments on their essays from the judges.

There can be as many as twenty qualifying OUDCE philosophy courses in a term, so to achieve a win or place will be something to be proud of. The essays will be judged by philosophically well qualified members of the Philosophical Society, who do not know the identity of the authors, only the titles of the courses they are pursuing.

The winners of the past Hilary term competition (January - March 2018) are shown below. The submission deadline for the current Trinity term 2018 (April - June) and OUSSA summer schools (July-August) is 20th August 2018. We aim to announce the winners by the end of September 2018.


Judges' Report for Hilary Term 2018

14 essays were entered for the Prize, 11 from OUDCE's online courses and 3 from OUDCE's weekly, attended classes. The three prizes that have been awarded, along with one highly commended, are set out below. The essays may be read by clicking on the essay titles.

1st Equal Prize to Michelle Hogan for her essay entitled Is there any need to explain why there is a universe at all? Would God be an explanation?. Michelle participated in the online course, Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction, tutored by Sarah Pawlett Jackson.

1st Equal Prize to Christopher Evans for his essay entitled Compare the way in which Foucault and Derrida urge us to rethink social formation and governance. Christopher attended the weekly class, Continental Philosophy, tutored by Mary-Ann Crumplin.

1st Prize to Tony Walton for his essay entitled Some strengths and weaknesses of Kripke's critique of descriptivism . Andrew participated in the weekly class the Philosophy of Necessity and Possibility tutored by Eileen Walker.

Highly Commended: Andrew Peasgood for his essay entitled Are there any non-existent things?. Andrew participated in the online Introduction to Metaphysics course tutored by Shlomit Harrosh.

Judges' General Comments

We congratulate the prize-winners above in one of the strongest fields since the Prize was inaugurated in 2012. Several of the runners-up could have found themselves prizewinners in previous competitions, and we have in fact awarded Highly Commended status to Andrew Peasgood, who won the previous term's competition, and include his essay among those published here. We have taken the unusual step of awarding three 1st equal prizes to essays on very different topics, since to demote any of them to a second or third place would, it seemed to us, imply an invidious comparison between three really excellent essays. All three prize-winners will receive the 1st Prize awards.

Once again we were delighted to see how well the majority of essayists observed our recommendations on such issues as keeping the whole essay strictly relevant to answering the question, keeping within the word limit, recognising and combatting arguments against the essay's conclusions, and delivering the good, tight essay structure necessary within such an exacting word limit. There were nevertheless some exceptions. Regretfully we had to disqualify one essay for exceeding the word limit. And we would once again draw attention to the requirement to provide good references, sufficiently explicit to enable the interested reader to look up quoted sources. We must abide by standard academic practice here, something which we do understand may be a trifle hard on beginners to philosophy.

Again, too, we give strong thanks to the hard-working tutors, the quality of whose tutelage is manifest in the admirable essays submitted by their students.

BC, FB


Previous Prize winners

Michaelmas 2017
Joint first prize Catherine Strong
Applying Moral Philosophy: a Case Study
Joint first prize Andrew Peasgood
Did Berkeley Misunderstand Locke?
Third prize: Nicholas Juckes
The Problem of Induction
Trinity 2017
First prize Jeff White
The Socratic method in Meno
Second prize Andrew Peasgood
Do you think there are any genuine moral dilemmas? Why?
Third prize Bob Stone
Monism and anomalousness: do they stand up?
Hilary 2017
First prize Sheila Radford
Why is the exclusion argument a problem for anomalous monism?
Second prize Jackie Walsh
Can a functionalist account for qualia?
Joint third prize Mary Ormrod
Set out logic-book style the argument that follows, saying what type of argument it is, and using the methods you were taught in the course, say whether or not you think it is a good argument, where 'good' is appropriate to the type of argument you have decided it to be. 'Every time I have played chess with James he has been so irritating that I have been unable to concentrate, and in losing to him I have lost a lot of money. Tonight I am playing chess with Tom rather than James, but Susan tells me that Tom is as irritating as James. I am probably, therefore, going to lose concentration, and therefore money tonight.'
Joint third prize Andrew Peasgood
Do I agree with Strawson that adopting the introspective style of thinking that Descartes adopts in his Meditations may lead one to deceive oneself about the meaning of 'I'?
Michaelmas 2016
Joint second prize Marija Kirjanenko
Why did Plato believe in Forms?
Joint first prize David Heslop
Did God create morality?
Third prize Christopher Evans
Explain and Assess Rawls' Theory of Justice
Trinity 2016
Joint first prize Chris Lyons
Can a utilitarian respect rights?
Joint first prize Tricia Baldwin
'Virtue ethics lacks a decision-procedure to help us make moral decisions. – It is not, therefore a good moral theory.' – Discuss
Third prize Stephen Pickering
Can Stoic Bodies be rescued from the Growing Argument?
Hilary 2016
First prize Aoife Hulme
Describe and explain why Gettier-style cases demonstrate that the tripartite account of knowledge is unsustainable. How should one go about offering a theory of knowledge that is immune to Gettier-style cases, do you think? Can one offer a theory of knowledge that is immune to Gettier-style cases?
Second prize Steve Bow
From competing principles to competing pleasures: Out of the frying pan...
Third prize Miles Fender
What is the epistemic externalism/ internalism distinction? Which view is preferable, do you think? Defend your answer.
Michaelmas 2015
First prize Ian Corfield
An Analysis of the Ontological Argument of St Anselm
Second prize Miles Fender
Why is the causal exclusion argument a problem for anomalous monism?
Third prize Chris Bailey
Can a utilitarian respect rights?
Trinity 2015
Joint first prize Andrew Webb
What is the reductionist position as regards the epistemology of testimonial belief? Is such a view defensible, do you think?
Joint first prize Andrew Langridge
What does the underdetermination argument show?
Third prize (none awarded)
Hilary 2015
Joint first prize Chris Lyons
How might free will be compatible with determinism?
Joint first prize Sinem Hürmeydan
Why did Plato believe in Forms?
Joint third prize Dominic la Hausse
Describe and explain why Gettier-style cases demonstrate that the tripartite account of knowledge is unsustainable. How should one go about offering a theory of knowledge that is immune to Gettier-style cases, do you think? Can one offer a theory of knowledge that is immune to Gettier-style cases?
Joint third prize Pamela Heydon
Explain Sartre's distinction between being in-itself and being for-itself. Discuss how this relates to the human mind as nothingness, and to human freedom and responsibility.
Michaelmas 2014
First prize Pamela Thomas
Excuses for murder
Second prize Stephen Berry
Why is the causal exclusion argument a problem for anomalous monism?
Joint third prize Chris Lyons
What is Mill's Liberty Principle? Does it correctly set out the grounds on which government interference with individual lives is justified?
Joint third prize Obeka Brown
'Virtue Ethics lacks a decision procedure to help make moral decisions. It is not, therefore, a good moral theory.' Discuss.
Trinity 2014
First prize: (none awarded)
Second prize: (none awarded)
Joint third prize: David Burrige
Reasonable belief
Joint third prize: Chris Lyons
What is the problem of induction? Is it important to be able to offer an answer to this problem?
Hilary 2014
First prize: Bob Stone
Does Kant succeed in preserving freedom of the will?
Second prize: Chris Bailey
What is alienated labour and what would unalienated labour be like?
Third prize: Stephen Pickering
Mill's Liberty Principle: correct grounds for government interference?
Michaelmas 2013
Joint first prize: Claudio Divittorio
On Locke's Labor Mixing Argument
Joint first prize: Heather Noble
Do you think we should use the eggs of aborted foetuses to help infertile couples to have babies? Why, and what would you say to those who disagree?
Third prize: Allan Hicks
What is meant by the 'Free market'? Are there any good reasons for limiting the free market
Trinity 2013
First prize: Chris Lyons
Can a case be made for eliminativism?
Second prize: Yusu Liu
'Virtue ethics lacks a decision-procedure to help us make moral decisions. It is not therefore a good moral theory.' Discuss.
Third prize: Carlos Pérez Anguiano
Is there any satisfactory alternative to epistemological scepticism?
Hilary 2013
First prize: Richard Camilleri
Describe and explain why Gettier-style cases demonstrate that the tripartite account of knowledge is unsustainable. How should one go about offering a theory of knowledge that is immune to Gettier-style cases, do you think? Can one offer a theory of knowledge that is immune to Gettier-style cases?
Second prize: Chris Bailey
Critically evaluate Hölderlin's claim that 'Being expresses the joining of Subject and Object'.
Third prize: Harry Massey
Can a Utilitarian Respect Rights?
Michaelmas 2012
First prize: Richard Camilleri
Why did Hume think that we cannot have any experience of causation?
Second Prize: Aoife Hulme
Does Berkeley misunderstand Locke?
Third Prize: Pamela Hirsch
What is the best way of conceiving God's relation to time?
Trinity 2012
First prize: Richard Camilleri
Strawson doubts that the question whether determinism is true is a significant one for morality. What are his reasons, and is he right?
Second Prize: Simon Borrington
Strawson doubts that the question whether determinism is true is a significant one for morality. What are his reasons, and is he right?.
Third Prize: Richard Erskine:
Faith is believing something on insufficient evidence. Is there any truth in this suggestion?.
Hilary 2012
First Prize: Harry Massey
Does Locke adequately justify rights to private property?
Second Prize: (none awarded)
Third Prize: (none awarded)