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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 maximum length 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 15 or more 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 submission deadline for entry to the present Michaelmas term (October-December) Prize is 6th January. We aim to announce the winners by 22nd February.

The prize winners of the past Trinity term competition (2019) are shown below.

Judges' Report for Trinity Term 2019

20 essays were entered for the Prize, 15 from OUDCE's online courses and five from OUDCE's weekly, attended classes. In addition to awarding 1st, 2nd and 3rd Prizes, we highly commended a further two essays. All these essays may be read by clicking on the essay titles.

1st Prize to Denise Hunt (UK) for her essay entitled Strawson doubts that the question whether determinism is true is a significant one for morality. What are his reasons, and is he right? Denise participated in the online course, Introduction to Philosophy, tutored by Rachel Paine.

2nd Prize to Jeff Morris (Canada) for his essay entitled Justified true belief is knowledge. Jeff participated in the online course, Theory of Knowledge, tutored by Shlomit Harrosch.

3rd Prize to Jacqueline Bâby (France) for her essay entitled Viewing justice, fairness, care, rights and equity in the modern world through the female lens. Jacqueline participated in the online course, Political Philosophy, tutored by Shlomit Harrosch.

Essays by the following authors were highly commended

Gillian Chapman (UK) for her essay entitled Do you think there are genuine moral dilemmas? Why? Gillian participated in the online course, Introduction to Philosophy, tutored by Rachel Paine.

Andrew Peasgood (UK) for his essay entitled Under what circumstances, if any, is the state justified? Andrew participated in the online course, Political Philosophy, tutored by Meade McCloughan.

We shall send our comments privately to the essayists above on their individual essays. At the time of marking, of course, we judges have no notion of the authors' identity. Our general comments on all the essays entered for the Prize this time appear immediately below.

Judges' Guidelines

Click HERE to see the important Judges' Guidelines. They explain both what we are looking for and what we are hoping not to see in the essays we mark.

Judges' General Comments

More essays than ever before were entered for the Trinity term Prize, when OUDCE run fewer courses than in the other two terms. The 20 essays came from authors in 10 different countries. What’s more, the average quality of the essays was particularly high. It is encouraging to see the Essay Prize so popular, and also to find a student on the online Introduction to Philosophy course winning 1st prize, and another from the same course submitting a Highly Commended essay.

The essay topics included some ‘old favourites’, but also, with the advent of new course subjects such as ‘Economic Inequality’, fresh and exciting titles are increasingly being tackled by students. Most of the essays demonstrate real thoughtfulness, and many of them an intelligent insight when tackling difficult areas of philosophy. It was good to see authors sticking closely to the essay question and providing relevant, well-argued answers.

On the negative side, we were disturbed that three essays had to be disqualified for exceeding the word limit; and too often referencing was inadequate. It is essential that, where primary or secondary literature is (very properly) referred to, precise references are provided. The source works should be listed in the bibliography with author, publication, date etc, and the relevant passages identified in the text or footnotes by page or section number. It is not only we judges, but also other interested readers, who may want to read the relevant parts of cited works.

We strongly advise students to read and closely follow the Judges’ Guidelines (see above). Read them again before submitting your essay, if only to eliminate irrelevancies and phrases such as ‘I believe’, ‘in my opinion’ etc.

We thank and congratulate the hardworking tutors for inspiring their students to tackle the difficult but rewarding study of philosophy. The essays we read demonstrate a combination of expert and conscientious tuition, and an enthusiastic, intelligent response from the students.

BC, FB


Previous Prize winners

Hilary 2019
First prize Ben Clark (UK)
What are we referring to when the object of thought is not an object that genuinely exists? What is T. Crane's solution to the problem of non-existent objects?
Second prize Simon Drew (UK)
To what extent does Foucault’s work encourage us to rethink the social formation and governance?
Third prize Roger Salmons (UK)
Can a utilitarian respect rights?
Highly commended Bob Petersen (USA)
Moral dilemmas and the growth of moral knowledge

Michaelmas 2018
First prize Tony Walton
Must good justification be internal to the mind?
Joint 2nd prize Romanos Koutedakis
Are meanings in the head?
Joint 2nd prize Michelle Hogan
Deontologists insist on moral rules. Does this mean they can't be particularists?
Highly commended Jennie Hiles
Why did Hume think that we cannot have any experience of causation?

Trinity 2018
First prize: (none awarded)
Second prize Sandra Yorke-Mitchell
Deontologists insist on moral rules. Does this mean they cannot be particularists?
Third prize Jennie Hiles
E. J. Lemmon and BeTTY’s place in moral theories

Hilary 2018
Joint First Prize Michelle Hogan
Is there any need to explain why there is a universe at all? Would God be an explanation?
Joint First Prize Christopher Evans
Compare the way in which Foucault and Derrida urge us to rethink social formation and governance
Joint First Prize Tony Walton
Some strengths and weaknesses of Kripke's critique of descriptivism

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)