Philsoc instituted this essay competition in the Hilary term 2012. Its
objective is to promote a serious interest in philosophy by encouraging and
stimulating students who participate in Oxford University's Department for
Continuing Education (OUDCE) philosophy on-line courses and weekly attended
classes. 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, a copy of which is one of the
benefits of Philsoc membership. 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 Hilary term
(January-March 2021) Prize is 25th April 2021. We aim to announce the
winners by mid-June.
The prize winners of the past Michaelmas term competition are shown below.
Judges' Report for Michaelmas Term 2020
17 essays were entered for the Prize – all from OUDCE's online
courses, since the weekly, attended classes again had to be cancelled
because of coronavirus. Prizes were awarded as follows. The essays may be
read by clicking on the essay titles.
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 below.
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
We had an encouragingly 'mixed bag' of essays from a variety of courses:
'Bioethics for Beginners' (3), 'Philosophy of Mind' (2), 'Philosophy of
Religion' (1), 'Introduction to Philosophy' (3), 'Philosophy of Science'
(5), Introduction to Political Philosophy (2) and Critical Reasoning (1).
The essays came from a variety of countries: UK 9, Belgium 2, USA 2, and one
each from Canada, Hong Kong, India and Italy.
The prize-winning essays speak for themselves, with several others running
them close. However, the general quality of the essays showed some signs
that 'lockdown' around the world may be having a slightly jading effect on
their authors, particularly when it came to clarity. In as complex a subject
as philosophy, simplicity of expression can shine through like an
illuminating beacon, demonstrating a level of understanding that pinpoints
the essentials of an argument. Short sentences and avoidance of
over-sophisticated language can help a lot. They enforce a discipline upon
the writer, as well as making comprehension easier for the reader.
And, talking of the reader, there are some readers – maybe many, when
they are members of a philosophical society – who have a real interest
in pursuing the references provided by an essay's author. Such readers often
want to follow those references to the source text cited in the
bibliography. It is therefore an essential task, when writing an academic
essay, to provide a precise reference that includes the page number of the
passage referred to. Too often, this didn't happen.
However, the best essays demonstrated a strong grasp and solid understanding
of the topics they tackled, which gave the reader confidence that the author
knew his or her 'stuff', and could be factually relied on, quite
apart from the credibility of the argument. For students new to a topic,
that breadth of knowledge is difficult to achieve over a wide area. For them
it can be better to restrict the scope of an essay to an explicitly defined
region of a subject: perhaps a comparison of just two philosophers' views
rather than, say, surveying half a dozen schools of thought.
Thanks again to the students' interest and application, as well as that of
the dedicated tutors, the Essay Prize continues to thrive. We thank the
tutors for their hard work in mentoring and stimulating their students in
the study of philosophy.
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.'