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 of
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. 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 2020) Prize is 25th April. We aim to announce the winners
by 25th June.
The prize winners of the past Michaelmas term competition (2019) are
Judges' Report for Michaelmas Term 2019
19 essays were entered for the Prize, 17 from OUDCE's online courses and
two from OUDCE's weekly, attended classes. In addition to awarding
1st and two 2nd Equal Prizes, we highly commended
a further essay. All these essays may be read by clicking on the essay
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
The 19 essays came from authors in seven different countries: UK,
Bangladesh, Brazil, Norway, Portugal, South Korea and Switzerland. We don’t
know how many of them had English as their first language, but the standard of
English was generally extremely good. Interestingly 1st prize was awarded for
the same essay title as came first in the previous term’s competition.
In fact, all the prize-winning essays tackled areas that have been the
subject of previous essays. It was a delight to discover the individual
approaches of the various essayists as they explored different aspects of
problems that have sometimes preoccupied philosophers for centuries. New
angles on old problems produce fresh insights.
The best essays achieved a structure that led from a succinct description
of the question at issue through arguments that kept strictly to what had a
bearing on the answer to that question, the essay question. With only
1,500 words available, economy and relevance are essential. Side issues,
however ‘interesting’, not only waste valuable words but distract the reader
from the thread of the main argument in support of the conclusion which it is
the author’s objective to justify. An essay which focuses hard on making every
word relevant to supporting the author’s answer to the essay question
produces a clarity which is a joy to the reader, something extremely important
when that reader is judging the essay.
One essay disqualified itself by being well over the word limit. It really
is essential to read the rules of the competition, and prudent to consult and
follow the judges’ guidelines. We judges are getting increasingly concerned
about poor referencing, particularly absence of page or section numbers of
passages from sources listed in the bibliography. It is vital 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.
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. The author’s personal opinion doesn’t do any persuading. What is required
is the justification for it.
We again thank and congratulate the hardworking tutors for inspiring their
students to tackle the difficult but rewarding study of philosophy. Most of
the essays we read demonstrate a combination of expert and conscientious
tuition, and an enthusiastic, intelligent response from the students.
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.'