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Marianne Talbot Student Essay Prize

Philsoc instituted the Student Essay Prize 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.

Upon the retirement in October 2021 of Marianne Talbot, as OUDCE’s director of philosophy and president of Philsoc, the Student Essay Prize was renamed in her honour, in recognition of her great services to Philsoc and her strong support for the Prize.

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 (£50, £30 and £20). They will also be awarded one year's free membership of Philsoc, and their essays will be published here on the Philsoc website. The essay winning 1st prize will also appear in Philsoc's prestigious annual Review, a copy of which is one of the benefits of Philsoc membership. All 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 2022) Prize is 30th April. We aim to announce the winners by late June.

Judges' Report for Michaelmas Term 2021

17 essays were entered for the Prize – 15 from OUDCE’s online courses, and 2 from weekly courses which were also available online (‘hybrid’). All of the weekly, exclusively attended, classes were again cancelled because of coronavirus. Prizes were awarded as follows. The essays may be read by clicking on the essay titles.

1st Prize to David Molyneux (UK) for his essay: Why is the causal exclusion argument a problem for anomalous monism? David participated in the online course, ‘Philosophy of Mind’, tutored by Amna Whiston.

2nd Prize to Peter Tiffin (UK) for his essay: What are Rawls’ principles of justice? Is his argument for them convincing? Peter participated in the ‘hybrid’ course, ‘Justice – who gets what?’, tutored by Doug Bamford.

3rd Prize to Evgenia O’Connor (UK) for her essay: Are there non-existent things? Evgenia participated in the online course, ‘Reality, Being and Existence’, tutored by Julia Weckend.

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 Hilary term Prize appear 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

Of the 17 submitted essays, 8 came from UK, and one each from Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand and USA. It was pleasing to see that 9 of the essays were submitted by students on introductory philosophy courses, including some really good essays. Although none of those quite made it into the first three places, some came extremely close in a strong field in which there was amazingly little to choose between the best 6-8 essays.

What were the differences between the essays that finally influenced our rankings? Principally, perhaps, two interdependent qualities: clarity, and a comprehensive grasp of what the essay question is really asking. Clarity depends very much on the understanding, which can only come from deeply entering into the subject matter (through study and note taking) and refusing to emerge until one has teased one’s way through all the puzzles it presents. That sounds like hard work, and it is, but so rewarding as enlightenment gleams, gradually at first, but then (with a bit of luck) in brighter glimmers and shafts of light. Think, ‘jigsaw puzzle’.

Following that hard graft, it is easier to achieve the clarity of expression that comes first from the essay’s structure, which can be similar to that of a good speech:
1 Say what you’re going to say (indicate in the first paragraph the conclusion you’re driving at);
2 Decide on and clearly state the main (three to five) points which support, or build towards, your conclusion, while, point by point, acknowledging and rebutting objections to each of them; and
3 Restate your conclusion as the synthesis of the by-now-established arguments that support it.

Add simplicity of grammar and language to structural clarity, always explaining technical language and references, and the reasons for your references to cited sources, because your sources’ arguments won’t help you unless you have summarised them. Avoid obscurity, grammatical and spelling mistakes, and ‘interesting’ side issues that are not 100% relevant to the essay question.

We were delighted with the high quality of many of the submitted essays. Among them were non-prize-winners which would have been highly placed in some previous competitions. The best 8 essays all contained much of the clarity, grasp of their subject matter and skill in philosophical argument which are the marks of a good philosophy essay. Well done, students.

And well done, tutors, whom as ever we thank for their hard work in mentoring and stimulating their students in the study of philosophy.

BC, FB


Previous Prize winners

Michaelmas 2021
1st Prize Michael Schwabe (Australia)
Strawson doubts that the question whether determinism is true is a significant one for morality. What are his reasons, and is he right?
2nd Prize Emily Linnane (UK)
Does Lakatos’ methodology of scientific research programmes offer the best of Popper’s and Kuhn’s philosophies of science without their weaknesses, or does it combine the weaknesses of both?
3rd Prize Dominic Windram< (UK)
Can Plato’s argument against democracy be answered?

Hilary 2021
1st Prize Alexandra Turner (UK)
What is the reductionist position as regards the epistemology of testimonial belief? Is such a view defensible, do you think?
2nd Prize Stéphanie Lefortier (Netherlands)
Does theory change in the history of science undermine scientific realism?
3rd Prize Adam Davies (UK)
Can reality be known as it is? What is the role of the senses in the quest for 'real' knowledge?
Highly Commended, Tom Mosher (UK)
In Defence of Nonsense: Fideism in Tertullian, Kierkegaard, and Wittgenstein.
Highly Commended, Paul Dixon (UK)
How might free will be compatible with determinism?

Michaelmas 2020
1st Prize Graham Cansdale (Belgium)
Does Lakatos' methodology of scientific research programmes offer the best of Popper's and Kuhn's philosophies of science without their weaknesses, or does it combine the weaknesses of both?<
Joint 2nd Prize Emily Pollinger (UK)
Do you think that 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?
Joint 2nd Prize Paul Dixon (UK)
Critically assess constructive empiricism.

Trinity 2020
Joint 1st prize Ksenia Vishninskaya (Russia)
Why did Hume think that we cannot have any experience of causation?
Joint 1st prize Jason Mahr (USA)
Is Entity Realism the right way to think about Scientific Realism?
Joint 3rd prize Bonnie Vanguardia (Australia)
Locke & The Social Contract: Issues with Justifying the State through Voluntary Acts of Consent
Joint 3rd prize David Molyneux (UK)
How might free will be compatible with determinism?
Joint 3rd prize Łukasz Lech (France)
Would life in the state of nature, without government, be ‘a state of war’?

Hilary 2020
First prize Philip Painter (UK)
Would life in the state of nature, without government, be a “state of war”?
Second prize Michelle Hogan (UK)
Does all knowledge have an epistemic foundation? If so, then explain what such foundations must be like and evaluate how extensive our knowledge is in the light of this requirement. If not, then explain why.
Third prize Anja Segmüller (UK/Switzerland)
The Problem of Universals: A case for Realism

Michelmas 2019
First prize Ruth Cassidy (UK)
Strawson doubts that the question whether determinism is true is a significant one for morality. What are his reasons, and is he right?
Joint 2nd prize Jonathan Hardy (South Korea)
Belief in the Head: The Externalist’s Journey Towards Understanding the Mind and the World
Joint 2nd prize Evgenia O’Connor (UK)
Does all knowledge have an epistemic foundation? If so, then explain what such foundations must be like and evaluate how extensive our knowledge is in the light of this requirement. If not, then explain why.
Highly Commended Andrew Peasgood (UK)
Can a case be made for Eliminativism?

Trinity 2019
First prize Denise Hunt (UK)
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 Jeff Morris (Canada)
Justified true belief is knowledge
Third prize Jacqueline Bâby (France)
Viewing justice, fairness, care, rights and equity in the modern world through the female lens
Highly commended Gillian Chapman (UK)
Do you think there are genuine moral dilemmas? Why?
Highly commended Andrew Peasgood (UK)
Under what circumstances, if any, is the state justified?

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)