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.
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.
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
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.
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.'