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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) 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 750-1,500 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 twenty 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 winners of the past Michaelmas term 2016 (September - December) are shown below. The submission deadline for the current Hilary term 2017 (January-March) is 6th May. We aim to announce the winners by mid of June.


Judges' Report for Michaelmas Term 2016

11 essays were entered for the Prize, one from a weekly course, the others from OUDCE's online courses. Unusually, we awarded three 2nd Prizes and no 1st Prize. We comment on this below. The three joint 2nd Prize-winners are listed below. Their essays may be read by clicking on the essay titles.

2nd Prize (joint) to Marija Kirjanenko for her essay entitled Why did Plato believe in Forms? Marija participated in the online course entitled 'Reality, Being, Existence', tutored by Shlomit Harrosh.

2nd Prize (joint) to David Heslop for his essay entitled Did God create morality? David participated in the online Philosophy of Religion course tutored by Shlomit Harrosh.

2nd Prize (joint) to Christopher Evans for his essay entitled Explain and Assess Rawls' Theory of Justice. Christopher participated in the online Philosophy of Politics course, tutored by Doug Bamford.

We will send our comments privately on their individual essays to all the essayists above. 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. Also see the guidelines on what we judges are both looking for and hoping not to see in the essays we mark. The link to these Judges' Guidelines is here.

Judges' General Comments

The first thing we must explain is how we could possibly come up with three joint second prizes! Several factors contributed to that outcome. One was that, while all three prizewinning essays had considerable merits, we found that for different reasons they all just fell short of the standard needed to win a 1st Prize. As for then ranking them all the same, that is because, in the very different topics they treated, which made direct comparisons impossible, we found all were in fact equally meritworthy.

Every single essay that was submitted last term held our interest for a variety of reasons: some for their quite novel subject matter or their novel approach to an old question, some because of the clarity of the writing or interesting vocabulary, some for an originality that, perhaps for good reasons (!), represented an approach that no philosopher had tried before. But most of all we enjoyed those that demonstrated a good understanding of the essay question and the issues it raised, and applied intelligence to arguing for the author's conclusion and giving well argued reasons to reject alternative views.

We were disappointed by the need to disqualify one essay for significantly exceeding the word limit. We beg participants in the Prize to read the rules and guidelines thoroughly, particularly as regards word limit, references and bibliography, and note carefully what contributes to the word count and what doesn't.

We thank the hardworking tutors for their efforts in inspiring their students to take an interest in this rewarding study, and for drawing attention to the opportunity to enter their course essay for Philsoc's Student Essay Prize.

BC, FB


Previous Prize winners

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)