Philosophy Essay Competition Oxford

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) philosophy 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 as many as twenty 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 competition (October - December 2017) are shown below. The submission deadline for the current Hilary term 2018 (January - March) is 31st December. We aim to announce the winners by the third week of June 2018.


Judges' Report for Michaelmas Term 2017

12 essays were entered for the Prize, all from OUDCE's online courses. The three prizes that were awarded are set out below. The essays may be read by clicking on the essay titles.

1st Equal Prize to Catherine Strong for her essay entitled Applying Moral Philosophy: a Case Study. Catherine participated in the online course, Ethics: An Introduction, tutored by Schlomit Harrosh.

1st Equal Prize to Andrew Peasgood for his essay entitled Did Berkeley Misunderstand Locke? Andrew participated in the online Introduction to Philosophy course tutored by Rachel Paine.

3rd Prize to Nicholas Juckes for his essay entitled The Problem of Induction. Nicholas participated in the online Theory of Knowledge course Ilhaam Isaacs.

Judges' General Comments

We congratulate the prize-winners above, especially because we found this term's entries of a particularly high standard. This made judging the essays an extremely enjoyable task, except for having to exclude some really good essays from winning prizes. Special congratulations to prizewinner, Andrew Peasgood, for moving up from second place in the previous term to achieving 1st= this time.

We were delighted to see how well the majority of essayists observed our recommendations on such issues as keeping the whole essay strictly relevant to answering the question, keeping within the word limit, recognising and combatting arguments against the essay's conclusions, and delivering a good, tight essay structure. Moreover, some of the essays were really stylish in their writing, as well as in their thoughtfulness and imaginative expression of relevant arguments. Well done!

Again there was a wonderful geographic spread of entrants for the essay Prize, as follows: UK 6, USA 2 and one each from Argentina, Australia, Latvia and Spain.

We always give strong thanks to the hardworking tutors, and none deserves that more than the three tutors whose online courses provided the three prizewinners: Schlomit Harrosh, Rachel Paine and Ilhaam Isaacs. Students from their classes have submitted many prizewinning essays over the last several years. We thank them and all of OUDCE's tutors who have inspired their students to take an interest in philosophy and drawn attention to the opportunity to enter their course essays for Philsoc's Student Essay Prize.

BC, FB


Previous Prize winners

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)

The Sanders Prize in Philosophy of Religion is administered by Dean Zimmerman. Dean Zimmerman is Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University and co-editor of Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion.

The next competition for the Sanders Prize in Philosophy of Religion will occur in 2019. Submissions are due August 31st, 2019.  Please send your submissions to the following email address: sandersreligion@nullgmail.com.  You will receive confirmation of our receipt of your submission within a few days.

Current Competition Details

The Marc Sanders Prize in Philosophy of Religion is a biennial essay competition open to scholars who are within fifteen (15) years of receiving a Ph.D. or students who are currently enrolled in a graduate program. Independent scholars may also be eligible and should direct inquiries to Dean Zimmerman, co-editor of Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion, at dwzimmer@nullrci.rutgers.edu.

The award for the prize-winning essay is $10,000. Winning essays will be published in Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion.

Submitted essays must present original research in philosophy of religion. Essays should be between 7,500 and 15,000 words. Since winning essays will appear in Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion, submissions must not be under review elsewhere. To be eligible for the next prize, submissions must be received, electronically, by August 31st, 2019.  Please send your submissions to the following email address: sandersreligion@nullgmail.com. Refereeing will be blind; authors should omit remarks and references that might disclose their identities. Receipt of submissions will be acknowledged by e-mail. The winner will be determined by a committee of members of the Editorial Board of Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion and will be announced by late-October.

Inquiries should be directed to Dean Zimmerman at dwzimmer@nullrci.rutgers.edu.

Prize Winners

2016 Winner

Kenneth L. Pearce, Trinity College Dublin
Title: “Foundational Grounding and the Argument from Contingency” (PDF)

Congratulations to Kenneth L. Pearce, the 2016 winner of the Sanders Prize in Philosophy of Religion for his paper “Foundational Grounding and the Argument from Contingency”.  Kenneth is Ussher Assistant Professor in Berkeley Studies at Trinity College Dublin. His paper will be published in Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion.

Abstract:The argument from contingency for the existence of God is best understood as a request for an explanation of the total sequence of causes and effects in the universe (‘History’ for short). Many puzzles about how there could be such an explanation arise from the assumption that God is being introduced as one more cause prepended to the sequence of causes that (allegedly) needed explaining. In response to this difficulty, I defend three theses. First, I argue that, if the argument from contingency is to succeed, the explanation of History in terms of God must not be a causal explanation. Second, I argue that a particular hypothesis about God’s relation to History – that God is what I call the foundational ground of History – is intelligible and explanatory. Third and finally, I argue that the explanatory advantages of this hypothesis cannot be had within the confines of naturalism.

2014 Winner

Ross D. Inman, St Louis University
Title: Omnipresence and the Location of the Immaterial (PDF)

The winner of the Sanders Prize in Philosophy of Religion for 2014 is Ross Inman with his paper titled,  “Omnipresence and the Location of the Immaterial.” Ross is a postdoctoral fellow at St Louis University. His paper, along with those of other finalists, will be published in Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion.

Judges for the competition were Jon Kvanvig, distinguished professor of philosophy at Baylor University, together with Daniel Howard-Snyder, professor of philosophy at Western Washington University, and Bradley Monton, professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado.

2013 Winner

Jonathan Jacobs, St Louis University
Title: “The Ineffable, Inconceivable, and Incomprehensible God: Fundamentality and Apophatic Theology” (PDF)

This year, there were 49 entries for the 2013 Sanders Prize in Philosophy of Religion, the largest number of entries ever for the contest. Together with Jon Kvanvig, distinguished professor of philosophy at Baylor University, the judges for the contest were Daniel Howard-Snyder, professor of philosophy at Western Washington University, and Bradley Monton, professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado. The vote was unanimous in favor of Jonathan Jacobs for his paper “The Ineffable, Inconceivable, and Incomprehensible God: Fundamentality and Apophatic Theology.”

2011 Winner

Ted Poston, University of South Alabama
Title: “Social Evil” (PDF)

In just it’s second year, the Sanders Prize for Philosophy of Religion received a significant number of high-quality entries. The winning essay was “Social Evil” by Ted Poston of the University of South Alabama, whose submission will be included in Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion.

2010 Winner

Dennis Whitcomb, Western Washington University
Title: “Grounding and Omniscience” (PDF)

The judges of the 2010 Sanders Prize in Philosophy of Religion considered a total of 46 entries and selected seven for the final round of their deliberations. Of those seven, four were recommended for publication in the forthcoming volume of Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion, testifying to the strength of the essays submitted. The winning essay was “Grounding and Omniscience” by Dennis Whitcomb of Western Washington University.

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