This essay received an Honorable Mention in the Graduate Category of the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics 2017
Written by University of Oxford student, Rebecca Buxton
We live in a culture of prize-giving. The Nobel Prize, the Medal of Honour, the Man Booker and, not least, the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics. But, in giving such prizes, and indeed prize money, we operate under the assumption that prizes are ‘good’. However, the fact that I am offered a prize for writing
a practical ethics paper is itself a practical ethical conundrum. This essay takes a preliminary amble into the ethical problem of prize-giving with regards to Philosophy specifically, offering reasons as to why we should question current practice. Primarily, I will define what we mean by the term ‘prize’ noting its
necessary and sufficient features. Secondly, I discuss the impact of prize-giving on research, considering how the ramifications of ascribing value through prizes affects the course of academia, especially when focusing on the lack of diverse voices within the subject. I then consider the deeper question of philosophical value: does the very act of constructing an ethical argument for a prize diminish the value of the work?
THE IDEA OF ‘THE PRIZE’
Though prize-giving is prolific in our current institutional culture, we lack any analytically clear literature on what constitutes a ‘prize’. There is, however, some work focusing on the philosophical concept of ‘the gift’, most notably Derrida’s argument that the ‘true’ gift is impossible as we can never eliminate the possibility of the counter-gift. Unlike gifts, prizes depend upon a reciprocal process; you receive a prize in virtue of being or doing something.
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