2018 Essay Competition Winners

Kenneth Pike, 1st Place

Kenneth Pike

Bio.: Kenneth Pike is a philosophy Ph.D. candidate at Arizona State University’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. He works on applied ethics, political philosophy, and philosophy of law. His dissertation in progress develops a contractualist account of parents’ and children’s rights. As an undergraduate he majored in philosophy and minored in psychology; he also holds an M.A. in philosophy and a J.D., and is admitted to practice law in the state of Arizona. In addition to his academic work at ASU, Kenneth teaches philosophy as faculty adjunct in the Maricopa County Community College District and at Brigham Young University. He has authored one novel for a grade-school audience and is married to #1 New York Times best-selling novelist Aprilynne Pike; they have four children, ages 15, 13, 10, and 7.

Paper Title: Do Children Have “Rights-in-Trust?” (pdf)

Do parents hold children’s rights “in trust?” Or does the language of trusts smuggle fiduciary relationships into accounts of parental rights and duties? In this essay I consider the elements of legal trusts as they relate to the moral relationship between children and their caregivers. Though many accounts of upbringing structurally resemble trustee/beneficiary relationships, it remains unclear who grants moral trusts, what their purpose is, how trustees are selected, and even who the proper beneficiaries are. Absent such information it is difficult to see what, exactly, the trust model is supposed to accomplish, beyond asserting the existence of certain fiduciary relationships without actually justifying them. The possibility that upbringing-as-rescue might establish an equitable moral trust is contemplated, though such a trust demands so little from caregivers as to be an unlikely candidate for a plausible theory of upbringing. I conclude that the trust model of children’s rights should be handled with caution, and perhaps simply discarded in favor of alternative approaches. Read full essay.

David O’Brien, 2nd Place

David O'Brien

Bio.: David O’Brien is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He works in moral and political philosophy. In his dissertation, he defends telic egalitarianism—the view that certain inequalities among people are non-instrumentally bad. He is also interested in the application of egalitarian principles to questions about the distribution of educational resources. For example, it is a commonplace that equal opportunity is an important ideal of justice in education. But what exactly does this ideal require, how is it best promoted, in what does its importance consist, and how important is it compared with other ideals? Some of David’s work on these questions is in print in Theory and Research in Education; other work on egalitarianism is forthcoming in Ratio.

Paper Title: The Limits of Justice as Fairness: The Case of Higher Education

Many education policy scholars and philosophers of education believe that justice requires significant alterations in current U.S. higher education arrangements. In this paper I argue that, if John Rawls’s influential conception of justice, justice as fairness, is correct, then some of the reforms that these people have urged (e.g., ending legacy admissions policies at selective universities; altering flagship state universities’ admissions policies to promote fair equality of opportunity; and individual university professors nudging some well-off students into socially valuable occupations) are not required (and arguably not permitted) by justice.

This surprising result, I argue, is explained by two internally well-motivated features of justice as fairness, which I call Compensation and Internal Life. According to Compensation: for social institutions that serve a politically essential function (i.e., institutions which are such that, were they not to exist, a society could not remain in the circumstances of justice), justice as fairness takes these institutions as fixed (even if these institutions tend to frustrate the society’s basic structure satisfying justice as fairness’s requirements), and requires that their effect be compensated for elsewhere in the basic structure. Compensation, I argue, best explains Rawls’s (in)famous claim that the family imposes constraints on how principles of justice are to regulate a society’s basic structure. According to Internal Life: for associations that are tokens of major social institutions, justice as fairness does not regulate their ‘internal life’ (roughly: their members’ interactions via their associational roles, and the admittance and exclusion of members), so long as the effects of these associations’ ‘internal life’ can be compensated for elsewhere in the basic structure. Internal Life, I argue, best explains various claims that Rawls makes about churches and family law.

Compensation and Internal Life together entail that, if justice as fairness is correct, then some interventions on some elements of a society's basic structure are not required (and arguably not permitted) by justice. I claim that among the interventions that are not required (and may not be permitted) are intuitively attractive university reform proposals like the ones sketched above. This is true, I argue, because the university institution meets the application conditions of Compensation and Internal Life and because the reform proposals run afoul of the constraints imposed by these principles. I provide further support for these claims by appealing to various analogies between the university and the family.

I conclude by showing that some other theories of distributive justice which are not committed to principles like Compensation and Internal Life—for example, telic luck egalitarianism—can straightforwardly accommodate and vindicate the beliefs of the educational policy scholars and philosophers of education who favor these intuitively attractive university reform proposals.

A full version of the paper is available on request; please contact david.obrien@wisc.edu

Christopher Joseph An, 3rd Place

Christopher Joseph An

Bio.: Christopher is expected to receive his master’s degree in philosophy at the Ateneo de Manila University this coming May. He has recently defended his thesis where he develops a participatory model of learning drawing primarily from phenomenological resources. His other research interests revolve around themes in moral education, intersubjectivity, imagination, play, and social-cultural approaches to human cognition. Recently, Christopher has been awarded the 2017 Philosophy prize essay by the Royal Institute of Philosophy. He has taught philosophy to both high school and college students and looks forward to continue working on his current line of research for his PhD.

Paper Title: Participation, Not Paternalism: Moral Education and the Child’s Entry into the Moral Community

It is commonly assumed that compared with children, adults supposedly possess more mature moral understanding and as such can constitute legitimate grounds for deferring to their moral authority and testimony. In this paper I examine moral philosophical discussions regarding this child-adult moral relation and its implications for moral education, particularly accounts that hold that the moral status of children provide adequate grounds for treating them paternalistically. I contend that descriptions and justifications of this paternalistic attitude towards children are either unacceptably crude or mistaken. I suggest that while there may be good grounds in certain instances to treat children paternalistically, in the context of moral education the paternalistic attitude is largely irrelevant and even counterproductive. I make a case that children can readily meet minimal standards required for moral understanding and engagement especially in everyday moral contexts. Even when the child has no final say in her moral engagement with an adult, I maintain that there is still a significant normative difference between deferring paternalistically to the adult’s moral testimony and interacting with the child in moral conversation and dialogue. Given these considerations I defend a social-contextualist account of moral education that incorporates a participatory (rather than a paternalistic) pedagogical attitude. Further, instead of talking about moral education in terms of stages (as prominently argued by Piaget and Kohlberg), I argue that moral education ought to be characterized more in terms of a gradual understanding, appreciation of, and sensitivity to normative moral demands as they apply in various shared contexts and spheres of human concern. 

A full version of the paper is available on request; please contact cjan.phil@gmail.com.