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In-House Essay Contest

Every Spring since the 1990s, the WVU Philosophy Department has hosted an In-House Conference featuring student presentations of their own philosophical essays. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Conference was replaced by an Essay Contest. Below, you will find information about the contest and links to the three winning essays.

2020 Winners

Nina Han   Soofia Lateef   Iain MacKay

                   Nina Han                                   Soofia Lateef                                   Iain MacKay      

Introductory Remarks by Professor David Cerbone 

Among the many disappointments of the Spring 2020 semester, the cancelation of the annual In-House Conference ranks very high indeed. Having to cancel the conference was especially disappointing this year, as the Spring 2019 installment had been the most vibrant one to date: a little more than a year ago, the Cathedral Room in the Mountainlair was filled to capacity, the student papers were uniformly excellent, and there was plenty of pizza to go around. Many of us were keen to see if that success could be replicated. While we will never really know, I think it is safe to say that we had a very good chance of repeat success. 

I base this judgment on the extremely high quality of the submissions that were received for the pandemic-friendly In-House Essay Contest that Dr. Ryan suggested as a substitute for the canceled conference. We received a record nine papers in response to the announcement of the contest on topics ranging from Sartre’s existentialism to misogyny in popular music. Difficult choices had to be made but a consensus was reached among the judges. The three winners were Nina Han, Soofia Lateef, and Iain MacKay. As it happened, all of their papers dealt with topics emerging from existential philosophy:  Han’s paper considers Nietzsche’s desire to “see as beautiful what is necessary in things” and the difficulty of changing one’s perception of the past; Lateef considers the challenge of locating animals (what she calls Near-Others) in Sartre’s ontology, as well as the ethical imperative for doing so; and MacKay likewise considers Sartre’s ethics and its liability to charges of arbitrariness and subjectivism. 

While we cannot gather together to hear Han, Lateef, and MacKay present their work and discuss it properly, the papers are posted to provide them with a virtual audience. They deserve more than that, but that is what these times allow for.

Winning Essays

"Nietzsche on Loving Necessity"

Nina Han (Class of 2022) 

Major: Economics; Minors: Philosophy, Business Data Analytics

Abstract: This paper explores various sections of Nietzsche’s The Gay Science that concern his desire to see the past as beautiful, as well as the question of how one might satisfy that desire.  Given the irreversibility of the past, hard work is necessary to see the past as beautiful. By examining the importance for Nietzsche of “giving style to one’s character,” I consider how assessing and accepting one’s nature are crucial to the process of seeing the past as beautiful and leading a fulfilling life.  Nietzsche’s “needful” self-satisfaction is an even more difficult state to achieve, but I suggest that one’s reaction to his idea of eternal recurrence provides a way of measuring such self-satisfaction. At the conclusion, I briefly discuss whether self-satisfaction is truly attainable:  although it is most likely unattainable, the importance of seeing the past as beautiful remains significant nonetheless.

"Hell is Otter People: Locating Animals in Sartre's Ontology"

Soofia Noor Lateef (Class of 2020) 

Majors: Philosophy, Chemical Engineering

Abstract: In this paper, I examine the place of animals in Jean-Paul Sartre's ontology using the notion of Near-Others, beings that are neither for-themselves as humans are or in-themselves as objects are. Sartre’s ontology does not, at first blush, appear to be hospitable to animals as any sort of Other. This raises troubling ethical implications, as animals would be considered objects. However, when using Sartre’s conceptions of affective response (fear) to, and attitudes (language, indifference, and sadism) towards, Others to frame our relations with animals, it appears that animals cannot be simple objects. If they were, it is puzzling that affects and attitudes would map onto animal relations to the extent that they do. This process hints at the nature of animal consciousness, but the details remain murky. Despite this uncertainty, the phenomenological experience of animals situates animals as Near-Others. Even though this classification complicates Sartre’s neat ontological categories, it captures our experience of beings other than humans. The classification of animals as Near-Others makes room in Sartre's ontology for animals as not objects, and thereby addresses the worry regarding the ethical standing of animals.

"If You Choose Not to Decide You Still Have Made a Choice"

Iain MacKay (Class of 2020) 

Majors: Philosophy, Art History; Minor: History

Abstract: A common criticism levelled at Jean-Paul Sartre’s existential philosophy is that it makes ethical decisions subjective or even arbitrary. Sartre responds to this criticism in his 1946 work, “The Humanism of Existentialism.” This paper analyzes the nature and adequacy of Sartre’s response. Sartre’s response begins with an analysis of prior ethical systems, all of which leave room for differing interpretations of their central ethical directives. Existentialism more openly embraces this interpretive leeway, as can be seen in Sartre’s definitive, “You’re free, choose, that is, invent.” By exploring an understanding of values in an existentialist framework, this paper provides an interpretation of Sartre’s appeal to choice and invention. In doing so, the paper considers whether Sartre has indeed provided a more compelling alternative to traditional ethical systems and whether he has defended his views from the charges of subjectivity or arbitrariness. The paper concludes that while Sartre has adequate, though not wholly satisfying, answers to the charge of arbitrariness, the charge of subjectivity cannot be so easily dismissed.