School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Philosophy Students Earn Top Honours

9th July 2013

By Meredith Dault, Senior Communications Officer (Courtesy of Queen's News)

photo of Kyle-Johannsen

PhD student Kyle Johannsen

PhD students Kyle Johannsen and Andrew P. Ross recently took home the first and second place prizes in the student essay competition at the annual meeting of the Canadian Philosophical Association. It is the first time that a Queen’s student has won since 1997. Mr. Johannsen won first prize for his paper “On the Normative Status of Justice,” and Mr. Ross took second prize for this paper, “Self-defense, Threats, and Burden Distribution.”

Mr. Johannsen, who is about to enter the fourth year of his PhD research, says the win has helped him find a wider audience for his ideas. “It’s generated a lot of publicity and has definitely given me face-time with a lot of Canadian philosophers,” he says. Mr. Johannsen is interested in the relationship between distributive justice – the equitable distribution of resources in a society –and the principles which guide our actions. “After you have a theory of distributive justice,” he explains, “there’s a further question about how it should connect to policy making.”

For Mr. Ross, who is in the fifth year of his degree, the win confirms that he is on the right track with his research. “Sometimes you aren’t sure if the stuff you are working on is any good, so it’s nice to get a sign that somebody thinks it’s worthwhile,” he laughs. Mr. Ross studies ethics and questions of whether we should be allowed to kill innocent people if those deaths result in fewer innocent people dying in the long run. He explains that his paper explores an imaginary scenario wherein an innocent person is pushed off a cliff and will certainly crush you – except that you have the option of pulling out a ray gun to evaporate them before they do. “Are you allowed to value your own life more than theirs?” he asks.

photo of Andrew-Ross

PhD student Andrew P. Ross

Joshua Mozersky, Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Philosophy, says his entire department is delighted by Mr. Johannsen and Mr. Ross’s accomplishments. “The last time a Queen’s student was selected to win one of these prizes was some 15 years ago,” he explains. “There are scores of student papers presented at this meeting, so this represents a terrific achievement by Kyle and Andrew.”

The prizes awarded by Dialogue, the bilingual journal of the Canadian Philosophical Association. All papers submitted by students for competition are double-blind refereed together with papers submitted by faculty and others. The Canadian Philosophical Association annual meeting was held from June 2-5, 2013 in Victoria, B.C.