Human Being Philosophy Essay Prize

James Williams, a doctoral student at the Oxford Internet Institute who works on the philosophy and ethics of technology design, and who previously worked at Google, is the winner of the inaugural Nine Dots Prize. The prize solicits 3,000-word essay responses to a question, and the winner receives $100,000 and to write a book expanding on the ideas of the essay, to be published by Cambridge University Press.

The question in the prize’s inaugural year was: “Are digital technologies making politics impossible?” There were over 700 submissions.

Here’s a brief excerpt from Williams’ essay:

Digital technologies privilege our impulses over our intentions. They are increasingly designed to exploit our psychological vulnerabilities in order to direct us toward goals that may or may not align with our own. In the short term, this can distract us from doing the things we want to do. In the longer term, however, it can distract us from living the lives we want to live, or, even worse, undermine our capacities for reflection and self-regulation, making it harder, in the words of philosopher Harry Frankfurt, to ‘want what we want to want.’ A primary effect of digital technologies is thus to undermine the operation and even development of the human will. This militates against the possibility of all forms of self-determination at both individual and collective levels, including all forms of politics worth having.

There were over 700 submissions.

According to its website, “the Nine Dots Prize is a new prize for creative thinking that tackles contemporary societal issues… The aim of the Prize is to promote, encourage and engage innovative thinking to address problems facing the modern world. The name of the Prize references the nine dots puzzle—a lateral thinking puzzle which can only be solved by thinking outside the box.”

The prize is funded by the Kadas Prize Foundation, which is directed by financier Peter Kadas.

In case you don’t know it, here is the Nine Dots puzzle.

Here are nine dots, arranged in three rows:

Your task is to draw four straight lines through the puzzle
without lifting your pencil, such that when done,
each of the nine dots has at least one line crossing its center.

Try it out.

For the solution, go here.


We are pleased to announce the winners for our essay prize competition. They are:

1st Prize: Monique Wonderly, “Love and Attachment”

2nd Prize: Sam Shpall, “Love and Rational Agency”

3rd Prize: Diane Jeske, “False Friends”

Honorable Mention: Laurence Holland, “On Being in Love”

Original Prize Announcement

(Note that the competition has concluded, and we are no longer accepting submissions.)

We are pleased to announce a prize competition for essays on love, caring, and human agency. Essays are invited on any of a wide range of topics related to the nature of caring or love (broadly construed), or to the roles that love or caring play in human thought and action. Examples of questions an essay might address include, but are not limited to: What is love? What is it to care about something or someone? How can an understanding of love contribute to our understanding of our capacity to value? What role does caring play in free or autonomous agency? What role should love play in the theory of practical reason? What connection is there between caring and moral character? How does the capacity for love develop in infants and children? What cognitive mechanisms or abilities are necessary for the capacity to care? What can we learn about the capacities to love and care from brain disorders that compromise these capacities? What role does the capacity to care play in moral or legal responsibility?

Essays are invited from philosophy, psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, economics, law, and any other academic discipline whose methods can shed light on these or related questions. Essays must be unpublished and not accepted for publication at the time of submission, and other things being equal we prefer they not be more than 12,000 words. Essays should be submitted electronically to no later than May 16, 2014.

Prizes will be awarded to three winning essays, with a top prize of $3000; they will also be considered for publication in an edited volume on love and human agency. Winners will be invited (travel and lodging expenses paid) to an interdisciplinary conference on love and human agency to be held at Franklin and Marshall College September 19–20, 2014, where prizes will be awarded.

The selection panel will be comprised of team members of the project on Love and Human Agency, in consultation with experts in specific disciplines as necessary. Winners will be announced in Summer, 2014.

Any questions about submission criteria or process should be sent to

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