Two ANU Arts students have won prizes in the global Undergraduate Awards (UA) essay contest, the world’s largest academic awards, continuing the College’s excellent results in recent years.
Matilda Gillis, who’s in her fifth year of an Arts/ Law degree majoring in political science, claimed the overall title in the UA law category.
Arts PhB student Weng Kin San, majoring in Philosophy, took first prize in the philosophy and theology category.
Matilda said she was surprised by the news.
“I had been pretty excited to be on the Highly Commended list and then even more so when announced as the Overall Winner for law," Matilda said.
Kin, who is doing a joint degree program between the ANU and National University of Singapore (NUS), said he was excited by the result.
“Philosophy is something I care a lot about and hope to do in the future, so it felt great to be validated in some small way,” he said from Singapore, where he is doing his honours year.
Kin learned about the competition after hearing of fellow CASS student Daniel McKay’s victory in 2014. McKay was awarded the overall winner for History last year, travelling to Dublin to accept the illustrious award.
“I did an Advanced Studies Course with Bob Goodin in the philosophy department last semester, which was an amazing experience,” Kin recalled.
“Since the research paper I did as part of the course was perfect in length and focus for submission for the awards, I thought I would just try my luck and submit it.”
Kin’s supervisor, Bob Goodin, and another lecturer, RJ Leland, met Kin regularly to discuss the essay’s shape and progress.
“Both of them gave such incisive feedback and were extremely generous with their time, despite their already heavy workload,” Kin said.
The resulting paper, Public Reason, Coercion, and Harm, expanded on questions about what kinds of reasons are needed to justify laws.
“Some think that religious reasons, for example, cannot justify laws, while others think they can,” Kin explained.
“Whatever the case, most of them think that the idea of public reason applies only to the justification of coercive laws. But some laws are not, strictly speaking, coercive.
“For example, marriage laws and parts of the constitutional preamble. I argue that justification by public reason is also required of such laws.”
Kin expects to graduate in 2016 and hopes to pursue graduate studies in philosophy.