Rose Ehler’s thesis Notes for October 10

Main points

We discussed several of the merits of Rose Ehler’s thesis on gestational surrogacy. We were mainly concerned with lessons that could be applied to your own theses.

Wise observations

Most of the comments centered on things Ehler did to organize her material that helped the reader to keep track of her argument. Nick pointed out that the thesis has a very clearly identifiable structure. Stacy appreciated the way she defined the critical or technical terms that she used. She also liked the way the thesis addressed strongly worded objections.

Nathan observed that she had chosen a topic that could be feasibly addressed in this format. That’s very important. You need a Goldilocks idea: not too big or too small. As you can see by looking at the theses in the library, there some variety in how large or small they can be.

As a seasoned reader of theses, I think those are excellent observations. However the one I took most to heart was Dylan’s point. Dylan observed that Ehler’s thesis, like most of the material we have been reading, takes an uncritical perspective on the state. In pursuing normative questions in the way we are doing, we run this risk of tacitly assuming that it makes sense to speak abstractly about what the state should do: it should enact this or that policy, rectify this or that injustice, and so on. But states aren’t normative magic. They don’t just do the right thing. And if we focus on what states might or might not do, we can lose track of a kind of social criticism that looks at the forces that constrain even the state.

I liked this point in part because it’s true: this way of framing our questions can lead us to ignore other ways of looking at politics, philosophy, and economics. I also liked it because it brings out something about the relationship between you and your advisor. You have to be aware that your advisor’s questions may not be the ones you’re most interested in. As Professor Brown pointed out, the best defense against that possibility is to be very clear about what your questions are. That’s harder than it sounds.

This page was written by Michael Green for Freedom, Markets, & Well-being, PPE 160, Fall 2012. It was posted October 10, 2012.
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