Freedom, Markets, and Well-being Fall 2018

Sample Thesis and Prospectuses


You will have to write a prospectus by the end of this term. You will have to write a thesis by the end of the spring. You probably haven’t done either one of these things before. So we try to take some of the mystery out by talking about real live samples. That was the point of today’s class.

Note that you can find all the PPE theses in the Philosophy library in 208 Pearsons.

The thesis

Zeke and Peter N. both praised the thesis for blending work from different disciplines.

Tommy said that he thought she had picked a topic of the right size. She clearly wanted to talk about big, abstract social phenomena involving technology, science, gender, race, and a host of other things. By making the thesis about something more specific, she was able to bring her big ideas down to earth a bit and say something definite about them.

Anikka thought that the thesis did not really follow through on some of it big thoughts about patriarchal societies and western culture.

Crystal was made apprehensive by the use of “should” in the title of the second section. While she thought that the actual chapter was fine, I think her point is worth taking into account. People may be open to persuasion, but they generally don’t like being bossed around. Authors sometimes have to walk a fine line.

Jeremy and Remy noted some small points of usage that stood out. Jeremy thought that the contrast between the crisp prose of the introduction and some of the material in the middle showed just how much time and attention you need to reserve for revisions. His supposition was that the introduction was written last; I think he’s right. Remy noted some ways that our writing can help us to avoid saying something definite. The specific example he pointed to was on page three “—obscuring …”. We all do this sort of thing, so the trick is to recognize what little tricks you use and try to force yourself to think harder about what exactly you want to say.

At the end of our discussion, I asked the class to summarize what the thesis said. Peter T. did a pretty good job: surrogacy is bad but it should be regulated rather than banned. We had a very hard time filling out why the author thought it was bad, though. Professor Brown said she thought it was because of class: the author was made uncomfortable by the fact that poor women are the ones who enter into surrogacy contracts with wealthier clients. But there is so much else going on that it is hard to say that this is what the author had in mind with much confidence.

There is a lesson here. Everything is connected: race, class, gender, sexual orientation, history, and a host of other things. But part of the writer’s job is to isolate something specific from the jumble of connected stuff that makes up our social lives. I think the thesis actually did a pretty good job here. But, at the same time, the fact that we couldn’t succinctly say what the problem was shows that there is more work to be done. So when you are writing your own thesis, ask yourself these really basic questions. “Why is it bad?” or “what would someone reading this say if asked why the author thinks it’s bad?”


As Professor Brown noted, the two projects are quite different: explaining the third world war in central Africa and explaining the failure of a ferry project in Hawaii. But they both work! That’s the joy of PPE.

I think the Africa project worked largely because the author was not trying to explain the war in central Africa. He was comparing two different explanations of the war in central Africa to see which one was better supported by the evidence. That is a vastly more tractable project.

I also liked Remy’s observation that the frequent overt signposting really helps.