Freedom, Markets, and Well-being Fall 2020

Sample Thesis and Prospectuses


If you’re a PPE major, you will have to write a prospectus by the end of this term and 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.

The thesis

We discussed sample theses by James Psomas and Rose Ehler.

Some things that we liked about the Psomas thesis were:

Dylan B. was not convinced that the politics of the estate tax are explained by framing it as a “death tax” and Dylan E. wasn’t sure about exactly what Psomas was trying to achieve in this part.

Lilly, Hutch, and Agnes thought that the positive proposal and discussion of Locke were a bit thin. Professor Brown said that he wasn’t really aiming to make a positive proposal or offer much in the way of a comment about Locke. Maybe the lesson is that if you are going to offer only brief remarks on a topic that you should remind the reader of your main project and note that your remarks are meant as digressions. Or you could just trim the digressive remarks to keep your readers on track.

We also talked about how original the thesis has to be and the use of the first person. My two cents are:

Only the more humanistically inclined students read the Ehler thesis. They praised its research, clear chapter organization, and the chapter on policy.


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.

The Hawaii project is different in scale and in the research employed. Instead of a vast conflict and social science readings, the author was looking at one episode in Hawaii and drew on interviews in addition to library research. But they’re both great projects. You won’t be surprised to hear that the theses both turned out well.