Oct. 14, 2021
Congratulations to William Gregson
Best Political Science Honours Thesis Prize is for the best undergraduate Honours Thesis in the Department of Political Science, open to any area of Political Science.
William Gregson’s thesis was written under the supervision of Dr. Joshua Goldstein
Dr. Goldstein, tell us what made Will’s thesis stand out?
Every good BA Honours thesis is a gift: it provides students an opportunity to learn the mechanics of a big project, a chance to become an expert in something, and master that delicate art of working with a supervisor! To the supervisor, the Honours thesis is especially so when you see the student growing towards becoming a mature scholar, confident in their abilities, and that first hints of a spark of genius. Will’s thesis was a gift in all these senses. Working on the the idea of madness in 18th Century German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, his thesis was one of the most carefully crafted, patient, and engaging works I have read in 15 years. While he’ll relate the details of his arguments below, what made Will’s thesis even more remarkable was that it dealt with some of the most challenging texts and ideas in the entire Western canon: Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind, Philosophy of Spirit, and Philosophy of Right. For sheer bravery (or is that audacity?) alone, Will would be worthy of commendation! For carrying out his project with intellectual clarity, social relevance, and craftsmanship he deserves a prize!
Will, what was your thesis’ title and main findings or arguments?
In my thesis titled The “Path of Despair”: Hegel, Madness, and the Sanity of Ethicality, I examine Hegel’s often overlooked theory of “madness.” While Hegel offers an explicit account of madness in his Philosophy of Mind (1830) in which madness consists in a regression of the individual’s mind to its unconscious and primordial feeling, my thesis turns to Hegel’s earlier Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) to uncover an alternative social model for understanding madness in Hegel’s system. Here, I suggest that “spirit” (Geist)—i.e., reason elevated to the level of the self-reflective community—can succumb to madness as well. In such cases, madness can be understood not only as an inevitable, necessary, or rational response to one’s social world, but as being contained within the rationality of the social world itself. Finally, I argue that Hegel’s account of the “ethical life” in the Philosophy of Right (1821)—i.e., the reconciliation of self and world—can be understood as a form of political therapeutics that counteracts both the individual and social forms of madness that I uncover in Hegel’s works.
Any advice to other students for getting through the thesis?
I would recommend starting as early as possible and choosing a topic that you are not only passionate about but that you have (at least some) experience with already (e.g., a thinker that you have already read or a topic that you previously wrote a term paper on). This allows you dig deeper, delve into secondary literature, and refine your thesis topic; it is truly remarkable how much can be written on what initially appears to be a narrow or highly specific question. Not to mention, the semester is over before you know it!
So, what’s next for you after the thesis?
I am taking a well-deserved year off and then applying for an MA in political theory. Then, onwards to a PhD!
Congratulations to William Gregson on your 2020–21 UCalgary Political Science Best BA Honours Thesis Prize!
To find out more about our paper prizes and past prize winners, please go the the Political Science website.