Congratulations to PhD student Renee Rushing, joint winner of the Royal Institute of Philosophy’s annual Philosophy Essay Prize.

Renee Rushing

A Florida State University doctoral student in the Department of Philosophy has won a prestigious international essay competition for her paper exploring backward-looking emotions, particularly anger, and under what circumstances it is permissible to let go of such feelings.

Renee Rushing was awarded the 2022 Philosophy Essay Prize from the Royal Institute of Philosophy, or RIP — the United Kingdom’s largest independent charitable foundation devoted to sharing philosophical thinking — for her work, “Fitting Diminishment of Anger: A Permissivist Account.”

“Winning the essay prize means more than I can express in words,” Rushing said. “It shows that I am capable of producing work providing significant contributions to the field of philosophy.”

Rushing’s essay will appear in the October 2023 edition of Philosophy, RIP’s flagship journal. She will also receive a prize of just over $1,500. Each year, essay entries are judged on originality, clarity of expression, breadth of interest and potential for advancing discussion. In exceptional circumstances, RIP has awarded the essay prize jointly, as it did this year. Rushing was selected alongside co-winner Michael Cholbi, professor and chair in philosophy at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

Rushing’s studies focus on moral psychology, a field concerned with attitudes such as anger and blame, which present challenges concerning how humans live and interact with one another. Her essay is an outgrowth of reflections on the nature of anger and contemplation of questions in contemporary philosophy that focus on backward-looking emotions — responses to something that has already happened that can include shame, guilt, remorse and anger. The work explores the conditions that allow for the appropriate diminishment of anger, considering that the past cannot be undone.

In her essay, she gave a first-person account of the anger she felt toward her neighbors, who constantly blared music. She then analyzed what would diminish the anger she still felt when looking back on the situation and, in doing so, discovered a solution: compassion.

“I argue, in a nutshell, that anger reflects the vulnerability and powerlessness we feel when we are wronged,” Rushing said. “So, our anger can diminish fittingly through compassion — compassion that results from when one understands the immoral behavior that has triggered their anger is likely a sign the wrongdoer also feels vulnerable and powerless. I posit that we are all capable of this kind of compassion in some instances when we become angry because we all have committed wrongful acts due to our own feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability.”

Rushing attributes her success in the competition to the novelty of the essay’s subject matter in philosophical literature. A competition judge called her account a “positive outlook on our moral-psychological condition.”

Professor and Department of Philosophy chair Randolph Clarke, who served as Rushing’s master’s thesis adviser and is currently her doctoral studies major professor, said the seriousness with which she approaches her work and the genuinely new and interesting contributions she brings to philosophical debates make her a standout among students in the field.

“The award is truly a remarkable accomplishment,” Clarke said. “The competition is open to all, including senior faculty from around the world. The joint winner is a professor with over 100 publications to his name, whereas Renee is a year past receiving her master’s degree.”

After graduation, Rushing aspires to a career in academic philosophy, to work as a researcher and professor, and to continue her pursuit of developing herself as what she calls a “lifetime learner.”