English Essays, Philosophy Essays or a Mixture of Both?

Well, after completing all those English essays, I went on to complete a Post Graduate Diploma in Philosophy, also at UCC, last year. This was also a great experience. I read some fantastic texts and studied the ideas and thoughts of some of the great philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Isaiah Berlin, Jeremy Bentham, Plato, Aristotle and Descartes. Initially, I had to re-think my essay style and writing; philosophy essays are very different from other essays. So after many years writing in one style, I had to change the way I was writing. It was challenging to start, I was busy attempting to follow instructions and learn from reading other philosophy essays. But I got there! And do you know what? I really enjoyed writing them; it was an opportunity to really give my own strong opinion about an issue and therefore make a strong argument about it. Coming from a social care background, and working with people in difficult circumstances it was good to discuss a few things that I have come across, and are important to me. Human rights were a big one. I wrote an essay discussing the issue of human rights regarding mental health. Another discussed liberty and the lockdowns we faced during Covid. This aimed at the political side, governments and law. I found Hobbes’s ideas of natural law fascinating. He believed that one could do whatever to survive and defend oneself, even kill, in a state of nature. He suggests that we imaging a state of nature, a hypothetical situation without any political authority. He states “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Hobbes 91-92). So man must do what is necessary to survive. He states in Leviathan “hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is war; and such a war is of every man against every man” (Hobbes 91-92). So with no authority, law or government anything goes for your own survival. Pretty bleak. Locke comes in here with his notion of law. He declares that an authority is required to maintain social order, law and state-building.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Pp. 91-92/261-2; slightly modernized. Penguin Classics. 1651.

So after all of this, here I am completing (or trying to!) my Masters Degree in English at UCC. First module, Theories of Modernity, was great. I read some great texts, and we looked at the theories behind the literature. Two I found interesting were Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and Andrew Ure’s1835 article The Philosophy of Manufacturers. Ure argues that technology, manufacturing and the factory system that developed in England were good for workers. “The principle of the factory system then, is to substitute mechanical science for hand skill, and the partition of a process into its essential constituents, for the division or graduation of labour among artisans. On the handicraft plan, labour more or less skilled was usually the most expensive element of production…. but on the automatic plan, skilled labour gets progressively superseded, and will, eventually, be replaced by mere over lookers of machines” as stated by Ure. So human man power becomes less, and the machines take over. That is, of course, exactly what happened. Technology and machines have taken over so much of life that once was done by human hand.

Roberts looms in operation at a cotton mill. The long caption to this hand-colored print is unusually informative.

Darwin discusses how any certain species can change over time; a new species can actually come from one that already exists. All of the species will share a common ancestor; however, different traits will be passed on from parent to offspring. Every type of species will have its own unique genetic differences, which will take a long time to develop. Darwin called this natural selection. The good qualities passed down enable offspring to adapt to new environments and thrive. He makes a significant link between variety and how a particular species survives and thrives. However, he further goes on to explain that any one species cannot become over populated due to the availability of resources such as water, shelter, food and many other required resources. Geography and not having enough room also play a part. So an infinite number cannot survive. This, in turn, creates species fighting with not only each other, but the environment in which they live. Here we have natural selection. Darwin maintains that any species with better, or more advantageous, traits will be better equipped to survive and adapt to their environment than those with less such attributes. So it will go on over time. Those less well adapted may well become extinct.


If we relate both of these readings to humans it becomes even more interesting. Humans who are better equipped with inherited traits will no doubt do better in life. If we add in availability of resources, education, health and living conditions a bigger picture about human life evolves. Those who are well educated, healthy, with good living conditions and a good income (job) will thrive. The weaker, uneducated and those living in poorer conditions will not do so well. The worker who has enough skill to work in Ure’s idea of the factory system will get a job, and therefore, a better standard of life. Those who cannot work technology or machines will be left behind. Also Ure suggests that children and women can be employed to save a lot of money as they are a lot cheaper! Not really such a great system. The younger male with good skill to work the machines will fare better.

So I wrote an essay based on these two readings, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and Andrew Ure’s The Philosophy of Manufacturers. I attempted to demonstrate the negative side of technology on humans, as it may relate to Darwin and his idea of survival of the fittest. Humans also compete for resources to survive; the better equipped usually does better than those more marginalised and disadvantaged. Oh my goodness! I am now trying to go back to writing English essays after a year of writing Philosophy essays! I have attempted to bring in some of the philosophy style to make my points, but does not seem to be working that well so far. I thought it may help to make a strong argument about the negative side of technology. But I am not happy with it, and now it is too late to worry about it! However, I think I will just return, if I can, to English essay writing style! It got complicated. Or maybe it was the flu I was struggling with while writing it – I could tell myself that. I will see in the next essay.

See link for Darwin and the theory of Evolution-



Secondary reading for this essay was very interesting to research. One book I found beneficial was Julian Hanna’s Key Concepts in Modernist Literature (Palgrave 2009). Issues such as urbanization, industrialization, technology , education , women’s struggles and class are dealt with. A good reading to back up points in my essay.

Currently, I have been studying the module Romanticism and Modernity. I loved Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. I hope an essay question will come up regarding the issue of slavery contained in the book; this is an issue that I am particularly interested in, especially regarding human rights.

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