The Aristotle: a high school philosophy essay contest

In collaboration with the Ontario Philosophy Teachers’ Association, the department administers the annual Aristotle Contest, awarding cash prizes for the finest philosophical work by current Canadian high school students. The contest provides high school students interested in philosophy with an opportunity to have their work evaluated and recognized by the largest post-secondary Department of Philosophy in North America.


Anyone enrolled in a Canadian high school at or below the grade 12 level (or equivalent) may participate in the Aristotle Contest. Home schooled students working at or below the grade 12 level may also participate.

Submissions in both English and French are welcome.


Three questions are posted for this year’s contest; contestants must choose only one. The questions for the 2018 contest are:

  1. Researchers in artificial intelligence are building smarter and smarter machines. Is it possible for
    a machine to have genuinely human-like intelligence? If not, why not ? If so, what ways of creating such a machine would be morally permissible? Would it have moral rights? Defend your answer.
  2. De gustibus non est disputandum—there is no disputing about taste, as the old saying has it. Well, is it true? Are there objective truths about beauty and other aesthetic matters? Or are all such judgments merely subjective? Defend your answer.
  3. Heredity and environment—our genes and the way we were brought up—play a big role in determining what kind of people we’ll be. Indeed, there are those who think that everything about us, including what actions we perform, is completely decided by heredity and environment. Are they right? And if they are, is there room for free will? Defend your answer.

Contestants will write an essay of 1200-1500 words that develops and defends a position taken in response to the chosen question. Essays must be submitted electronically as a Word document in 12-point font, double-spaced and, if using quotations or ideas from the readings or other sources, with complete referencing.

Contestants are not required, encouraged, or expected to do any reading or research beyond reading the chosen question. If contestants choose to use ideas from other sources they will not be penalized for doing so, provided the sources are properly identified. The top ten entries will undergo a plagiarism check.

For a variety of resources on writing in philosophy, visit our Advice on Writing in Philosophy page. For a detailed guide on how to compile, organize, and express your thoughts for the essay in this contest, see the Aristotle Contest Guide to Writing a Philosophy Essay (PDF).


Essays will be judged according to several criteria, including: the quality, depth, and originality of thought, organization of ideas, and clarity of expression.

View the Aristotle Contest Evaluation Scheme (PDF).

Author names and school affiliations of contestants are redacted so that they remain anonymous to evaluators. In the first round of evaluation, each paper is marked twice: once by a high school teacher and once by a university-affiliated evaluator (a faculty member in U of T’s Department of Philosophy).

A list of ten finalists is then drawn from papers that were ranked highest by both sets of judges. Evaluators then come to a consensus on the contest winners and recipients of certificates of distinction.

Contest winners will be announced in August 2018.


To be eligible, each submission must be emailed as an attached Word document along with a completed contest form (PDF). You can either fill in the PDF electronically using an online PDF-filling tool like PDFescape (electronic signatures are acceptable), or you can print the form, fill it out on paper, and scan and attach it to your entry. Entries must be emailed; printed entries sent by regular mail will not be accepted.

Submission emails must be dated May 25, 2018 or earlier. Late entries will not be accepted. All submissions must be emailed as attachments with the subject line “Aristotle Contest entry” to:

Jovana Jankovic, Communications Officer, Department of Philosophy


First place: $500
Second place: $400
Third place: $300

Up to ten submissions will receive a certificate of distinction.

Previous winners

The Aristotle Contest was last run in 2010. Prizes were awarded to:

Frequently asked questions

How much of my essay can include quotes from other sources?

Any quotations will be considered part of the word count. You may use as many quotations as you wish, keeping in mind that the more you use the less space you will have for developing your own thoughts. Quotations must, of course, be properly referenced.

If my essay is slightly over the 1500 word count limit, will it still be accepted?

No, any paper over the 1500 word count limit will not be accepted. In order to be fair and avoid questions regarding leeway, this rule will be strictly followed.

May I submit my essay physically, by regular mail or in-person at the department?

No. Only electronic submissions will be accepted.

Is CEGEP equivalent to high school grade 12?

For this contest, the first year of CEGEP is equivalent to high school grade 12. Anyone enrolled in the 2nd year of CEGEP is not eligible to participate.

I home school my child, but the contest form seems designed for teachers. Is there another form that I should use?

No need to use another form. Use the contest form (PDF) and in place of the school address and phone number, put your home address and phone number.

Contest sponsors

  • The Faculty of Arts and Science at the University of Toronto, St. George campus
  • University of Toronto Schools
  • The Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto, St. George campus
  • Ontario Philosophy Teachers’ Association