The Aristotle: A high school philosophy essay contest

What Is the Aristotle 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.

Eligibility

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.

Instructions

Three questions are posted for this year’s contest; contestants must choose only one. The questions for the 2022 contest are:

  1. Suppose there were a magic elixir you could drink that would make you immortal. Would you drink it? In general, would it be a good or bad thing if you could live forever? Defend your answer.
  2. To varying degrees, all laws and regulations inhibit some aspect of our personal liberty. In democratic countries, citizens agree to obey the laws and regulations enacted by their elected governments. But the imposition of vaccine mandates has been met with acts of civil disobedience, and some citizens have rallied against what they perceive to be unjust infringements of their liberty. To what extent is it just for governments to curtail citizens’ liberty in the name of health and public safety? Defend your answer.
  3. Suppose you are the sole witness in a murder case. The evidence against the accused is only circumstantial, but it is compelling. You know the accused is innocent, but your testimony will support the evidence and surely convict them. Under oath, you are asked a yes-or-no question. Do you lie or tell the truth? Defend your decision.

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 (not PDF) in 12-point font, double-spaced and, if using quotations or ideas from the readings or other sources, with complete referencing. Essays proper should be prepared for blind review, that is, they should not bear the author’s name or any other mark identifying them.

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).

Additionally, this year for the first time we will hold a brief Zoom-based Aristotle Contest Essay Clinic in the spring, at a date to be determined, at which we’ll talk about the contest, the topic questions, and good philosophical writing in general. Stay tuned for more details!

Assessment

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

Please stay tuned for our new evaluation scheme. It will be uploaded here soon.

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 late October 2022.

Submission

To be eligible, each submission must be emailed as an attached Word document (not PDF) 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. Essays that have been submitted to other venues will also not receive consideration.

Submission emails must be dated Monday, June 20, 2022 or earlier. Late entries will not be accepted. All submissions must be emailed as attachments with the subject line “Aristotle Contest entry” to:

Petra Dreiser, Communications Officer, Department of Philosophy
(petra.dreiser@utoronto.ca)

Prizes

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

Up to ten submissions will receive an honourable mention.

Previous winners

Take a look at the winning entries from last year. Prizes were awarded to:

The following two essays received honourable mentions:

In 2020, prizes were awarded to:

The following three essays received honourable mentions:

In 2019, prizes were awarded to:

The following three essays from 2019 received honourable mentions:

Read more about the successful 2019 contestants.

In 2018, prizes were awarded to:

The following four essays from 2018 received honourable mentions:

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 second 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

Printable poster

View, share, download, and print the contest poster.