The Aristotle: A high school philosophy essay contest

The winner, finalists, and honourable mentions of the 2019 Aristotle Contest, the Department of Philosophy’s high school essay competition, have been selected. Read their essays below, and scroll down to find out more about the contest. Essay prompts for next year can be expected by March 2020.

First Place

Elizabeth Zhu, “Reality Is a Shared Hallucination” (University of Toronto Schools, Toronto)

Second Place

Ayush Ranjan, “On the Subjectivity of Reality and the Benefits of a Simulated World” (The Woodlands School, Mississauga)

Third Place

Ritvik Singh, “A Treatise on Creative Artificial Intelligence” (Academy for Gifted Children–P.A.C.E., Richmond Hill)

Honourable Mentions

Sameer Bapat, “The Creative Capacity of Artificially Intelligent Machines” (A. Y. Jackson Secondary School, North York)

Kacper Mykietyn, “Distribution of Genetic Resources and Its Consequences” (St. Martin Secondary School, Mississauga)

Keyer Thyme, “In Defence of the Simulation” (Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute, North York)


Congratulations to all the winners and a huge thank-you to the almost 100 high school students who participated in this year’s competition, as well as to their educators and supporters.

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.


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 2019 contest are:

  1. In November 2018 the world was stunned when a scientist in China claimed that he had used CRISPR to alter the DNA of human embryos. Some envision a future in which tools like CRISPR are routinely employed to edit our genes so as to improve—perhaps even perfect—our bodies and minds. Would engaging in this sort of radical genetic modification be morally permissible? Why or why not? Defend your answer.
  2. Some philosophers claim that it doesn’t matter whether we are living in the real world or in a Matrix-type simulation of the real world. “Either way, it would feel just the same,” they say, “so who cares?” But other philosophers insist that it would matter and that life in the real world would be preferable to life in a simulation. Who is right? Defend your answer. Be sure to consider questions like these: Does it make a difference whether you would be the only person subject to the simulation (so that your “friends” and “family” would be merely virtual)? Would the intentions, benign or malign, of the simulation’s creators make a difference? And what does the “real” in “real world” mean, anyway.
  3. Self-driving cars, movie recommendations, Siri, and Alexa—AI has made great strides in recent years. But as impressive as these technologies may be, many argue that no AI will ever be truly creative. Others disagree, pointing to things like NaNoGenMo (a yearly contest in which programmers are challenged to write code that will generate a novel) as evidence of a coming age of AI-produced poems and symphonies. What is creativity and could an AI ever have it? 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 early September 2019.


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 24, 2019 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


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 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.