The Aristotle: A high school philosophy essay contest

The winner, finalists, and honourable mentions of the 2021 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.

Thank you to all contributing authors, their teachers, mentors, and coaches, as well as the judges. And a huge congratulations to the most successful essayists, who emerged at the top of a highly competitive field of participants.

Missed this year’s contest? Essay prompts for next year can be expected by March 2022.

First Place

Alyssa Li, “Beyond Borders: A Global Vaccine Solution” (University of Toronto Schools, Toronto)

Second Place

Maisy Elspeth, “Veganism as Moral Imperative” (Leaside High School, East York)

Third Place

Wilson Li, “Rationality of an Open Mind” (William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute, North York)

Honourable Mentions

Sarah Youssef, “A Case against Cruelty” (Port Moody Secondary School, Port Moody, British Columbia)

Jessica Oh, “Money Should Not Factor in Vaccine Distribution” (St. Elizabeth Catholic High School, Thornhill)



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 2021 contest are:

  1. With the development of a number of effective vaccines, many experts now see light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. But the People’s Vaccine Alliance—a group including Amnesty International, Oxfam, and Global Justice Now—recently accused wealthy countries of hoarding vaccines, creating a situation in which “nearly 70 lower-income countries will only be able to vaccinate one in 10 people” (BBC, December 9, 2020, “Rich Countries Hoarding Covid Vaccines, says People’s Vaccine Alliance”). What is the just way to distribute COVID-19 vaccines around the world? Do wealthier countries, for example, have a duty to ensure that the most at risk in poorer countries are vaccinated before the members of less vulnerable groups in their own populations? Defend your answer. 
  2. Sara and Steve are equally intelligent, equally informed about the news of the day, and equally careful about considering the evidence before making up their minds on what to believe. But Sara is a conservative and supports conservative causes, while Steve is a liberal and supports liberal causes. Suppose one day Sara and Steve discover the fact that they disagree about politics. Is it rational for them to maintain their political beliefs, even though each knows that they are as intelligent, informed, and careful about evidence as the other? Or does rationality require each to adjust their political beliefs, either by reducing the confidence with which they hold their views or perhaps by abandoning their beliefs altogether? Which stance is the right one? Careful! The issue is not about tolerance or getting along with people who disagree with you. It is about whether it can be rational to believe something when you know that others equally well placed to think about the matter believe differently than you do. Is it rational to “stand your ground” or must you revise your views? Defend your answer.
  3. Every year humans kill hundreds of millions of nonhuman animals for food or for scientific research. Some hold the extremely permissive view that there is nothing morally wrong with such killings. Others hold the extremely restrictive view that all such killings are morally wrong. In the middle are those who hold the view that some killings of animals are morally permissible while others are not—it depends on the details of the case. Which view is right? (If you hold the in-the-middle view, under what conditions are killings of animals morally permissible?) Does it matter how cognitively sophisticated the animals are? Defend your answers.

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).


Essays will be judged according to several criteria, including the quality, depth, and originality of thought; the 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 late October 2021.


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 Wednesday, June 30, 2021 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 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.