The Aristotle: A high school philosophy essay contest

The winner, finalists, and honourable mentions of the 2020 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 2021.

First Place

Darwin Pitts, “In Defence of Legitimate Democratic Authority” (Lisgar Collegiate Institute, Ottawa)

Second Place

Justin Liu, “A Defense of Privacy in the Digital Age” (St. George’s School, Vancouver)

Third Place

Andrei Li, “On the ‘Good Life’ and Perpetuation of the ‘Self’” (Monarch Park Collegiate Institute, Toronto)

Honourable Mentions

Ariel Wang, “On the Fantasy of a Good Life” (Port Moody Secondary School, Port Moody, British Columbia)

Ryangwon Kim, “A Case against Anarchy” (Brentwood College School, Mill Bay, British Columbia)

Zeeniya Waseem, “Inner Contentment and Fulfillment within a Good Life” (Turner Fenton Secondary School, Brampton, Ontario)



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 2020 contest are:

  1. According to conventional opinion, we have a duty to obey the laws passed by the Government of Canada, and the government has the right to punish us for failing to obey. The idea is that the Canadian state is a legitimate source of political authority. What is the nature of this authority and do any states really have it? Could the anarchist—the person who holds that no government is justified—be right? Defend your answers.
  2. Some say the good life consists in happiness and enjoying pleasurable experiences. Others say it consists in contemplation (philosophical, religious, or scientific). Yet others say it consists in selfless devotion to helping those in need. Well, what is the good life for a human person? And is there just one kind of good life or might there be a plurality of different kinds of good lives? Defend your answers.
  3. Many pundits argue that recent advances in digital technology constitute a grave threat to our privacy. Governments, corporations, and enterprising hackers now have the capacity to track our phone conversations, internet searches, and electronic payments, and they can use this information to manipulate us in ways both subtle and not so subtle. What, exactly, is this “privacy” that is allegedly at risk? How important should protecting it be to us? And what steps would governments and private citizens be justified in taking to protect it? 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 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; 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 in early October 2020.


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 Monday, June 15, 2020 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:

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.