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.


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.

Submission emails must be dated May 25, 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