Announcement: We have our winners for the 2014/15 essay contest. Congratulations and thanks to all who participated!

First place
Syra Mehdi
Noble and Greenough School, Dedham, MA
“Aristotle’s Theory of Friendship Tested”

Second place
Julia Walton
Academy of Notre Dame du Namur
Villanova, PA
“In the Place Beyond Utility and Pleasure”

Third Place
Brendan Bernicker
Radnor High School
Radnor, PA
“So Tyler, Did Jamie Cheat?”



The PLATO High School Essay Contest awards will be given to the best philosophical essays written by high school students, in response to the year’s contest essay question.

First place – $250
Second place – $150
Third place – $100

All winning essays will be published in PLATO’s journal Questions: Philosophy for Young People.

Contest Details:
Eligibility:  All high school students in the U.S. are eligible to enter.

Submission Process:
Entries – including a one-paragraph bio and a cover sheet with your name, contact information (phone and email), grade and school (none of this information should appear on the essay itself) – should be emailed to: info@plato-philosophy.org

Essay length:
2,000 words maximum

The papers will be read and judged by a panel of high school philosophy teachers and philosophy professors.

Deadline: January 31, 2015


Essay Question:

Is friendship a more important value than honesty?  To respond to the question, consider this scenario: two high school students, Jamie and Tyler, who have been close friends since elementary school, have been brought before the school disciplinary committee because Jamie cheated on a term paper and Tyler had known about it.  Jamie lies to the committee, stating emphatically that he did not cheat on the term paper.  Should Tyler lie also or tell the committee the truth?

Directions: Write an essay that provides a reasoned, well-supported argument in response to this ethical dilemma.

Your paper should advance arguments to help support your own conclusion about the dilemma. The best essays will not simply summarize arguments put forth by others or make assertions, but will make claims using evidence and advance your own reasoning.

You may want to reference outside sources – this is optional, not mandatory. Here, for example, is an excerpt about friendship from Book viii of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics:

The kinds of friendship may perhaps be cleared up if we first come to know the object of love. For not everything seems to be loved but only the lovable, and this is good, pleasant, or useful; but it would seem to be that by which some good or pleasure is produced that is useful, so that it is the good and the useful that are lovable as ends. Do men love, then, the good, or what is good for them? These sometimes clash. So too with regard to the pleasant. Now it is thought that each loves what is good for himself, and that the good is without qualification lovable, and what is good for each man is lovable for him; but each man loves not what is good for him but what seems good. This however will make no difference; we shall just have to say that this is ‘that which seems lovable’. Now there are three grounds on which people love; of the love of lifeless objects we do not use the word ‘friendship’; for it is not mutual love, nor is there a wishing of good to the other (for it would surely be ridiculous to wish wine well; if one wishes anything for it, it is that it may keep, so that one may have it oneself); but to a friend we say we ought to wish what is good for his sake. But to those who thus wish good we ascribe only goodwill, if the wish is not reciprocated; goodwill when it is reciprocal being friendship. Or must we add ‘when it is recognized’? For many people have goodwill to those whom they have not seen but judge to be good or useful; and one of these might return this feeling. These people seem to bear goodwill to each other; but how could one call them friends when they do not know their mutual feelings? To be friends, then, they must be mutually recognized as bearing goodwill and wishing well to each other for one of the aforesaid reasons.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book viii, 2

Here are two other friendly edited collections of philosophers on friendship that may prove helpful:

  • Pakaluk, Michael (ed.). Other Selves:Philosophers on Friendship. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company Inc., 1991.
  • Badhwar, Neera Kapur (ed.). Friendship: A Philosophical Reader. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1993.

If you use outside references, list them at the end of the essay using the citation style above (MLA style). For notes within the essay, use author’s name and page, e.g. (Kant, p. 222).

Please do not use Wikipedia or other dictionary definitions of friendship in your essay. The most reputable online philosophy resource is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, particularly, in this case, an article by Bennett Helm: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/friendship/

To download this information as a PDF please follow this link: 2014/15 PLATO Essay Contest

For more information or questions about the PLATO High School Essay Contest, please email: info@plato-philosophy.org

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Erin Deluccia

Two high School students, Jamie and Tyler, have been brought before the school disciplinary board. These two good friends have been brought before the board due to Jamie cheating on a test, and Tyler knowing about it. Jamie lied to the school board about what he did, will Tyler lie also, or tell the truth? Many of us have been in similar situations throughout our lives, and have been forced to choose between friendship and honesty. Although friendship is vital to our lives and our happiness, honesty is more important. Tyler ought to tell the school board the truth, despite the fact that he is good friends with Jamie.
Honesty can be defined as “the virtue to fake the facts of reality”. It is telling the truth, refusing to lie, and accepting reality. In our society honesty is accepted as a virtue and people value it very highly. The issue though, is finding exactly how highly we weigh honesty. And how does the value of honesty compare to the value of friendship. A highly accepted definition of friendship is, a deeply personal relationship, grounded by the participants care for each other and their welfare. This care is primarily because a friend has such a big impact on a person’s life, and has the ability to shape and influence their future. Although both honesty and friendship can impact a person’s life on a very large scale, honesty has a larger impact, and therefore a larger value.
Being honest, or dishonest can affect a person’s life in several ways. Throughout their lives people are confronted with situations where they must choose whether to lie or tell the truth. In most cases people will choose to tell the truth. This is because it is to their benefit. Lying during an interview or on a resume can make it extremely hard for you to get a job, especially if it is discovered that you are lying. An employer looks not only for someone who can do the job, but someone who has a level of integrity that fits their standards. If you are known to lye, it will taint you for the entirety of your life. Not only is honesty more important than friendship because it has a larger impact on your life, but it is also one of key things you look for when choosing your friends.
What characteristics do we look for in friends? Most of the time people look for someone who cares about them in the way they care about that person. They want someone they can trust, and share more intimate topics with. Friendships often have a kind of intimacy that other relationships, such as one with your coworker or an acquaintance does not have, you may like that particular person, however you are not friends. Finally people find friends who they can do things with. A friendship cannot exist if the participants cannot have a shared activity. However it is common that one person may dump a friend, in favor of a new person who possesses more admirable, or appealing qualities, that may come along at any moment.
The main quality that people tend to trade friendship for is honesty. If one person in a relationship lies to another, the other person tends to lose trust, they begin to doubt whether they were ever trustworthy in the first place. And, when new meat comes along it will seem much more appealing than the doubt, loss, and bad memories that they share with their previous friend. Friendship and honesty seem to go hand in hand. Without honesty there is no friendship, because a friendship is almost completely built upon that trust of one another.
Let us again consider the difficult situation in which both Tyler and Jamie are caught up in. There are many moral issues based upon lying. People dispute whether or not it is ok to lie. They wonder, if lying truly is immoral how immoral, does a little white lie hold the same consequences of a lie that is made on a much larger scale? Well one thing is unanimous: lying is not ethical, and society accepts that people should refrain from lying on a regular basis. Even many religions, consider lying to be a sin, one that could ruin your chances of having a peaceful afterlife. Schools and teachers often preach to young students, honesty is the best policy, truth is worth more than gold.
“Trouble pursues the sinner, but the righteous are rewarded with good things.” (The Bible, proverb 13:20) If Tyler choses to tell the truth he will be rewarded with a bright future, however if Tyler lies to the school board it will inevitably mean trouble for him. A single lie can soon spiral out of control and if discovered it will make it harder for Tyler to excel in his life, because he will be tainted by what he has done. Not only that, but if Tyler lies now, he is more likely to lie in the future. Also based upon what his friend does, Tyler will be more likely to cheat as well, and “Cheating does not end at graduation.” It is a habit that you are likely to carry throughout the rest of your life.
When Tyler considers what to tell the school disciplinary board he will be weighing out the value of his friend. How much Jamie means to him and how good of a friend Jamie is. One of the most important characteristics of a friendship as stated above, is trusting one another, being loyal and honest to each other. However Tyler knows that Jamie is not an honest person. Not only has Jamie cheated on a test but he also proceeded to lie to the school board about it. How can Tyler trust Jamie not to lie to him, if he knows Jamie is willing to lie to all these other people? As stated in the definition, friendships have a large role in shaping people’s futures. If Tyler continues to associate with Jamie, it could lead him down the wrong path. Peer pressure and negative influences can affect Tyler even if he doesn’t realize it. Tyler also has to think about who he wishes to be associated with. Tyler must decide if he wants a friend who lies and cheats, who does not value honesty in the way he does.
Then again it may not all turn out bad. If Tyler decides to tell the committee the truth, which would be the admirable thing to do, it might benefit both him and Jamie. Although Jamie may be hurt at first it might impress in him the value of honesty. He might realize that what he has done is wrong and want to change. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” It is better to be told the truth by a friend, someone who you know cares about you and is only thinking about what is best for you. Eventually Jamie would forgive Tyler and they will both realize the whole experience was for the better. It might even strengthen their friendship.
Honesty is the basis of life. Without it, we cannot live. It surround everything we do, from school, to work, to our friendships. Without it friendships could not even exist. And although friendship and honesty both have very large impacts upon our lives, honesty is more important than friendship. If ever, we are confronted with a situation in which we must choose between the two, like Jamie and Tyler were, we must always be the bigger person. Even though being honest and telling the truth may hurt us, or our friends we must also look towards the greater good, and know that with honesty everything will turn for the better.