High School Essay Contest

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. The 2017-2018 Essay Contest is closed. Please check back in September 2018 for next year’s contest question and directions.


2017-2018 Essay Contest Winners Announced!



First place
Ben Zimmerman
Newark Academy
New Jersey
An Argument in Favor of Operative Truths
Second place
Michael Wang
Syosset High School
New York
A Defense of the Correspondence Theory of Truth
Third Place
Tianyi Miao
Indian Springs School
“A Contextual Theory of Truth”


Third Place

Dylan Park
Ridgewood High School
New Jersey
“The Value of Fake Truth”

The 2017-2018 PLATO High School Essay Contest Question is:
What is truth? What makes a claim –  that is, something we think, believe, hear, say or read –  true or false?

2017-2018 Contest Rules:


All high school students in the U.S. are eligible to enter.


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


January 31, 2018



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


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


Submission Process:

Please click here to fill out the registration form and submit your essay as either a .doc or .docx file

Provide school website if possible. Please enter full URL (e.g. http://www.your-highschool.com)
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2017-2018 High School Essay Contest Directions (CONTEST CLOSED!)

Click here to download the directions: PLATO Essay Contest 2017-2018 Announcement

Theme: Epistemology (Theory of Knowledge)


Question: What is truth? What makes a claim – that is, something we think, believe, hear, say or read – true or false?


Format Requirements
The first page of the entry should be a cover page that includes a one-paragraph bio, your name, contact information (phone and email), grade and school. The essay should begin on page 2 (please make sure your name is not listed on the pages containing the essay). Your essay should be saved as a word document (.doc or .docx file format)



Essay length
2,000 words maximum







Write an essay that provides a reasoned, sincere and well-supported argument in response to the essay question, drawing on the case. You may choose to write about truth in general or truth in a specific subject—like mathematics, science, politics or journalism. If you do decide to write about truth in a specific subject, be sure to identify the subject in the opening paragraph of your essay.

Your essay should advance reasons to help support your own conclusions about the question. The best essays will not simply summarize arguments put forth by others or make assertions, but will ask questions and make claims based on evidence and considered reflection. Strive to be consistent in your reasoning by testing your position against challenges presented by arguments that oppose your own point of view.


For example, if thinking about a particular subject, you might ask:

  • What makes a scientific theory or discovery true?
  • What makes an interpretation of a text true?
  • If one newspaper article says THAT a candidate for office said x, and another NEWSPAPER ARTICLE says that THE SAME candidate never said x, how can we know which is true?


We do not require you to cite other sources, though you may. The texts listed below can be a source of information, but they can also be used to spur inquiry. If you decide to quote from the text, be sure to interpret the passage in your own words. Explain what you understand the philosopher to be saying and why what he or she is saying is important for your argument. For example, the philosopher’s position might support, complicate or challenge your own response to the question.


Here are some online philosophy resources about truth that may prove helpful:


If you use outside references, list them at the end of the essay using MLA style. For notes within the essay, use author’s name and page, e.g. (Kant, p. 222). Please do not use Wikipedia or dictionary definitions in your essay.


Give your essay a title, number your pages, and proofread it carefully.


2017-2018 Case: The Riverboat Trip


The following day, everyone was aboard a riverboat as it chugged slowly up the river. A Crowd of youngsters stood leaning over the side, watching the giant paddlewheel churn the brown muddy water green and white.


Mark was able to cup his hand over the rail and catch a few drops of spray. “Hey, Stottlemeier,” he called out, “you want me to prove to you that the sentence ‘water is wet’ is true? Well, how ’bout this for proof?” And before Harry could answer, he had received a splatter of water in his face. Harry laughed good-naturedly and returned the favor a moment later. But Mark was careful to remind Harry just the same—”Y’see, sentences are true when they correspond to facts. What I said was true ’cause water’s really wet.”


Later they joined Tony on some deck chairs near the bow of the boat. After a while, Tony mentioned having had a dream the night before that he was in China. “Boy, was it ever real!” he exclaimed. “I really believed I was there. I could see the Great Wall, and imperial palaces, the pagodas, and everything!”


“So,” Harry replied, “if it seemed that real to you, how come you now think your you’re awake, and that China was just a dream, Maybe this riverboat’s a dream and China was for real!”


Tony knew Harry was teasing him, but he was ready for it. “Its easy,” he answered.


“What happened during my dream seemed as real as anything else, as it was happening. But when I woke up, I realized I couldn’t have spent the night in China, and not remember travelling there, or travelling back, or anything. So what happened in the dream wasn’t consistent with everything else in my life. It wasn’t consistent, so it wasn’t true—it’s as simple as that!”


Harry shrugged, and Mark was silent.


After the boat had docked at the landing, everyone rushed to explore the mansion, and still later, they began to explore the grounds. The three boys met Millie, Lisa and Laura as they crossed the great, slowing lawn, and together they began to explore the paths that led into the wooded area. Most had signs, but soon they began to follow one that was unmarked. They pushed further and further on into the woods. The path grew fainter and eventually they lost it. Then they realized that they themselves were lost.


For a time they wandered about, until at last they came to a small stream. Mark and Laura were for crossing the stream and going into the forest on the other side, in the hope that they would soon come to a road. But Harry pointed out that the forest might well stretch before them for a great many miles.


“Well,” said Laura, “anyone have any ideas?”


“All we need is a compass,” Millie answered. “Anyone got a compass?”


“You’ve got to be kidding,” growled Tony.


Mark said, “I wish we had a map. We could find this stream on it, and then we’d know where we are, and how to get out of here.”


“But we don’t have a map,” Harry replied.


“My grandfather used to live up in this area,” said Tony. “He knew it like the back of his hand. He didn’t need a map. He had a clear idea of the whole layout. If we knew this forest as clearly as he knew it, we could walk out of here with no sweat.”


“That’s just great, Tony!” Lisa responded quickly. “If we had a clear idea of the forest, we wouldn’t be lost!” Then she added, “But wait a minute—why don’t we take a chance that this stream flows down to the river that we came up here on? Once we get to the river, we’ll know where we are.”


“Good idea,” said Harry, and the others agreed that they’d nothing to lose by trying it.


For quite some time the six of them walked along the bank of the stream. Just as they were about to give up on Lisa’s plan, the river came into view, and they could see the mansion not far off upstream.


Lisa couldn’t help bragging just a bit. “See, when you get right down to it, what’s true is what’s okay when you act on it. I had a hunch; we acted on it; it turned out to be true. That’s all there is to it.


“Hold on,” said Harry, “hold on! Look, what was the sentence we were trying to decide was either true or false?”


It was, ‘If we follow the stream, we’ll come back to the mansion, “said Tony.


“Okay,” said Mark excitedly, “so what makes it true was that it was consistent with the whole layout around here—with all that anyone knows about this place. If it hadn’t been, we’d still be out there stumbling around in the forest.


Lisa laughed. “The trouble with you guys is that don’t want to admit when you’re wrong! Look, given the sentence, ‘If we follow the stream, we’ll come back to the mansion,’ there’s only one way to tell for sure if that sentence is true or not.”


“Follow the stream,” said Laura.


“Not quite,” Lisa answered. “We had to make a guess where the stream led to. Look, we knew for a fact that the mansion was on the river. And we knew for a fact that we were on the stream. Now the best guess we could make was that the stream led to the river. So we just went with our best guess. We tried it out, and sure enough, we found our way back to the mansion! Don’t you see? Our idea was true because it worked!”


But Tony and Mark exclaimed together, “No, it worked because it was true!”


Excerpted from Matthew Lipman, Lisa (Montclair, New Jersey: Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children (IAPC), 1983): 110-114. This novel and its accompanying manual, Ethical Inquiry (1985), is part of the pre-college philosophy curriculum developed by Matthew Lipman and Ann Margaret Sharp at the IAPC



Questions about PLATO High School Essay Contest? Please email us at: info@plato-philosophy.org

Past PLATO High School Essay Contest Winners



First place
Keith Murray
Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics & Humanities
Muncie, Indiana
“Art is more than Beauty, it’s a Whetstone”
Second place
Zack Walter
Williamsville High School
Williamsville, Illinois
“Defining a Masterpiece”
Third Place
Tadhg Larabee
Richard Montgomery High School
Rockville, Maryland
“The Anatomy of Artistic Experience”

Read the winning essays


First place
Jack Jordanides
Boston College High School
Boston, MA
“Hidden Animals and Ethical Considerations”
Second place
Grace Passannante
Convent of the Sacred Heart
Greenwich, CT
“Suffering Unites All”
Third Place
Will Youman
Conestoga High School
Berwyn, PA
“Animals: Subordinates or Equals?”

Read the winning essays


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?”

Read the winning essays



First place
Jared Corbett
Oak Park and River Forest High School
Oak Park, IL
“Probablistic Chains”
Second place
Sydney To
Valley Christian High School
San Jose, CA
“Freedom in Degrees”
Third Place
James Drueckhammer
The Stony Brook School
Stony Brook, NY
“Libertarian Free Will Through Agent Causation”

Read the winning essays