Secondary school philosophy essay competition 2022

We are delighted to announce the winners of our 2022 Philosophy Essay Competition!

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The winners

Amy Doe, Highfields School

Anastasiya Sakovych, Sevenoaks School

Betsy Fricker, Matthew Arnold School

Cameron Matthews, Priestley College

Ellie Medcroft, Westcliff High School For Girls

Elliot Scoffings, Hills Road Sixth Form College

Grace Rosewarne, Wolverhampton Girls' High School

Lloyd Doré-Green, Winchester College

Nancy Dinan, Aquinas College

Stang Amtanon, Badminton School

The winners received a prize of a £25 voucher and an invitation to take part in a special virtual workshop organised by the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield, involving academics and current students from the department on Monday 9 May 2022.

Many thanks to our winners for permission to publish extracts from their essays:

Winning essay extracts

Amy Doe, Highfields School

Is Utilitarianism the correct approach to ethics?

"[Consider] two girls, one called Libby and one called Maisie. They both visit their grandmas once a week and both buy groceries, tidy up a little, help their grandmas with their post and read to her. Their grandmas love their visits; however, Libby doesn’t particularly like them, but she visits out of a sense of duty to her family... whereas Maisie doesn’t like the visits either but goes to visit because it increases her chances of getting more money in her grandmas will. An act utilitarian would say that both acts are equally as good as the other and that they both have the same moral worth because they focus on the moral worth of the act. Yet surely the motive for carrying out the act plays a part in the moral worth of the act itself? Morally we would argue that Maisie is morally wrong in this example because she is only visiting her grandma with selfish intentions. Libby however is doing the morally right thing as it doesn’t make her happy yet it makes her grandma happy and she does it for her family so it makes it have more moral worth. Hence, Utilitarianism completely disregards each individuals’ intentions."

Anastasiya Sakovych, Sevenoaks School

Should We Believe In Free Will?

"I propose to abstain from viewing the very concept of free will as something absolute and one-dimensional. Rather, it is perhaps appropriate to presume that having free will may vary in its extent, hence finding reconciliation between libertarian and deterministic approaches. As such, even if accepting that our actions are indeed determined, we can nevertheless possess a degree of free will if in any given situation we could have acted otherwise, a conclusion which embodies a view is known as soft determinism. In this case, while Sartre’s notion of radical free will is contradicted by Strawson, his deterministic perception may be rebutted by suggesting that any factors which Strawson deems to make up a person and determine their actions may be regarded merely as influencers upon them, since it would be simply impossible to prove, beyond doubt, that any factors have determined the way one is, shaping one’s actions beyond any filter from this individual. Therefore, while it is impossible to ascribe complete and unhindered freedom to human beings, a certain extent of it remains unavoidable, giving grounds to our belief in free will."

Betsy Fricker, Matthew Arnold School

Can climate campaigners justifiably engage in acts of uncivil disobedience?

"Over 30% of all persons are very worried [about climate change]. This is a growing number, yet the UK government continues to prioritise the cost of living, for example fuel duty, over the environmental crisis. In these situations, uncivil disobedience becomes a final movement, as seen with the traffic obstructions Insulate Britain... carried out during a time where globally, policies to aid recovery from the pandemic were initiated and concentrated on. Thus, when uncivil disobedience is a last resort, it is rational to assume that the primary motive is diverting policy makers, and alerting them to matters of the majority, moreover being an argument for justifying acts of uncivil disobedience."

Elliot Scoffings, Hills Road Sixth Form College

Are you identical with your body?

"My first point is that of self without body and body without self. The first example is the corpse problem, imagine you are alive at one moment and the very next you drop dead instantly. This is the first instance of one without the other, in this case your body is still very much real and existent however there is no self tied to it thus creating a scenario where not every property is common. Despite the now corpse being referred to as “you” it is no longer, as the sense of self requires sentience which a corpse cannot provide."

Grace Rosewarne, Wolverhampton Girls' High School

Can climate campaigners justifiably engage in acts of uncivil disobedience?

"Can we ever justify violence to a political end? While harming anyone is wrong, in the case of climate protests, this is truer than for other causes. The climate crisis affects everyone. The primary aim of the protests is to protect humanity from an existential threat; the protests, or protestors, cannot then serve as an additional threat to livelihood or life. Harming anyone in the process of protesting for climate justice, therefore, cannot be justified."

Lloyd Doré-Green, Winchester College

Should we believe in Free Will?

"I [argue] in favour of the incompatibilist idea of free will by defining it as the ability to have done otherwise. I [argue] that we are the subjects of our desires and that our desires are, in turn, the subjects of various factors well beyond our control. But we can still do what we want – my arguments do not make us any less free in the compatibilist sense of the word. To put the point more clearly, I think that the best solution to this dilemma is to say that we are nonetheless able to do what we desire. This is not to cede the point to the compatibilists; we do not have freedom of the will because we still cannot will what we will. However, as long as we are free to do what we desire, I think that we can have the ability to make valuable decisions. So, should we believe in free will? No, but that doesn’t stop us from doing what we want."

Nancy Dinan, Aquinas College

Are you identical to your body?

"[My] hypothesis is that the mind and body – despite physically intertwined – operate separately in a philosophical, personal and even religious sense. To view the two as “identical” creates dangerous thought patterns that may lead to personal despair yet appreciating the ‘mind’ and ‘body’s abilities independently provide one with the most proficient, fulfilled and healthy version of ones self in all avenues a person can be fulfilled."

About the competition

The Sheffield Philosophy Essay Competition is an annual competition for students in Years 10, 11, and 12 in the UK.  This year, we received 186 entries to the competition, which is a new record.  All were of an exceptionally high quality and the competition was extremely fierce, but our judges, all experts from the Department of Philosophy, selected 10 winners.

Philosophy essay competition questions 2022:

Essays were welcomed on any of the following questions, although entrants were also welcome to write about a different philosophical topic if they chose.

1. Should we believe in free will?

Suggested resource: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/theres-no-such-thing-as-free-will/480750/ Online podcast: https://www.theguardian.com/science/audio/2016/nov/15/big-unknowns-is-free-will-an-illusion-science-weekly-podcast

2. Can climate campaigners justifiably engage in acts of uncivil disobedience?

Suggested Resource: http://justice-everywhere.org/punishment/resistance-against-climate-injustice-beyond-civil-disobedience/

3. Can idleness be a good thing? 

Suggested Resource: https://www.newstatesman.com/2020/08/why-bertrand-russells-argument-idleness-more-relevant-ever

4. Should there be greater public participation in the criminal justice system?

Suggested Resource: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8kPN2bwRUc

5. Are you identical with your body?

Online video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYVFep0xFYs Daniel Dennett ‘Where Am I?’ Available online at: https://www.lehigh.edu/~mhb0/Dennett-WhereAmI.pdf

6. Can we distinguish between different cultures? If so, how?

Online video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FaOJ71czAGQ Uma Narayan (1997), Dislocating Cultures.  Routledge. Chapter 1 ‘Contesting Cultures’

The Philosophy Essay Competition 2023

The University of Sheffield Philosophy Essay Competition will return in early 2023.  If you would like to be notified via email when the competition opens, please contact philessay@sheffield.ac.uk and let us know your email address, name, role (teacher, student, or parent).

If you have any questions, please also contact philessay@sheffield.ac.uk.

 

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