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John Locke Institute Essay Competition - 2020

The John Locke Institute 2020 Essay Competition is now open.
Deadline for submissions is Wednesday, 31 July 2019.

The John Locke Institute encourages young people to cultivate the characteristics that turn good students into great writers: independent thought, depth of knowledge, clear reasoning, critical analysis and persuasive style. Our Essay Competition invites students to explore a wide range of challenging and interesting questions beyond the confines of the school curriculum.


Entering an essay in our competition can build knowledge, and refine skills of argumentation. It also gives students the chance to have their work assessed by experts. All of our essay prizes are judged by senior academics from the University of Oxford. The judges will choose their favourite essay from each subject category and an overall 'best essay' across seven subjects: Philosophy, Politics, Economics, History, Psychology, Theology and Law. 


The very best candidates in each category will be invited to Oxford on the day of the awards ceremony for a series of precepts under the leadership of a senior member of our faculty. These invitations will be issued after the First Reading, on the same day the Short List is announced, while the judging process is still ongoing.


2019 Essay Questions

Q1. Do our intuitions provide a reason to believe one moral claim over another? Can we prove this? Does it matter? 


Q2. What is meaning? How much would it matter if we had none?


Q3. Aristotelian virtue ethics achieved something of a resurgence in the twentieth century. Was this progress or retrogression?


Q1. How much should we care about social cohesion?

Q2. How much of a problem is political ignorance? What should we do about it?

Q3. How dangerous is Big Data for democracy?


Q1. Should we abolish the Fed?


Q2. What does economics tell us about the benefits and costs of immigration? What policy should we adopt?


Q3. You have fifteen minutes of Donald Trump’s undivided attention. How will you persuade him to reform US trade policy?


Q1. Which was worst: Nazism, Fascism or Communism?


Q2. When did we begin taking progress for granted, and why?


Q3. According to Henry Kissinger, ‘those ages which in retrospect seem most peaceful were least in search of peace. Those whose quest for it seems unending appear least able to achieve tranquility'. Comment on this claim in light of events since 1945.


Q1. Why is it so hard for one reasonable person to persuade another reasonable person to change her mind? What should we do about this?


Q2. What are the most important recently-acquired insights from neuroscience which have yet to be widely applied to education?


Q3. Should we try to become more rational? How?


Q1. Should I be held responsible for what I believe?


Q2. I believe in God. Which God should I believe in?


Q3. What kind of God would create trillions of animals and permit a great many of them to die painful deaths? Should we worship such a God?


Q1. Some things are illegal because they are bad. Are some things bad because they are illegal?


Q2. Should computer generated child pornography be permitted?


Q3. Could we have private law?


Junior Category

(Entries are invited from candidates whose fifteenth birthday will be after the date of the submission deadline, 31 July 2019.)

Q1. Should candidates for high office be judged unfit on the basis of something they said or did when they were very young?


Q2. Is inequality increasing? Does it matter? What, if anything, should we do about it? 


Q3. According to Nobel Laureate, Milton Friedman, 'there is one and only one social responsibility of increase its profits...' Do you agree?

Q4. When, if ever, have there been ‘good’ revolutions?

Entry requirements and further details



Entry Requirements

Entry is open to students from any country and any school. Candidates must be eighteen years old, or younger, on the date of the submission deadline, 31 July 2019. (Candidates for the Junior Prize must be fourteen years old, or younger, on the date of the submission deadline.)


Each essay should address only one of the questions in your chosen subject category, and must not exceed 2000 words (not counting diagrams, tables of data, footnotes, bibliography or authorship declaration). Please submit your essay, saved in pdf format, through our website. The title of the pdf attachment should read SURNAME, First Name (e.g. POPHAM, Alexander). 



Key Dates



Tuesday, 31 July 2019: Submission deadline


Tuesday, 14 August: Short-listed candidates notified


Friday, 20 September: Winners Announced at Awards Ceremony in Oxford




There is a prize for the best essay in each subject category. Each subject prize is worth £100, and the essays will be published (with the authors' permission) on the Institute website. The prize-giving ceremony will take place in Oxford, at which winners and runners-up will be able to meet the judges and other faculty members of the John Locke Institute. Family, friends and teachers are also welcome, subject to capacity constraints.


The candidate who submits the best essay overall will be awarded an honorary John Locke Institute Junior Fellowship, worth £500.


The judges' decisions are final, and no correspondence will be entered into.




Essays will be judged on the level of knowledge and understanding of the relevant material, the quality of argumentation, the structure, writing style and persuasive force. Candidates are advised to answer the question as precisely and directly as possible.






"I hope you will find this year's questions thought-provoking, and that you will be one of the thousands of contestants from over a hundred different countries to submit an essay to what has become the world's largest essay competition. Not only will the experience of researching and writing the essay be a valuable learning experience, but the shortlisted candidates will be invited to Oxford to join with other talented young people who have thought carefully about the same question, for a unique series of precepts under the experienced leadership of an academic expert."


Martin Cox, Director of the John Locke Institute


I haven't received an acknowledgement that my essay has been submitted. Have you received it?

Are footnotes or bibliography counted towards the word limit?

How strict is the age eligibility criteria?

May I submit more than one essay?

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