John Locke Institute Essay Competition: All You Need to Know

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

a female student writing an essay

John Locke Institute Essay Competition: All You Need to Know

The philosopher John Locke left a big mark with his ideas. His work has inspired people to think about how we’re governed, our freedoms, and what role the state should play. The John Locke Institute Essay Competition keeps his ideas alive by inviting young minds to think about how his ideas relate to today’s world.

Let’s talk about the John Locke Institute Essay Competition. We’ll give you an overview of the rules and share some helpful tips to craft a winning essay. This comprehensive guide will help you make your essay submission shine.

What Is the John Locke Institute Essay Competition?

The John Locke Institute Essay Competition—also called the John Locke Institute’s Global Essay Prize—is a yearly event hosted by the John Locke Institute, an organization passionate about encouraging young people to excel academically and enjoy learning. Named after the famous English philosopher John Locke, it aims to honor his legacy by inspiring young students to think deeply and critically.

A student writing her essays

Students from anywhere in the world can enter by writing an essay on topics like politics, economics, philosophy, and history. You can pick from a wide range of topics for your essay, so you can write about what you’re really interested in and show off how curious you are. A group of experts will read all the essays and pick winners based on how original, well thought out, and clear they are.

If you win, you’ll get a scholarship and your work will get published on the John Locke Institute’s website, which is a big deal for your academic record.

What Are the John Locke Institute Essay Competition’s Prizes?

If you win in any subject category or the Junior category of the John Locke Institute Essay Competition, you’ll get a US$2000 scholarship. This scholarship can be used for any program offered by the John Locke Institute, and your winning essay will be published on the Institute’s website.

Plus, if you’re chosen as the overall best essay writer, you’ll become an honorary John Locke Institute Junior Fellow. This includes a US$10,000 scholarship for participating in the Institute’s summer schools or visiting scholars programs.

The prize-giving ceremonies take place in London, where you’ll have the chance to meet judges and faculty members. And whether you win a prize or not, if you’re short-listed, you’ll receive an eCertificate to recognize your achievement.

What Are the John Locke Institute Essay Competition’s Guidelines?

If you’re thinking about joining the John Locke Institute Essay Competition, it’s important to know the rules. Here’s a handy guide to get you started:


Students from any country and school can take part. There are two levels: one for high schoolers aged 15 to 18, and the Junior Prize for middle schoolers aged 14 and under.


There are seven categories to choose from: Philosophy, Politics, Economics, History, Psychology, Theology, and Law. Each category has its own set of questions (listed in the next section).

Essay format

Your essay should only answer one question from your chosen category. It should be no more than 2000 words, not counting diagrams, tables, bibliography, or authorship declaration. Don’t include footnotes, but you can have endnotes and a bibliography.

Your essay needs to be in PDF format and follow the filename format: FirstName-LastName-Category-QuestionNumber.pdf. Example: John-Locke-Economics-1.pdf.


Registration starts on April 1, 2024, and ends on May 31, 2024. Essays must be submitted by June 30, 2024.

You’ll find out if you’re short-listed by July 31, 2024. The academic conference is scheduled for September 20-22, 2024, and the awards night is on September 21, 2024.

Other requirements

There’s no submission fee. It’s free for everyone.

You’ll also need to provide the email address of an academic referee who knows your academic work well. They can be a teacher or another adult who’s not related to you. The institute will email them to verify that your essay is your own work.

If you have any questions, you can email [email protected]. Don’t forget to read through these guidelines carefully before submitting your essay.

John Locke Institute Essay Competition: Topics

Now that you’re familiar with the contest guidelines, it’s time to choose a topic for your essay. Here are the topics you can choose from, organized by category and question number. Remember to use the category and question number in titling the file you will submit:

Academic Literature


  • Q1. Do we have any good reasons to trust our moral intuition?
  • Q2. Do girls have a (moral) right to compete in sporting contests that exclude boys?
  • Q3. Should I be held responsible for what I believe?


  • Q1. Is there such a thing as too much democracy?
  • Q2. Is peace in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip possible?
  • Q3. When is compliance complicity?


  • Q1. What is the optimal global population?
  • Q2. Accurate news reporting is a public good. Does it follow that news agencies should be funded from taxation?
  • Q3. Do successful business people benefit others when making their money, when spending it, both, or neither?


  • Q1. Why was sustained economic growth so rare before the later 18th century and why did this change?
  • Q2. Has music ever significantly changed the course of history?
  • Q3. Why do civilisations collapse? Is our civilisation in danger?


  • Q1. When, if ever, should a company be permitted to refuse to do business with a person because of that person’s public statements?
  • Q2. In the last five years British police have arrested several thousand people for things they posted on social media. Is the UK becoming a police state?
  • Q3. Your parents say that 11pm is your bedtime. But they don’t punish you if you don’t go to bed by 11pm. Is 11pm really your bedtime?


  • Q1. According to a study by researchers at four British universities, for each 15-point increase in IQ, the likelihood of getting married increases by around 35% for a man but decreases by around 58% for a woman. Why?
  • ​Q2. There is an unprecedented epidemic of depression and anxiety among young people. Can we fix this? How?
  • Q3. What is the difference between a psychiatric illness and a character flaw?


  • Q1. “I am not religious, but I am spiritual.” What could the speaker mean by “spiritual”?
  • Q2. Is it reasonable to thank God for protection from some natural harm if He is responsible for causing the harm?
  • Q3. Does God reward those who believe in him? If so, why?

Junior Prize

  • Q1. Does winning a free and fair election automatically confer a mandate for governing?
  • Q2. Has the anti-racism movement reduced racism?
  • Q3. Is there life after death?
  • Q4. How did it happen that governments came to own and run most high schools, while leaving food production to private enterprise?
  • Q5. When will advancing technology make most of us unemployable? What should we do about this?
  • Q6. Should we trust fourteen-year-olds to make decisions about their own bodies?

John Locke Institute Essay Competition: Writing Tips

The contest website states: “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.”

Let’s zoom in on the five main things they’re after:

1. Independent thought

Independent thought means coming up with your own ideas that challenge the status quo or offer unique insights. Don’t just analyze existing literature. Try to bring new perspectives or suggest innovative solutions to complex problems.

critical thinker

For example, in the Philosophy category, instead of just discussing whether girls should be allowed to compete in sports that exclude boys, you could explore deeper ethical principles. This might involve thinking about fairness and equal opportunity, or looking at how gender segregation in sports affects society.

2. Depth of knowledge

Having a deep understanding is super important for nailing the John Locke Institute Essay Competition. Know the key concepts, theories, and historical contexts of your topic. This could also mean checking out different views on historical events, analyzing primary sources, or considering other theories. You should be able to analyze information effectively, making connections and spotting patterns that deepen your understanding.

In the History category, for example, if you’re writing about the fall of civilizations, it’s not enough to just list events. You need to dig into why it happened, like economic pressures or cultural changes.

3. Clear reasoning

It’s essential to think logically when writing your essays. This means laying out your arguments in a way that makes sense, so each point flows smoothly into the next.

To do this well, you’ll want to avoid common mistakes like using emotional appeals instead of solid reasoning. If you’re debating whether news agencies should be funded by taxes, you’d need to make your case using economic principles and real-world evidence.

Another important aspect of clear reasoning is addressing counterarguments. Acknowledging and responding to opposing views shows that you understand the complexity of the issue. This not only makes your argument stronger but also demonstrates respect for different perspectives. By presenting a well-rounded argument, you can make a compelling case for your position in the competition

4. Critical analysis

Thinking critically means going beyond just summarizing facts. You need to analyze and interpret data, arguments, and evidence to come up with a thoughtful conclusion.

To do this effectively, you can’t just focus on your own viewpoint. You also need to think about other perspectives and respond to them. This shows that you’re open to different ideas and can think critically. For instance, when talking about the ideal global population, you should consider what environmentalists, economists, and policymakers might think, and then integrate those views into your analysis.

Another important part of critical analysis is choosing your sources carefully. Make sure you’re using reliable, up-to-date sources to back up your arguments. Avoid using biased or outdated information. By carefully evaluating your sources and selecting the most relevant and reliable ones, you can make your argument stronger and show that you’ve done thorough research.

5. Persuasive style

In any writing competition, having a persuasive writing style is key. You need to be able to convince the judges of your ideas and arguments. If you’re debating whether a company should be allowed to turn away business based on public statements, you’d need to make a strong, well-supported argument. This could involve citing legal cases, analyzing examples, and providing clear explanations to back up your point.

To make your essay even more persuasive, try using rhetorical devices like ethos, pathos, and logos. Ethos means showing why you’re a credible source, pathos means appealing to the judges’ emotions, and logos means using logic and reason. Using these devices can make your argument stronger and more compelling.

It’s also important to think about your tone and voice. You want to sound confident but also open-minded. Acknowledge any potential counterarguments or limitations to your argument, and respond to them respectfully. Strike the right balance in your tone, and you can make sure your essay is persuasive and engaging to the judges.

John Locke Institute Essay Competition: Sample Winning Works

Another sure way of standing out in the John Locke Institute Essay Competition is to read and study past winning works. Here are a few 1st placers and let’s see what we can learn from them:

1. Hosai Kishida – 1st place, Philosophy Category, 2023

Question: Is tax theft?

Summary: The essay says that taxation is like stealing, even though some people think it’s okay because we agree to it in the social contract. But the author argues that no one would really agree to give up their money to the government if they had a choice, because governments don’t always do a good job of protecting our rights and are often influenced by people who just want to make money. In the end, the author says that because taxation isn’t something we agree to, it’s basically stealing from us.

Analysis and tips

In the winning essay, Kishida used several smart writing tricks to argue against taxation. First off, they made sure to define important terms, like theft and rational consent, right at the start. This helped lay the groundwork for their argument and made sure readers were on the same page. For example, they defined theft as taking someone’s stuff without their okay, setting things up to argue that taxation is a type of theft.

The essay was also well-organized, with each point building on the last. This made for a clear and convincing argument. They started by talking about rational consent and how it relates to state power, then moved on to critique Kant’s ideas about the state, and finished up by discussing why some people think taxation is okay. This logical progression made it easy for readers to follow along.

Kishida also used rhetorical techniques, like logos and ethos, to make their argument stronger. They used logos by giving logical explanations and examples to back up their points. They also used ethos by mentioning famous philosophers like Locke, Kant, and Friedman, which made their argument seem more credible.

To make their argument even stronger, Kishida used real examples and evidence. They talked about bad things that governments have done in the past and argued that not everyone values the goods and services that governments provide equally, which weakens the case for taxation.

Lastly, Kishida kept things respectful and reasonable. Even though they were making a controversial argument, they stayed calm and used logic and evidence to back up their points, instead of using angry or rude language. This helped them keep their credibility with the audience.

Law student office

2. Joonyoung Heo – 1st place, Junior Category, 2021

Question: Should the law ever prevent people from freely making self-harming decisions? If so, what should and shouldn’t be forbiddenand according to which principles?

Summary: In the essay, the author talks about why it’s not cool for the government to make laws that try to protect people from themselves, which is called legal paternalism. The main idea is that while it might make sense for the government to step in and make laws that protect people (like seatbelt laws), it’s not okay when those laws stop people from making choices that only affect themselves. The author thinks this principle is strong because it respects individual choice, even when the government doesn’t think it’s the best choice.

Analysis and tips

The winning essay shows how to write a great essay for the John Locke Institute Essay Competition. First, Heo starts by clearly explaining important terms and ideas. This makes sure everyone knows what they’re talking about. For example, they explain legal paternalism and the harm principle right at the start.

Next, the essay is put together in a logical way. Each point builds on the last. This makes the argument strong and easy to follow. The author also uses real examples and evidence to back up their points. They talk about things like Michael Bloomberg’s soda ban and the recent change in Germany’s laws about assisted suicide to support what they’re saying.

Another smart move is how the author thinks about and answers arguments against their own. They show they really know their stuff by considering other viewpoints and responding to them in a smart way. Finally, the author keeps a cool and respectful tone throughout the essay. This helps them stay believable and makes their argument even more convincing.


Joining the John Locke Institute Essay Competition is a great chance to tackle some big philosophical and ethical questions, while also sharpening your critical thinking and writing skills. You’ll get to dive into topics that are not just interesting, but also really relevant to what’s going on in the world today.

So, it’s not just about winning a prize—it’s about growing intellectually, opening up new perspectives, and becoming part of a community of people who love exploring the big ideas that shape our lives.


Who can join the John Locke Institute Essay Competition?

Any student from any country and school can join in. High schoolers aged 15 to 18 can compete in the regular categories, while the Junior Prize is for middle schoolers aged 14 and under.

Can you submit more than one entry to the John Locke Institute Essay Competition?

Yes. Feel free to submit as many essays as you’d like in any or all categories.

Does the John Locke Institute Essay Competition have an entry fee?

The good news is that there’s no entry fee. However, if you miss the regular deadline, there’s a 20.00 USD fee for late submissions.

What is the John Locke Institute?

The John Locke Institute is an educational organization that’s all about encouraging independent thinking, critical thought, and clear reasoning among young people. They run the annual Essay Competition to get students thinking about important philosophical and ethical questions.

Who was John Locke?

John Locke was a 17th-century philosopher and physician, known as one of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers. His thoughts on liberty, property, and the social contract had a big impact on modern political thought.

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