International Philosophy Olympiad
Introduction: Olympiad of Culture and Education
The International Philosophy Olympiad is an educational contest for high-school students.
It was inspired by the agonal element of the European cultural heritage – one of the main factors for the “cultural miracle” of Ancient Greece which Elada managed to achieve within a very short historic time frame. They compete not only with athletes but also playwrights, artists, and philosophers. In the twentieth century, the modern Homo Ludens expanded vastly the scope of competitions, and one of those, which has acquired large publicity and popularity, is the educational contest, part of the Olympiad.
In the second half of the twentieth century, many educational contests emerged under the title of Olympiads. They were organized in different school subjects and usually target high-school students.
1959 – International Mathematical Olympiad (Romania)
1967 – International Physics Olympiad (Poland)
1968 – International Chemistry Olympiad (the Czech Republic)
1989 – International Olympiad in Informatics (Bulgaria)
1990 – International Biology Olympiad (the Czech Republic)
1993 – International Philosophy Olympiad (Bulgaria)
1996 – International Astronomy Olympiad (Russia)
1996 – International Geography Olympiad (the Netherlands)
2003 – International Linguistics Olympiad (Bulgaria)
As is clearly seen from the list, the start of such Olympiads before the fall of the Berlin Wall was done in the “former socialist countries.” The explanation may be found in two aspects: firstly, in Eastern Europe those contests were seen as part of the competition between the two political blocs and a way to prove the “superiority” of socialism in the area of education. And, secondly, the motive of cooperation in the area of education and culture may not be underestimated: it was aiming to aid the process of disarmament and peacekeeping in Europe and the world. Thus, many Olympiads were supported by UNESCO.
History of the International Philosophy Olympiad
The first International Philosophy Olympiad was held in 1993 in Bulgaria. This initiative was born at a seminar, part of the program of Philosophy for Children, organized in the summer of 1992 in Varna, Bulgaria.
At that time there were two national Olympiads taking place: one in Bulgaria and one in Poland. Both took place simultaneously but independently in 1989, several months before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In Bulgaria the initiative for the International Philosophy Olympiad emerged in 1988 as a means which the philosophers at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” used to further the process of liberalization in Eastern Europe and start teaching classical philosophy in schools. The goal was to replace the Marxist-Leninist subjects taught and rather dominant in Bulgaria all throughout the era of socialism (1947–1990).
The first International Olympiad was held in 1993 in Smolyan, Bulgaria. Three international teams participated, representing Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey. In the second edition of the Olympiad, in 1994 in Petrich, Bulgaria, the teams of Germany and Poland joined. At the third edition in 1995 in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, the participants voted for every future edition of the Olympiad to be held in a different country, under the supervision and guidance of the International Committee.
This is the chronological order of the International Philosophy Olympiads: 1993 (Bulgaria), 1994 (Bulgaria), 1995 (Bulgaria), 1996 (Turkey), 1997 (Romania), 1998 (Poland), 1999 (Hungary), 2000 (Germany), 2001 (the USA), 2002 (Japan), 2003 (Argentina), 2004 (South Korea), 2005 (Poland), 2006 (Italy), 2007 (Turkey), 2008 (Romania), 2010 (Greece), 2011 (Austria), 2012 (Norway), 2013 (Denmark), 2014 (Lithuania), and 2015 (Estonia).
In the autumn of 2000 in Istanbul, Turkey, the regulations of the International Philosophy Olympiad were voted and have been used for organizing the Olympiad ever since.
Goals of the International Philosophy Olympiad
“To promote philosophical education at the Secondary-school level and increase the interest of high-school students in philosophy.”
In many participating countries, the organization of the IPO has had positive impact on the place philosophy takes in the school curricula for secondary education, e.g., in Bulgaria after 1990 the substitution of Marxist subjects with classical philosophy was done by members of the team, organizing the National Philosophy Olympiad. In Argentina, a special institute was created to organize and manage the Philosophy Olympiad and facilitate the participation in the IPOs. In Bangladesh the experts who represent the country at the International Philosophy Olympiad helped include the subject of philosophy in the national school curriculum. In 2015 the number of students who took part in the National and International Philosophy Olympiads exceeded 10,000 people altogether.
“To encourage the development of national, regional, and local contests in philosophy among pre-university students worldwide.”The prestige and the impact of the IPO have helped initiate new philosophy contests.
One of those is the Baltic Sea Philosophy Event which is organized by the Finnish representative at UNESCO and is held every year at the end of November on the Philosophy Day, under the auspices of UNESCO.
Another contest is the Philosophy Owl which started in 2014. It requires that participants solve different philosophical and intellectual problems, as well as answer questions, based on good knowledge of the history of philosophy.
“To contribute to the development of critical, inquisitive and creative thinking.”
The criteria for evaluating the essays help achieve this goal: those who strictly use literature style or express subjective opinions or share standard common opinions are not highly evaluated.
“To promote philosophical reflection on science, art, and social life.”
Each annual Olympiad is based on a specific topic, agreed upon by the organizers. Their aim is to get the participants involved in a current philosophical debate which is held during the days of the Olympiad, and usually philosophers and intellectuals from the host country take part therein, as well as students from the local schools. This topic, however, is accompanying the Olympiad and does not affect the choice of topics for the contest.
“To cultivate the capacity for ethical reflection on the problems of the modern world.”
There are always ethical problems on the agenda for lectures and debates, held during the days of the Olympiad, and they are discussed by students of tens of countries from different continents and cultures. This helps clarify issues, reflect on them from different perspectives, and overcome prejudice or limitations, thus facilitating the process of forming a well-supported personal ethical stand by the participants therein.
“By encouraging intellectual exchanges and securing opportunities for personal contacts between young people from different countries, to promote the culture of peace.”
Each Philosophy Olympiad turns into a vivid international forum for young people, and many of the contacts they make during the event are lasting. They continue to stay connected when they go to university and when they become professionals later on in life. The participants created a group in one of the social networks which functions as a means of exchange of information, opinions, views, as well as a tool for monitoring the personal and professional development and supporting professional cooperation.
National and International Levels of IPO
The Philosophy Olympiads have two levels: national and international.
National Committees. At a national level, the Olympiads are organized by the National Committees who are elected among the philosophy societies, members of FISP, or other similar organizations. The format of the National Olympiad is determined by the National Committee. In some countries the contest strictly complies with the procedures of the International Olympiad, while others use specific forms for the contest (debates, tests, etc.)
The National Committees determine the participating students and teachers, based on their own criteria. The most common procedure is as follows: the winners in the National Olympiad become eligible in the selection process for the International Olympiad. Thus, an extended team is formed of all the winners at national level. This team prepares for the International Olympiad, and at the end of the preparation, two people are elected to represent the country at the international event.
The team that each country sends to the IPO consists of four people: a team leader, a teacher, and two students. The most common practice is the team leader is a standing representative of the country, while the other member is usually the teacher of the student who won the first prize in the selection process.
Apart from those four people, it is possible for guests to attend the official opening and closing of the International Philosophy Olympiad, from the host country, as well as from other countries.
Administrative Bodies of IPO
All teachers who take part in the national teams form the International Jury. The members of the jury take part in the evaluation of the written essays. The technical committee of the Olympiad caters for the whole process of evaluation. The regulations of the IPO do not allow representatives of a country to evaluate the works of students from the same country.
The representatives of countries who have hosted the International Philosophy Olympiad form the International Committee. The sessions of the International Committee are managed by the chairperson of the National Organizing Committee of the host country. The International Committee is responsible for guaranteeing the stability and integrity of the Olympiad. The Committee discusses the future development of the Olympiad and decides on the countries where the next editions of the IPO are going to be held.
The Committee is entitled to initiate changes in the statute of the Olympiad.
Within the jurisdiction of the International Committee is the selection of two representatives at the Steering Board.
National Organizing Committee
The sessions of the International Committee are managed by the chairperson of the National Organizing Committee, formed by the representatives of the host country. This Committee functions from 1 June of the year, preceding the Olympiad, to 31 May of the year when the country hosts the International Philosophy Olympiad. The National Committee carries out the preparation and the conducting of the Olympiad. The Committee is responsible for covering the expenses of the two participants, the team leader, the members of the International Committee, and the Steering Board for their whole stay. After the Olympiad has finished, the National Organizing Committee sends a report to the International Committee, to the Steering Board of the International Philosophy Olympiad, and to other institutions and organizations who are connected with the Olympiad in some way.
Another administrative body is the Steering Board. It is comprised of six members: a UNESCO representative, three FISP representatives, and two representatives of the International Committee. The Steering Board is chaired by the president of FISP or by another of its representatives. The successful development of the International Philosophy Olympiad is very much dependent on the cooperation between the International Committee and the Steering Board. The Steering Board is responsible for informing the members of FISP about the Olympiad, as well as for finding ways to fund the organization of the Olympiad. Whenever a dispute arises in the process of organizing the specific edition of the IPO, the Steering Board is entitled to make the final decision on the issue.
The Steering Board determines the prize seats and the prizes. The winners are awarded either medals, golden, silver, and bronze, or an honorable mention.
The secretariat of the International Committee of IPO is located in the Department of Philosophy at Sofia University, Bulgaria.
Participants on the IPO
Only students who are legitimate high-school students during the year of participation may take part in the Philosophy Olympiads.
Each country takes part with a team of two students, while the host country is entitled to a team of 10 students.
The following countries took part in the International Philosophy Olympiad for the period between 1993 and 2015.
Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Mexico, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Senegal, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, and the USA.
In the 2015 edition in Estonia, 42 countries took part.
Topics at IPO
The task of the contestants is to write an essay on one of the four topics they receive.
The representatives of each participating country have the right, and are encouraged to use that right, to send to the secretary general of FISP, no later than 1 March, their suggestions for topics to be included in the four topics at the contest. Among all these suggestions and those of the members of the Steering Board, the representatives of FISP at the Steering Board determine the four contest topics.
The topics may be quotes by philosophers or statements, formulated by the Committee.
The quotes may be no longer than five lines. There are no limitations on the circle of philosophers whose quotes may be selected. The criteria for evaluation are defined in such a manner that the contestants need not know the specific philosopher, school of thought, or paradigm. This is necessary to be guaranteed because the philosophy curricula in different countries vary a lot and thus no specific common area may be defined from where the topics may be selected.
The contestants are not required to present or discuss other ideas of the philosophers on whose quote they are elaborating. It is permissible that quotes by less known or completely unknown philosophers are used because the contestants are not required to discuss the overall ideas or views of the author. The successful essay may discuss the topic as completely isolated from the author or the context.
Examples of Quotes, Used for Topics
1993 (IPO in Bulgaria)
“Home is far more a state of mind than landscape” (G. Bachelard).
“Children are antiquities” (G. Bachelard).
“Everything we see could be otherwise” (L. Wittgenstein).
“Without ‘now’ there wouldn’t be time and without time there wouldn’t be ‘now’” (Aristotle).
2015 (IPO in Estonia)
“The adversaries of philosophical literature argue, rightly, that the signification of a novel or a play, or of a poem for that matter, cannot be translated into abstract concepts. Otherwise, why construct a fictional apparatus around ideas that one could express more economically and clearly in more direct language? The novel is justified only if it is a mode of communication irreducible to any other. While the philosopher and the essayist give the reader an intellectual reconstruction of their experience, the novelist claims to reconstruct on an imaginary plane this experience itself as it appears prior to any elucidation.” – Simone de Beauvoir, Philosophical Writings, ed. Margaret Simons, p. 270.
“Death and life, survival and perishing, success and failure, poverty and wealth, superiority and inferiority, disgrace and honor, hunger and thirst, cold and heat – these are the transformations of events, the proceedings of fate. …. So there is no need to let them disrupt our harmony” – Zhuangzi, 5:15. In Brook Ziporyn, Zhuangzi: the Essential Writings (Hackett 2009).
“Thoughts are neither things of the external world, nor representations. A third domain has to be recognized. What belongs to this domain has in common with representations the fact that it cannot be perceived by the senses, but with things the fact that it needs no supporting subject, on the consciousness of which it depends” – Gottlob Frege: “Der Gedanke. Eine logische Untersuchung,” in: Beiträge zur Philosophie des deutschen Idealismus 2 (1918/19), p. 69.
Examples of Topics
1997 (IPO in Poland)
Is philosophy a science?
1999 (IPO in Hungary)
Is knowledge power?
2015 (IPO in Estonia)
Some philosophers and theologians since Plato have claimed that the human body is a kind of prison of the soul. Michel Foucault has recently suggested that “the soul is a prison of the body” (Surveiller et punir, p.34). Consider some of the conceptions and arguments that might support these opposing views.
When selecting a topic, no two topics of the same philosophical area may be selected. For example, only one topic from Ethics may be selected or only one from Philosophy of Science.
The topics are presented to the contestants in written form, translated into the four languages of the International Philosophy Olympiad. In translating the topic, editions of the text in the respective language are used, if available. If not available, the quotes are translated into the respective language by the members of the Steering Board.
The contestants choose one of the four topics and they write an essay thereon in one of the four official languages: English, German, French, or Spanish. However, they are not allowed to write in the official language of the country they represent.
This rule was established in order to give the contestants equal opportunity and a fair start to all. Besides this main goal, the rule helps encourage and facilitate the communication between the participants from different countries, continents, and cultures.
The time limit for essay writing is 4 h.
The essays are evaluated by an International Committee in three stages.
In order to guarantee equal rights to all, the names of the contestants are being coded. The Technical Committee at the National Committee is responsible for guaranteeing anonymity in the evaluation process and prevent from any conflict of interest.
Relevance to the topic
Philosophical understanding of the topic
Persuasive power of argumentation
The maximum score is 10 points and the increment is 0.5.
7.5–10 points mean: I suggest this essay for the next stage.
5.5–7 points mean: I myself don’t suggest this essay, but I will agree if somebody else selects this essay.
1–5 points mean: I suggest that this essay should not be accepted for the next stage.
The evaluation process goes through three stages. At the first and second stage, the members of the International Committee evaluate the essays, while at the third stage the members of the Steering Board perform the evaluation.
At the first stage each essay is evaluated by three experts. When the score differs by more than 3 points, the essay is evaluated by a fourth expert.
Only essays which have scored 7 or more points continue to the second stage. At this stage each essay is evaluated by two other experts.
The final score of each essay from the second stage is the average score of all the points, accumulated at the first two stages.
Based on this score, the jury decides which essays proceed to the third stage.
At the third stage the essays are evaluated by members of the Steering Board who make the final rank list and decide who qualifies for prizes and to what prize they are entitled.
A clear evidence of the scope of the IPO, its attractiveness, and its prestige is the fact that among the organizers and the evaluators, many former contestants may be found, as well as winners of the National Philosophy Olympiads and the International Philosophy Olympiads.
- Hackett, (2009). Zhuangzi: The Essential Writings: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries. Hackett Publishing Company.Google Scholar
- Polanko, M. (2015). Cómo escribir un ensayo de filosofía: Con especial referencia a la Olimpiada Internacional de Filosofía. Create Space. Independent Publishing Platform.Google Scholar
- http://www.philosophy-olympiad.org – the website of the International Philosophy Olympiad.