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Two CLS pupils achieve second and third places in the Erasmus Essay Competition 2018

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

The Erasmus Essay Competition was hosted for the first time by City of London School this year. The theme, chosen by the renowned public philosopher Julian Baggini, was Free Will and Responsibility. Candidates from a number of participating schools were given a reading list and summary of core themes to explore over the summer, before tackling one core question in three hours under exam conditions.

The questions were as follows:

1. To what extent is it reasonable to claim that humans have free will?
2. What is the nature of the ‘self’ and what implications does this have for human free will?
3. Should we be held responsible for our actions?
4. ‘The criminal justice system in the UK has punishment all wrong.’ Do you agree?

Julian Baggini judged the entries and awarded CLS pupils, Jack and James second and third places respectively for their excellent essays on the criminal justice system and the extent to which it is possible to claim that humans have free will. Jack won £300 for his entry and James £200.

Here are extracts from their conclusions:

"The current criminal justice system in the UK, with its model of retributive punishment, feeds inequality by imprisoning those who have suffered from a difficult childhood or genetic makeup. In the same way, we continue to imprison thousands of non-violent criminals, often for relatively harmless offences, leading to a cycle of prison, crime and poverty, often creating more hardened criminals due to the tough prison environment. This damaging system of punishment results from the false assumption that our brains and biology, whose nature is largely out of our control, have little impact on our action. Instead, we ought to detach morality from our legal system and treat violent crime like an infectious disease, restricting punishment to only violent offenders. By eliminating notions of blame and responsibility, we can prioritise the safety of our communities over the problematic notion of just deserts. Whether you believe in moral responsibility or not, as this remains to some extent an open question, it is clear that the Public Quarantine Model of punishment is far superior to the current state of the UK criminal justice system."

"It does not seem reasonable to say that humans have free will. Scientifically we are all simply a collection of chemical reactions, subject to the law of cause and effect in the same way as a burning log or rusting metal. We are part of a long chain of causes originating with the Big Bang, different only in our ability to consider this and try to argue against it. Evidence for this can be found in psychology showing our dependence on upbringing and circumstances... Furthermore, the existence of a God is not sufficient to create a world in which our choices truly are free. His complete knowledge of everything ever to happen, currently happening or eventually to happen removes the possibility of a freedom that allows us to do anything other than that which God knows. Moreover, even if quantum theory is a correct explanation of what occurs at a miniature scale our choices are still a product of physical laws not under our control. It thus appears that claiming humans have free will is not a reasonable belief."

City of London School will be hosting the prize again next year and we strongly encourage boys in the J6 to consider entering.

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