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Prizes and Honors / Lipson Essay Prize

Description. The Leslie Lipson Program at UC Berkeley is intended to encourage undergraduate students to study humanistic values and their practical application for individuals, societies, and states. One component of the Leslie Lipson Program is the Lipson Essay Prize. Eligible freshmen and sophomores are invited to submit an original, unpublished piece to the Lipson Essay Prize contest on one of the essay topics related to humanistic values. The essay topics for each year are selected by the Lipson Committee. The 2017-18 topics are listed below.

Prize Amounts. A $2,000 prize is awarded to students who submit winning essays on one of seven topics related to humanistic values. 

Leslie Lipson Biography. The Leslie Lipson Program is endowed in memory of Professor Leslie Lipson, who taught political theory and comparative government at Berkeley for 33 years. As a professor, Lipson’s first love was the undergraduate curriculum, and undergraduate students twice selected him as the best teacher in the Department of Political Science. Berkeley honored Lipson in 1980 with the Berkeley Citation, for individuals of extraordinary achievement in their field who have given outstanding service to the campus. Lipson’s books include The Great Issues of Politics, which has been published in ten editions, translated into numerous foreign languages, and used in introductory political science courses across the country; and his seminal work, The Ethical Crises of Civilization, in which he analyzed the historical developments in world civilizations that have resulted in both better and worse ethical choices. “Humanistic values are the fundamental values of good and evil, right and wrong, just and unjust, as carried out by individuals and societies in service of or against humanity” (Leslie Lipson).

Eligibility. To be eligible for the Lipson Essay Prize, students need to be freshmen or sophomores and have a minimum 3.5 grade-point average (GPA). Students from any field of study are welcome to apply. Essays will be reviewed by the Lipson Committee, and the committee may award up to five prizes for winning essays.

Deadline. Submissions need to be hand-delivered to the Undergraduate Scholarships, Prizes, and Honors Office, 210 Sproul Hall, no later than Monday, April 9th at 4 p.m.


2017-18 Lipson Essay Prize Essay Topics

1. In 1947, after the post-World War II Nuremberg Trials of Nazi officers for war crimes, the United Nations’ International Law Commission promulgated principles, stemming from Thomas Aquinas’ just war theory, that became known as the “Nuremberg Defense.” These principles establish circumstances under which a military officer may, during a time of war, refuse a superior’s order that would be unlawful under international law. Under what circumstances might the Nuremberg defense be used by an officer in the nuclear chain of command who chooses to refuse to obey an order by President Trump to institute a preemptive nuclear strike against North Korea?

2. Is armed insurrection against the elected government ever morally justified in a democracy? Under what circumstances might such an argument be made? Are there particular philosophers or political theorists on whom you would choose to draw for either a justification or a critique of such a choice?

3.Is world peace possible or merely a chimera? If only the latter, might it still exercise regulative force? In your answer, draw on both historical references and philosophical principles.

4. To what extent is optimism a factor in an individual’s social adjustment and development?

5. What does the concept of ethically sourced food mean? Discuss the economics involved in producing and growing food while making ethical choices about eating at the same time.

6.What are the potential changes created by the current “#metoo” movement for the roles of both women and men, in the workplace specifically and in society in general?

7. The development of artificial intelligence, i.e. computers and robots that can think independently, is proceeding at a robust rate. Might this development endanger the human spirit– i.e., that which makes us essentially human–by causing it to atrophy over time?

Lipson Essay Prize Submission Process


3,000 to 4,000 words; typed

12-point font; double-spaced with one-inch margins; numbered pages

Last 4 digits of your student identification (SID) number in top-right corner of every page


You may submit only one essay per calendar year

Submit five stapled copies of your essay

Make a copy for your record; no essays will be returned

Your submission needs to be anonymous; please do not include your name. On the front of your manuscript, please write the following in the upper right corner:

  • Name of the contest

  • The last 4 digits of your student identification (SID) number

  • The number of pages in your submission

Please download and complete the  UC Berkeley Prizes and Honors Office Form  and submit it in person along with your essay to 210 Sproul Hall.

Hand-deliver your essay to 210 Sproul Hall by Friday, April 9th at 4 p.m. Please be prepared to show your Cal 1 Card when submitting your essay.

Previous Winners

2017-18: David Olin, “The Spirit and the Machine”, Nicholas Pingitore, “Wandering with Walden”, Evan Schwartz, “Arguments for Disobeying Trump’s order for a Preemptive Nuclear Strike: Echoes from the Nuremberg Tribunal”, Talia Wenger, “How Artificial Intelligence Re-Ignites the Human Spirit” ($2000 each)

2016-17: Alexander Casendio, “Is democracy in general, as a form of government, currently broken on an international basis?”; Daniel Rosenthal,”What are the reasons for the cultural and political polarizations in the U.S. and what is its impact on humanistic values. Is this only a national trend, or is it an issue internationally?”; Thomas Lee Kadie,”The Licensing of Right-Wing Populism”

2015-16: 1st prize: Liya Nahusenay, “Islamophobia: A Detrimental Misnomer”; Neel Somani, “Contemporary Stereotyping: Exploring the Seduction of Bias”; 2nd prize: Nina Djukic, “A Rare Drought Rain”; Suleman Khan, “The Government That Cried Wolf: Refugees and National Security”; Olivia Maigret. “The Complicity of Religion in Terrorism”

2014-15: Carter Bryce Keeling, “The People’s Climate March”; Ismael Farooqui, “The Invisible Hand: The results of wealth accumulation in a democracy”; Joprdan Hyatt-Miller, “The Logic of Violence”; James Rosenberg, “Legal Accountability for Torture: Preserving a Nation of Rights and Values”; Zijing Song, “One Oligarchy, Under God”

2013-14: Elizabeth Carroll, “A Nation of Suspects: Modern Surveillance and the Right to Privacy”; Wenyan He, “The Bilateral Nature of Ethics in Economic Inequality”; Taylor Madigan, “A Rawlsian Approach to Economic Inequality”; Sharada Narayan, “The Politics of Political Ethics”; Zijing Song, “The State of Obama’s Union”

2012-13: Pierre Bourbonnais, “No Excuses for Lying”; Apruva Govande, “Emotional Bridges through Empathy”; Adithyavairavan Murali, “War on Terror: The Great Game of Education, Economics and Human Dignity”; Seth Victor, “The Lies and Unethical Nature of the War on Terror”

2011-12: Adam Susaneck, “How Party Stratification Leads to Duopoly as Ideology Establishing Elections as a Script Creating Not Deadlock, Livelock!”

2010-11: Ayden Parish, “Fundamentalism, Church and State”; Timothy Borjian, “The Problems with American Exceptionalism”

2009-10: Jasmine L. Segall, “Ethical Implications of Anonymous Methods of Modern Warfare”; Spreeha Debchaudhury, “We the People: A Colorful Portrayal”

2008-09: Alexander Setzepfandt, “Optimism: Breaking Free from the Unethical Behavior of Others”; Anirudh Narla, “The Triumph of Grey: The Importance of Indeterminacy and Complexity in Black and White”

2007-08: Danielle Rathje, “Fair Trade and Global Responsibility”; Keith Browner Brown, “Factoring in Humanity: The Failure of Population Control”

2006-07: Andrina Tran, “Varieties of Morality: William James, Pragmatism and Freedom “

2005-06: Erica Mu, “Dismantling Torture: An Examination of the United States at a Political and Ethical Crossroads”; Jillian Marks, “Torture: An Analysis of Its Evils”; Alexander H. Lau, “Revealing Racial Bias: A Case for Affirmative Action”

2004-05: Jacqueline Nader “The Greatest Danger of Our Time”; Yanpei Chen, “Morality and Political Discourse”; Charles Lin, “Avoiding a Tragedy: Reconciling International Interests in the Atmospheric Commons”

2003-04: No award given

2002-03: Jennifer Greenburg, “Women’s Participation in Post-Apartheid Reform”; Sebastian Petty, “Back to the Land: Institutional Forms of Community Supported Agriculture”; Tina Sang, “Chinese Household Registration System”

2001-02: Susan Tche, “Effects of the New World Economy on Post-Embargo Vietnam”

2000-01: Cynthia Houng, “Sustainable Development? Towards a New Synthesis of Environment Ethics and Philosophy”; Joseph Kim, “Does Absentee Voting Have Anti-Social Effects on Voters?”; Pha Lo, “The Hmong of Laos: Cultural Perspectives on Implementing a Global Agenda”