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Ethics Bowl 

The Educational Value and Significance of the Ethics Bowl

Participating in the Ethics Bowl develops students' intellectual abilities and capacities, deepens their ethical understanding, and reinforces their sense of ethical commitment. With regard to the development of intellectual abilities and capacities, the most salient ethical issues for college and university students are complicated and ambiguous. Contrary to the implied message of a best selling book published several years ago, everything one needs to know about ethical issues on topics such as cheating, plagiarism, personal relationship, gender inequality, campus political controversies, and business or professional ethics in a future career can't be learned in kindergarten. Dealing with such issues places heavy demands upon students' abilities to discern, analyze, and evaluate, as well upon their capacity to maintain a well-organized mental focus under conditions of intellectual (and emotional) uncertainty. Ethics Bowl participation brings all these abilities and capacities directly into play.

Furthermore, students deepen their ethical understanding of complex, ambiguous, and highly viewpoint dependent questions through participating in the Ethics Bowl. Ethical understanding in connection with such issues consists largely of the capability to view from the inside ethical positions with which one disagrees, so that one understands the concerns motivating those positions, and, to some extent, appreciates their force. In this regard, students report that when discussing Ethics Bowl questions before a competition, team members often begin from sharply divergent positions, but as discussion proceeds one or the other of two outcomes tends to result. Sometimes differences of opinion narrow with further discussion. In many instances, however, this does not happen, and yet the students still succeed in reaching agreement upon what their response will be to a given question if asked it at the Ethics Bowl. This is because the team members who personally disagree with the response have come to view it as a defensible position that a reasonable and responsible person could hold. (For a discussion of the relationship between the Ethics Bowl and the fostering of the virtues internal to the practice of deliberation central to American democratic government, see Robert F. Ladenson, "The Educational Significance of the Ethics Bowl," Teaching Ethics, Vol. 1, no. 1 (2001) pp. 71-75).

Finally, participation in the Ethics Bowl can reinforce a student's sense of ethical commitment. Although the natural competitive inclination of the students undoubtedly sparks their interest in the Ethics Bowl, in our experience this factor hasn't at all predominated the event. Thus, at the conclusion of the ethics Bowl events conducted over the past several years, the contestants, judges, moderators, and audience have not focused their attention primarily upon who won and who lost, despite the events' competitive intensity. Instead, the "post Ethics Bowl" atmosphere, unlike the post World Series, or the post Super Bowl, with their emphases upon the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat, have seemed much more like the coming together, or bonding, characteristic of joint participation in significant and valued activity, guided by shared standards with which the participant deeply identify. This is the way it ought to be in our judgment, and the way we want to keep it.

We believe strongly that Ethics Bowl can fill a unique niche in practical and professional ethics education. It is also great fun.

How Ethics Bowl is Played

In Ethics Bowl a moderator asks two teams of three to five undergraduate students questions that pose ethical problems on topics ranging widely over areas such as the classroom (e.g. cheating or plagiarism), personal relationships (e.g.) dating or friendship), professional ethics (e.g. engineering, architecture, business, the military, law, medicine, etc.) or social and political ethics (e. g. free speech, gun control, healthcare, etc.) In an Ethics Bowl competition two teams are asked different competitions.Each team answers its question according to the following format. After the moderator poses a question to a team the team gets one minute to confer, after which it must stat its answer. (The team does not respond completely cold, however, because prior to the Ethics Bowl each competing team receives a set of cases that present ethical issues upon which the questions a team must answer at the Ethics Bowl are based.)

After the team states its answer to the question posed by the moderator the judges then have an opportunity to ask the team brief follow-up questions to elicit a teams' viewpoint on ethically important aspects of the question, or to seek clarification of a team's response. After the judges have asked their questions, the opposing team then has one minute to present a response to the first team's answer. The first team then has an opportunity to respond to the opposing team's comments.

The judges have been instructed prior to the Ethics Bowl concerning the criteria they are to apply in evaluating the teams' answers, which are the following:

  • Clarity and Intelligibility - Has the team stated and defended its position in a way that is logically consistent and which allows the Judges to understand clearly the team's line of reasoning?
  • Focus on Ethically relevant Factors - Has the team identified and discussed the factors the Judges consider ethically relevant in connection with the case?
  • Avoidance of Ethical Irrelevance - Has the team stayed on track by avoiding preoccupationwith issues that the Judges do not regard as ethically relevant, or as only having minor ethical relevance, in connection with a case?
  • Deliberative Thoughtfulness - To what extent, in the judge's opinion, has the team made a careful and reasonable comparative assessment of the considerations it identifies as ethically relevant in its statement and defense of its position?

When the Ethics Bowl Will Be Held

Consult the Hoffberger Center Calendar of Events for the next scheduled Ethics Bowl competition.

Last Published 9/28/16