Frequently Asked Questions

What topics are discussed in the Ethics Bowl?

The Ethics Bowl allows students to learn applied ethics through the analysis, research, and critical discussion of case studies that incorporate real-world ethical conflicts from politics, business, international affairs, popular culture, and their personal lives.

How is the Ethics Bowl different from a debate?

The Ethics Bowl is not a speech + debate, and this is an important distinction. In the Ethics Bowl, teams are not required to pick opposing sides, nor is the goal to “win” the argument by knocking down the other team or its position. The Ethics Bowl is, at heart, a collaborative discussion during which the first team presents its analysis of a question about the ethical dilemma at the core of the case being discussed, offering support for its position but also considering the merits of other positions. The central goal in the Ethics Bowl competition is to demonstrate the breadth and depth of thinking about difficult and important ethical situations. In fact, teams are rewarded for the degree to which they eschew adversarial positioning and instead adopt a more collegial, collaborative stance. In other words, teams are strongly encouraged to think of themselves as being on the same side rather than as opponents. That is, both teams are working together trying to solve a difficult problem—while impressing the judges with thoughtful, considered analysis. Moreover, teams are not penalized or rewarded depending on whether one person speaks or everyone contributes. We understand that each team has its own process. During the Commentary Period, a team’s role is to help the other team perfect its presentation, not to present its own position on the case. A “question shower” or “rapid-fire questioning,” during which a team asks many questions in an attempt to overwhelm or dominate the other team, is inconsistent with the aims of the Ethics Bowl, and will not merit a high score. On occasion, team members may discover that they want to modify or perhaps change an aspect of their initial position as a result of the second team’s commentary. However, because the Ethics Bowl is about ethical inquiry, and changing one’s mind can be considered a sign of fluid rather than crystallized intelligence—a hallmark of higher-order thinking—changing or modifying a position is not necessarily negative.

Do competing teams need to use ethical or philosophical theories?

Teams do not need to reference specific ethicists or ethical theories: doing so is not a requirement of a good answer, nor is it indicative of a poor answer. The argument is what matters; it is not necessary to name a philosopher associated with the argument. Keep in mind that a team is speaking to a broad audience: some judges might have no formal background in philosophy or ethics, and may not understand a student’s reference to, say, “Kantianism.” A good strategy is to explain ethical reasoning in terms everyone can understand. Philosophical name-dropping is not a substitute for presenting a sound argument.

What awards will be given to the teams?

The top four ranking teams (2 finalists and 2 semifinalists) will receive trophies. One team will also receive the Spirit of the Ethics Bowl Award, which is given to the team that best embodies the spirit and ideals of the Ethics Bowl program as voted on by their peers and competitors.

How many students should there be in a team?

Typically, one Ethics Bowl team should consist of 4-6 students, preferably from the same school.