“Ethics Bowl is basically like speech and debate on steroids.”
This is how Tatianah Summers, a sophomore biology major with a minor in philosophy, chose to describe the Ethics Bowl.
The Ethics Bowl is a new program at Seattle University—it’s like any regular debate event, but it focuses on controversial ethical issues, and it scores students based off of their approach and analysis, rather than “winning” or “losing.”
It is the second year of Seattle U’s participation in the event, and they are already competing in the national competition happening in March. The competition covers controversial issues such as artificial intelligence, structural racism, and sports policies regarding intersex and transgender athletes.
Summers said preparation primarily involves research.
“You start by getting a list of 15 cases and you do about six to eight weeks of research,” Summers said. “Once you get enough research, you start building some type of moral case for or against the idea.”
For Summers, getting involved with the Ethics Bowl seemed like a good step in her education, especially with all of the ethical issues in the medical field.
“I saw that they won regionals last year and I was interested in what it was,” Summers said. “I’m a biology major and also getting a minor in philosophy, so getting into ethics bowl just seemed natural to me. I really love ethics and all the issues that we get to argue.”
Senior Philosophy Major Maggie Roberts said that after research comes scrimmaging.
“Our coach comes up with possible questions that could be asked in competition, and we practice responding to them in a prepared format as we would in a round,” Roberts said. “We call this scrimmaging.”
The team boasts a wide range of students with different areas of study, which they believe serves to their advantage, given the different ethical areas that the team gets prompts for.
The team is headed by Ben Howe, a philosophy professor at Seattle U who specializes in ethics. To him, the advantages of having students with different specializations is very clear in Ethics Bowl. He also thinks that the Jesuit method of education is important because it gives students a wide base of knowledge that they can apply to the competition.
“Ethics Bowls show some of the educational value of having a core curriculum,” Howe said. “We do a lot of philosophy…but we also use a lot of other academic disciplines because we are dealing with cases that involve things like genetic engineering.
To Howe, ethics is a field that asks a lot of questions that there are not necessarily answers for, and because there is no wrong answer, the main thing students have to learn to do is to come up logical arguments for their solutions to ethical issues.
“[Ethics are] interested in cases where good people with good intentions could disagree with one another,” Howe said.
This is apparent not only when competing with other schools, Summers said. There are some cases when people on the team have different ideas about what is ethical or how to approach arguing their solutions.
“I was in charge of a case about Amish midwives. I did a ton of research about it, brought all that information to the team and then we started to discuss the moral implications of them practicing,” Summers said. “We usually come to a consensus, but sometimes we can disagree, which is the beauty of our team. We have such diverse ideas and outlooks on life that it allows us to get the full picture and idea of each case.”
The bowl seems to work like most other intercollegiate debates, but it does have a few key differences. One of the key differences, Howe said, is that the teams are not necessarily arguing against each other. He believes that this is important, given that it shows how people can engage in a discussion of serious issues without it turning into an argument.
“It’s not really antagonistic,” Howe said. “Teams don’t really have to disagree with one another on their positions. The emphasis of Ethics Bowl is more about how nuanced [the teams’] analysis is on a particular policy.”
The team will compete this March in the National Ethics Bowl in Baltimore at the annual conference for the Association of Professional and Practical Ethics. The team also plans to compete in April at the University of Washington small Ethics Bowl located at the Washington Women’s Correctional Facility.
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