The Ethics Bowl Team competed in the national championship this year, bolstered by their intellectual curiosity, diverse majors, and deep friendships.
“Sometimes I come here just for the sake of listening because I know I’ll hear interesting things that I’ve never thought about. It’s like a TED talk, but you actually get to participate. It’s fantastic.” Frankie Henderson is describing biweekly meetings where students come together to think, chat, support one another, and train for ethics competitions.
How Ethics Bowl Works
The CSU Ethics Bowl Team is part of a regional and national intercollegiate team competition hosted by the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics. Competitions focus on the moral dimensions of public policy and current social issues. Frankie explains, “It’s like conversational debate team, but with moral theorems instead of political issues. You take real world cases and apply ethics to them the best you can.”
In preparation for competitions, teams are given a stack of 15-20 cases which vary from hot button recent events (COVID vaccines) to long-standing issues (pipeline drilling) to more hypothetical thought experiments (moral standing of alien visitors). Teams then try to determine which ethical issues are at play and formulate arguments and positions to respond to questions that the judges may pose.
However, unlike debate teams, team member Ben Law explains that in Ethics Bowl we “talk about some really important issues in a format where people aren’t split up into predetermined camps and sides. You really try to spiral to the highest ethical conclusion and look at issues from a 360-degree perspective. That’s what I love about Ethics Bowl.”
A Diverse Skill Set
The team credits much of their success to their diverse knowledge base and skill set. Team members’ majors range from philosophy, political science, and psychology to statistics and microbiology. With issues as far-ranging as drug legalization, censorship, and emotional support animals, team members rely on each other’s expertise as well as their strengths in approaching issues from different angles—be it practical, philosophical, or policy-minded. Ben explains, “I’m learning something new every day from people bringing different perspectives. And that’s a really big positive for our team.”
Their diverse talents served the team well when they competed in the Ethics Bowl National Championships this past February—entirely online—which Ben describes as “exhilarating while you’re doing it and exhausting when you’re done.” Despite missing the in-person energy of a traditional competition, the team did find the online platform to be efficient for collaborating and preparing for their presentations during the competition. Ben, who’s competed on Ethics Bowl teams since high school, claims that “This is definitely the quickest-thinking group of individuals I’ve been a part of and I’m always amazed by everyone’s ability to turn on a dime and be able to create an argument and respond to a point in the moment.”
Friendship as the Key to Success
The team was eliminated in the early rounds of the national competition, though the competition itself was never the highlight of this team’s experience. Coach Eric Easley, a senior instructor in the Philosophy Department, explains, “This year’s team is one I’m particularly proud of and not just because they did so well in the regional and national competitions. This year’s team was especially tight knit, having become a group of close friends, mutually supporting one another, and forging long-lasting friendships.” Team member Paul Brull concurs with Easley’s insights, “the people here are fantastic and I kept coming back and kept enjoying the experience. The competition was secondary to me.”
Frankie sums up the experience of being a part of this year’s Ethics Bowl Team: “This is one of the very few groups where anybody can have a conversation about pretty much anything. Very rarely do you get the pleasure, privilege, and experience of having a group of intellectually engaged people. I also happen to deeply like, deeply love, all the people on this team so that’s incredibly important to me as well.”
The unique combination of intellectual engagement and deep friendship provided the catalyst for the Ethics Bowl Team to succeed throughout the year. Easley elaborates, “I think it really is how they meshed as people, and as friends, that allowed them to do so well. Winning a competition is great but graduating college with real friends and experiences you’ll keep as part of you is, I think, even better, and they made sure they got that as a team.”
In addition to Frankie Henderson, Ben Law, and Paul Brull, the Ethics Bowl roster includes Adela Gallegos, Brooke McConnell, Raven Whitaker, George Laird, Sean Wang, Tatum Libby, and honorary member Ansh Jhatakia (who transferred to CU Boulder but still loves the team that much).