Ethics puzzlers will quit being hypothetical and create some real consequences next month in a Slippery Rock University competition.
For many, “The Good Place’s” Chidi Anagonye, the indecisive ethics professor of NBC’s “The Good Place,” is the first evidence ethics can be studied.
But unlike the NBC situation comedy, SRU competition takes ethics very seriously.
So much so, that it will have a competition of contrasting positions from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., April 14 during the fourth annual Ethics Bowl in the Smith Student Center on the Slippery Rock campus. It is part of the Kaleidoscope Regional Arts Festival.
The event provides student teams with opportunities to confront and discuss ethically complex, real-world cases and develop thoughtful responses.
Andrew Winters, SRU instructor of philosophy, believes the Ethics Bowl and exposure to deep and diverse issues is beneficial for students.
Asked who worries about ethics, Winters said, “Who actually worries as to who should be worried about it is the distinction.”
“Ethics is being concerned with how we should live,” said Winters.
“Morals might best be described as the lessons we can draw from our experiences, whereas ethics is a systematic way about thinking of what is right and what is wrong.”
“For the Ethics Bowl, the goal is to have 14 teams of three to five students, and they are picked by students volunteering and self-organizing. Each team will have a faculty member as a mentor,” said Winters. A three-judge panel will be drawn from volunteers from the community.
Winters said in the competition each round will two teams discussing cases.
The moderator for team one will prepare an answer to a question and give a 10-minute response. The second team will get one minute to prepare and then give a five-minute commentary.
The first team, Winters said, gets one minute to prepare a five-minute rebuttal.
Winters said that the Ethics Bowl is not about right or wrong, but rather using the responses to progress the conversation forward and come to an ethical understanding of the issues at hand.
While the bowl is structured like a debate, the competition’s ultimate goal is to unify over common objectives rather than divide over controversies though a conversation-styled event.
Judges will be most interested in who makes the most meaningful contribution to the conversation and demonstrates the most effective civil discourse skills.
“This event is not to make ethics easy, by any means,” said Winters, “but to illustrate how we don’t give enough time to the issues that are important to us.”
Winters said cases could deal with the MeToo campaign, firearms in the classroom, animal testing, environmental protections or biohacking bodies for medical needs.
Lottie Johnson, 22, a sophomore double major in business management and philosophy, does nоt seem to mind the difficult competition.
Of course, she said this is her first year to compete in the Ethics Bowl and her team currently had three members and was looking to add a fourth.
“Initially I was a business major,” said Johnson. “I took an intro to philosophy course and thought it was a very useful way to spend my time.”
“I find philosophy is more applicable than in just the business and education spheres,” said Johnson.
“I find the information available through philosophy, spanning many eras and many cultures,” she said. “There are truths to be found that can help form the best life as opposed to just the best career or the best grades.”
Fellow competitor James Galvan, 18, a freshman biology pre-med/philosophy double major, said his team plans to practice three or four hours a week by poring over old cases.
“We analyze the case for moral and ethical problems. For instance, one side will argue for the testing of animals and the other will parry with the opposite,” said Galvan.
“Whichever side illustrates their position better in the eyes of the judges, prevails,” Galvan said.
However, Johnson said, “The point is to get a civil discourse on these issues as opposed to the constant fighting that surrounds any controversial issue.”
She said her team practices and crafts its response two to 10 hours a week s week.
Winters said the competition’s value is more than who won and who lost.
“It requires both teams to take an opposing stance, competitors are more concerned to learn how to model civil debates on contentious issues. It’s more about learning how to have civil discussions about contemporary contentious issues,” Winters said.
Tianna Wikert, 22, a senior exercise science major will be involved in her third bowl.
“I’ve competed in the past,” Wikert said, adding she became interested in ethics after taking a medic al health care ethics class with Winters.
“I was a sophomore when I first competed,” she said. “It supplied me with a chance to engage in a professional and meaningful debate about ethics in an intellectual and encouraging environment.”
“We were all in charge of delivering our case,” said Wikert. “The one I was in charge of one that had to do with animal rights and the protection of primates.”
“I think these give students the opportunity to better understand their stance on hot button issues,” said Wikert.
Winters agreed with that assessment, saying, “(The Ethics Bowl) helps to explicitly develop critical thinking skills as they relate to moral dilemmas and move beyond mere content. Students become more informed about how to speak of these things in a sensitive way and how to appropriately respond in certain situations.”
“Intuition is just the starting point. You have to continue to do research and develop your ideas,” said Winters. “Decisions are always made in context of a community, so consistency across teams is important.”
Maggie Calvert, 21, a political science/philosophy/gender diversity major, was hooked on Ethics Bowl competition after taking a contemporary moral issues class as a freshman.
“I want to be a lawyer and this will help me in my career and help my speaking skills.”, Calvert said, “I really feel we are in a political climate. It is important to be trained in ethics and be able to discuss these issues. It’s a way to reach more practical decisions about issues.”
To facilitate this continuous discussion, Winters will hold optional practice sessions every Thursday evening until the event.
“There is an intrinsic value in allowing students to become better critical thinkers and discuss things in a civil way,” said Winters.