Chapman University’s two teams (six students each) just returned from the California Regional Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl competition at CSU Chico, held on Saturday, December 3, 2016.  Both teams did extremely well.  One team advanced to the semi-finals, where they narrowly lost to the team that won the tournament.

This is Chapman’s second year of participation in Ethics Bowl, and the first for students taking the Philosophy Department’s new course (PHIL 312:  Ethics Bowl), to be offered every Fall semester.

What is Ethics Bowl?
It’s an innovative form of debate about complex cases involving ethical controversies in a variety of areas—including law, medicine, business, the environment, government, and personal life.  Unlike traditional debate formats, where teams are assigned a position to defend, this exciting national program (begun about twenty years ago) has teams develop their own positions, and engage in a “conversation” with the opposing team.  That’s right:  two teams may hold the same conclusion on whether Apple should unlock a terrorist’s iPhone as requested by the FBI, or whether parents of an infant born without a functioning brain should be able to donate organs before that infant is officially declared dead (in order to preserve the organs).

Ethics Bowl teams nationwide prepare a dozen cases during Fall semester.  Teams work collaboratively to research facts about the cases, analyze relevant moral principles and theories, and explore diverse perspectives on the issues.  In addition to developing insightful philosophical commentary on the cases, students learn:

  • to improve their oral communication skills and critical thinking skills
  • to work together in teams to structure a shared presentation;
  • to respond to unexpected questions and viewpoints;
  • to listen carefully to teammates, as well as to the opposing team;
  • to increase their tolerance of ambiguity;
  • to respond to criticism in positive ways;
  • to have greater self-respect, even when they fall short of their own high expectations.

Ethics Bowl models how we all can engage in civil discourse—respecting those who disagree with us and listening to new perspectives, while keeping open the possibility of common ground.

This year’s two teams of six students were mostly philosophy majors and double majors, and included first-year students through seniors.

This is Dr. Virginia Warren’s second year coaching an Ethics Bowl team.  Having heard for years from colleagues at other universities about how much Ethics Bowl positively affects the lives of student participants, she was eager to bring it to Chapman.  Dr. Warren is Professor of Philosophy, specializing in philosophical ethics.  Her fields include medical ethics, environmental ethics, philosophy of women/women of color and, more recently, ethical issues related to disability.

Dr. Warren greatly appreciates the debating expertise of Tim Seavey, class of 2015, who served as volunteer Assistant Coach.  He majored in both Philosophy and Communication Studies, and received the Philosophy Department’s top honor:  the William James Award for best Philosophy student.  Seavey was the President of Chapman’s Debate team, helping to lead it to eight regional team titles and 18 national awards.  He also volunteers as a Speech and Debate coach for local underprivileged elementary and middle school students.

Dr. Nancy Martin, Director of the Schweitzer Institute and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies, inaugurated hosting a regional High School Ethics Bowl at Chapman last year, and will do again later this year.  Ethics Bowl helps to develop critical thinking and oral communication skills at the high school level, preparing students for college level work and for participation in open-minded civil discourse in society generally.

The Philosophy Department thanks these sources for partial funding:

  • Dean Patrick Fuery of Wilkinson College for partial funding both for a) student travel expenses to the competition and b) Dr. Warren’s travel expenses to a workshop for Ethics Bowl coaches in June, 2016.
  • Dean of Students Jerry Price for funding Dr. Warren’s travel expenses to the competition, as a faculty member accompanying students.
  • Philosophy Department for partial funding of student travel expenses to the competition.