The UC Santa Barbara Ethics Bowl student team competed in the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl competition in Cincinnati from Feb. 24-25, taking home the second place prize after a final round of debate against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Courtesy of UCSB Ethics Bowl

Graduate students in the Department of Philosophy and Ethics Bowl coaches David King and Jon Charry led their team to compete in both the regional competition in December and the national competition in February after six months of preparation, which involved extensive research, mini-lectures and practice cases.

The competition was hosted by the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics Intercollegiate (APPE), a non-profit organization committed to educating students and opportuning them to expand their knowledge in the realm of ethics through scholarship opportunities and the Ethics Bowl competition.

“Like in life, the cases are complex, difficult to resolve, and sometimes polarizing,” APPE Council Chair John Garcia said in a press release sent to the Nexus. “Unlike debate, in Ethics Bowl, teams are not assigned ‘pro’ and ‘con’ sides of an ethical issue. Each team’s goal is to identify the various ethical considerations, analyze the importance of those, and engage in civil discourse with another team that expands the conversation based on its position.”

This year’s national Ethics Bowl competition involved 36 undergraduate student teams from universities across the country competing in the finals. The judges questioned the teams about a range of current issues, pushing them to evaluate topics that affect them in their daily lives, according to APPE Executive Director Kristen Wells.

“The Ethics Bowl is designed to really help undergraduate students think through the issues that are happening in our world today. Their real-life ethical challenges and education and life and politics and business things that students are dealing with on a college campus,” Wells said in an interview with the Nexus.

Areas of debate included issues ranging from affirmative action to diversity on university campuses. One of the questions discussed in the final round of competition was “What sorts of limits should be put on [artificial intelligence], in light of the threats it poses, and whose responsibility is it to impose those limits?”

“Each case is kind of different and centers on a different kind of ethical question. So some might be moral obligations; some might be, you know, personal values,” Wells said.

Wells explained that the students were judged on their ability to approach the topics at hand in a nuanced and holistic manner, rather than as black-and-white issues.

“The judges are looking not necessarily for their answer to the specific questions, but how can they identify what the ethical dimensions are of each case. How can they talk about it in a clear and thoughtful manner? And how can they appreciate different perspectives?” Wells said.

King and Charry expressed their faith in the team’s ability in competing at nationals. 

“We had no doubt that they could go toe-to-toe with any team in the nation. They knew their cases. They had the arguments. They knew their theory,” King and Charry said in a statement to the Nexus. “And, after every match, when they looked to their coaching team for advice about what they could be doing better, pretty much the only advice we had to give was to manage their stress levels and keep their heads clear.” 

The main goal of APPE remains preparing students for moral dilemmas that may arise in their future, encouraging them to develop the skills to tackle these issues in the best way possible.

“We’re really trying to get the students to participate, to think about a variety of issues and how they can make decisions, better and more clearly,” Wells said. “We’re all better for this. And I think the people who participate in ethics school will make better employees, they’ll be better friends, they’ll be stronger citizens.”

A version of this article appeared on p. 6 of the March 7, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.

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Anushka Ghosh Dastidar
Anushka Ghosh Dastidar (she/her) is the Community Outreach News Editor for the 2023-24 school year. Previously, Ghosh Dastidar was the Assistant News Editor for the 2022-2023 school year. She can be reached at anushkagd@dailynexus.com or news@dailynexus.com.