Tufts Ethics Bowl Project

The Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl is a competition in which teams of undergraduate students explore contemporary ethical problems and dilemmas. The cases debated are designed and written by members of the Association for Practical and Profession Ethics and cover a wide range of controversial ethical issues.

For over a decade the Tufts philosophy department has organized an Ethics Bowl competition in the fall semester. It is open to undergraduates from all disciplines at the university. Participants enroll in a 2 credit course in the fall and are coached on argumentation, ethical reasoning, and presentation skills by graduate student teaching assistants under the guidance of Prof. Susan Russinoff. This culminates in a daylong event toward the end of the semester in which teams of 4-6 students compete for the championship. The winning team enters the Northeast Regional Ethics Bowl. The Tufts team regularly wins or places second in the regional Bowl and advances to the national championship competition.

The Tufts Ethics Bowl Project benefits both undergraduate students and the philosophy MA students. The competition has a unique design that differs from the pro/con, black/white format typical of ordinary debates. It is intended to give the students an opportunity to use reason and critical thinking to propose and discuss with their peers alternative approaches to difficult ethical problems.

Philosophy graduate students volunteer to serve as judges and moderators for the sessions on the day of the event. The Bowl typically involves about forty undergraduates in eight teams and many graduate student judges and moderators. The project has helped to build a lively intellectual community in the philosophy department at Tufts as well as across the campus.

In addition to the fall semester Tufts Ethics Bowl, the philosophy department also hosts the New England Regional High School Ethics Bowl. The undergraduates who participate in the collegiate Bowl have the opportunity to serve as judges and moderators for this high school competition, and enjoy being on the other side of the table after having learned a great deal about critical thinking and ethical reasoning in the fall semester. Recently, Ethics Bowl students have introduced Ethics Bowl to a cohort of incarcerated students at MCI Concord, teaching ethical theory and principles of argumentation, and helping to judge competitions.