Ethics Bowl, a competitive academic game modeled loosely on TV's "College Bowl," is designed to develop students' abilities in ethical analysis and judgment. Students enroll in Phil 138: Social Ethics in the fall semester. In this class they research and analyze ethical dilemmas drawn from a wide range of areas (environmental ethics, biomedical ethics, business ethics, institutional ethics, personal ethics, etc.). The goal is to resolve and justify the resolutions of these dilemmas. Based on a set of case studies, CSU, Chico sponsors a regional competition of teams of students from CSU, Chico and other universities in Northern California in December. In February the winning team of students from this competition represents its University at The National Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl (previous sites have included Charlotte, NC, Washington DC, and Dallas, TX).
Ethics Bowl has valuable educational applications. First, it demonstrates and reinforces the fact that theoretical ethical concepts and procedures have practical utility. By encouraging an appreciation of the application of ethical theory to lived moral dilemmas, Ethics Bowl acknowledges recent pedagogical research demonstrating that students learn--and retain--more when the relevance to "real life" of instructional content is clear.
Second, Ethics Bowl simultaneously addresses concerns of both academic and professional realms. Academics want students who are conversant with major philosophical conceptions (e.g., Utilitarianism, Kantianism) and who appreciate their relevance to actual moral problems. The professional community, on the other hand, seeks professionals who see themselves as members of a community with shared values virtues, and who are able to avoid or resolve concrete moral dilemmas that arise in the professional arena.
With its focus on critical thinking and intellectual rigor, Ethics Bowl both promotes the goals of the academy and fosters a communitarian approach to professional life. It fosters a view of ethical deliberation as an analytical activity undertaken by persons who share standards of right and wrong as they relate to ethical questions. Both the communal and analytical aspects of ethics are captured by Ethics Bowl's group-centered approach to deliberation and by contestants' interaction with the judges who recognize similar values and actions as appropriate (or not). This convergence of judgment about the nature and quality of ethical reasoning on difficult issues among distinguished individuals in different walks of life reinforces students' sense of ethical standards as relevant, as shared, and as important to professional performance.
Finally, Ethics Bowl gives students a chance to flex their burgeoning intellectual muscles. Student discussions of the Ethics Bowl questions stimulate participation from every student. The small group environment and an audience of peers encourage intellectual interaction. In addition, students have the opportunity to teach each other, to identify and rectify their own factual and interpretive errors, thereby--again--availing themselves of strategies that maximize learning.