Teams forming for popular Ethics Bowl competition



Teams are being sought for Detroit Mercy’s 19th annual Ethics Bowl, which will be held Nov. 9 at 12:30 p.m. in the Fountain Lounge.

It rates as one of the most popular cerebral events on the McNichols campus.

Haley Ladd participated last year.

She described it as “a great experience.”

It “taught me a lot about ethics and debate,” she added.

In bowl matches, two teams face off and discuss two of the cases that have been written up for the event.

A moderator will ask a question of a team and its members will have time to respond. 

The opposing team will have a chance to make a comment on what the first team says. 

This is done in front of a panel of three judges. 

The judges have a chance to ask questions of both teams, maybe to get clarification or even to tweak the case to see how a contestant may handle a change in facts. 

“Contestants are not judged on the conclusion that they come to,” said professor Martin Leever, director of the bowl. “They are judged on the coherence of their arguments, the evidence that they are aware of the morally relevant issues and they understand which facts are relevant given the moral issues at stake.”

Four criteria are key, he said:   

n Intelligibility: Does the answer make sense? Can judges understand what the team is trying to argue?

n Depth: Do team members stay on track? Does their response reflect an awareness of the morally relevant values and morally relevant facts involved?

n Focus: Do they avoid morally irrelevant considerations?

n Judgment: Does the response reflect an awareness and ability to balance out the considerations in a way that supports the conclusion?

“Judgment is more than just awareness,” said Leever. “For example, balancing a right to privacy with protecting innocent outside parties – or a right to free speech with the harmful consequences of hate speech.

“It’s one thing … to be aware of what’s relevant and what’s not relevant, but it’s another thing to reflect that thought process where you’re kind of weighing everything out and thinking it through. Not everything should get equal weight. That’s judgment.”

Students interested in participating in this year’s Ethics Bowl need to join or form a team of three to five members.

Rules and cases are available on the school’s website and can be downloaded.

Groups must complete the registration form and slide it under the door of Briggs 310. 

Finally, there is an online Ethics Bowl orientation available to students, with Leever talking to a Powerpoint presentation to give students a sense of how the whole thing will play out. 

The informational meetings held in the past have been replaced with lectures available online so students can prepare at their leisure. 

There are strategic points to consider.

“Don’t feel like you have got to take an opposing view,” said Leever. “If you know a lot of case law, don’t lose the moral issue in the legal issue.”

Father Si Hendry, director of Detroit Mercy’s Catholic Studies Program, has served as both a judge and a moderator in past years.

Ethics Bowls and stopped in to say hello to Dr. Leever. 

He thinks highly of it.

“The Ethics Bowl is one of the best things this university does,” he said. 

Leever added, “The cool thing about the judges is that we not only have faculty from Detroit Mercy, but we also have attorneys, judges in real life, physicians, nurses, teachers, high school principals. This is a way to galvanize the community around something central to the mission of this university.”  

Graduates are also welcome to return to judge the competition.