Welcome to the coaches page. Here you can find all the information you need to coach a team and prepare them to participate in your regional high school ethics bowl (& possibly beyond!). Here are some simple tips for forming a team:

  • Find Interested Students – we recommend you seek out students from diverse backgrounds as this tends to produce the strongest teams
  • Make it known that you are willing to coach a team
  • Get to Know Your Team – we recommend icebreakers to help get your team socializing. Go bowling, go for a hike, or host a pizza party -> get your team cohesion on!

There are many ways for coaches to help their teams prepare for the Ethics Bowl. You can also refer to the National High School Ethics Bowl site which has additional articles, guides, videos and reference material. And, when you’re ready, you can use the form on this page to begin registering for the Long Island or NYC Bowls and we will contact you.

The following toggled sections are the same content we distribute to the teams. We believe you will find them helpful as well. Note: these sections also correspond to the PDF documents you can download below for offline viewing or printing.

Ethics Bowl Case Analysis Guide

Case Number and Title:

Moral Question
What moral question(s) are raised by this case? Rank them in order of importance.

Stakeholder Summary
List every individual or group that has a stake in the moral issues you’re considering.

Arguments for Your Position
Briefly summarize 3-4 arguments that support your position.

Objections to Your Position
Briefly summarize 3-4 possible objections to your position.

Other Considerations
About which of your arguments do you feel most secure? Least secure?

Logical Fallacies Study Guide

High School Ethics Bowl is an event in which high school students gather to discuss ethical issues and compete in offering arguments for the positions they take. As a judge, your job is to assess the competitors’ ability to offer articulate, well-informed, and reasonable arguments. This handout is meant to provide a brief summary of what makes an argument reasonable or unreasonable.

Arguments and Logical Fallacies
In each round, the presenting team will attempt to make arguments in order to establish a position with regards to an ethical issue. An argument is made up of premises (which provide evidence or reasons in favor of a position) and a conclusion (the claim being established by the premises). A reasonable argument:

  1. has strong, well supported premises that we have good reason to think are true,
  2. has a conclusion that follows logically from the premises, and
  3. is relevant to the ethical question at issue.

Logical fallacies are defects that weaken arguments. Here is a list of some of the most common fallacies:

Appeal to Tradition
Definition: An argument appeals to tradition when it presumes that something is right or wrong just because we have always taken it to be right or wrong.

Example: Eating meat is morally permissible because it’s what we’ve always done.

Analysis: This argument assumes that the fact that we have always eaten meat means that it is morally permissible to eat meat. However, it ignores the possibility that it may have always been morally wrong to eat meat, or that certain facts about our present day circumstances now make eating meat wrong, even if it wasn’t wrong historically.

Begging the Question
Definition: An argument begs the question when it assumes the truth of the very thing that it is trying to prove.

Example: We ought donate to charity because helping people in times of need is the right thing to do.

Analysis: This argument contains a conclusion (“We ought to donate to charity”) and a premise (“helping people in times of need is the right thing to do”). When we look at the conclusion and premise, however, we see that they say basically the exact same thing. This means that the premise, which is meant to support the conclusion, actually implicitly assumes the truth of the conclusion.

False Dichotomy
Definition: A false dichotomy argument is set up to suggest that there are only two options available in a given situation. One option is then eliminated, so it seems that we must accept the other option. However, the argument omits the fact that there are actually more than two options available.

Example: Either you’re against physician-assisted suicide or you’re for the unrestricted legalization of physician-assisted suicide. Since legalizing unrestricted physician-assisted suicide will have awful consequences, we should be against the legalization of physician-suicide.

Analysis: This argument presents a false dichotomy because it fails to acknowledge a third option: legalizing physician-assisted suicide in only certain types of cases.

Faulty Analogy
Definition: Many arguments rely on analogies. An analogy is faulty when it involves the comparison of two things that aren’t actually alike, or aren’t alike in the relevant respect.

Example: Marijuana is like oregano insofar as it is a green, leafy plant. Since it would be ridiculous to criminalize the consumption of oregano, it is equally ridiculous to criminalize the consumption of marijuana.

Analysis: Even though marijuana and oregano are alike in some respects, these are not the respects that are at issue when we consider whether we ought to legalize the sale of marijuana.

Appeal to Authority
Definition: It is often perfectly appropriate to strengthen an argument by appealing to a legitimate and relevant authority on the issue. We commit a fallacy, however, when we either appeal to an illegitimate authority or when we appeal to an authority simply to impress our audience.

Example: Immanuel Kant said that we should never treat people merely as a means to our ends. By buying someone’s kidney, you are using them merely as a means to your end. Therefore, it is morally impermissible to buy and sell organs.

Analysis: This argument presupposes that Immanuel Kant was right to think that we should never use people merely as means to our ends. However, further argument is required to establish the truth of that claim.

Slippery Slope
Definition: A slippery slope argument assumes that some action will inevitably lead to a (typically problematic) chain of events. In reality, however, there is not sufficient evidence to prove that this chain will actually result.

Example: Any sort of gun control law will invariably lead to our second amendment right to bear arms being taken away. So, if you’re in support of the second amendment, you ought to be against all gun control laws.

Analysis: This argument assumes that there is a ‘slippery slope’ between gun control laws and the elimination of the second amendment, without offering any argument in support of claim.

Ethics Bowl Procedure

THE PRESENTATION: 6 minutes – 15 points
Team A confers for two minutes and then presents its analysis of the case.

NOTE: New policy – Both teams can confer quietly and take notes on provided scrap paper before the presentation, commentary and response.

During a Presentation, a team presents its central argument. It should have 3 qualities:

  • It should clearly and systematically address the question the moderator asks
  • It should identify and discuss the central moral dimensions of the case
  • It should indicate awareness and thoughtful consideration of different viewpoints, including those that come to a different conclusion. Try to empathize with positions not your own; get inside them, understand why others may hold them.

Who speaks during the presentation?
In the past, there has been some concern that teams were penalized or rewarded depending on whether one person speaks or everyone contributes. We understand that each team has its own process:

  • Some divide up the cases so that individuals are responsible for a certain number of cases; as a result one person would present. Other teams ask that each member of the team become responsible for a different aspect of all the cases; as a result, all team members would speak.
  • Either of these strategies (or variations) is feasible and scoring is neutral on this issue. However, judges do not know which approach a team will take unless they are informed. Therefore, to dispel any preconceptions that a judge may harbor, we strongly urge that a team outline its presentation when it begins – that is, the team should explain who will be discussing which aspect(s) of the case and why. This way, a judge will know what kind of presentation to expect.
  • Judges know that they should neither penalize nor reward a team for using either approach: both are welcome.
  • Additionally, because an ethics bowl encourages collaboration, team members are encouraged to remain seated rather than stand during a match.

THE COMMENTARY: 4 minutes – 10 points
Team B confers for one minute and then offers a Commentary on Team A’s presentation.

When team members comment, they should think of themselves as thoughtful, critical listeners. Their goal is to point out the flaws in the presentation, to comment on its strengths, note what has been omitted or needs further development; all this is in the interest of making the presentation of the case stronger.

Although teams are allowed to and should pose questions during Commentary, the first team is under no obligation to answer any or all questions raised by the second team (or vice versa). The presenting team, however, should be able to answer the most crucial or morally pressing question or two (in the event that there are more than two questions).

  • Teams are expected to ask insightful questions that target the primary position, key implications, or unaddressed central issues.
  • When scoring Commentary, judges will consider the questions raised by the opposing team and whether the questions addressed truly substantive issues—both in relation to the presentation and the moderator’s question.
  • A “question shower” or “spit-fire questioning,” during which a team rapidly asks many questions in an attempt to overwhelm or dominate the other team, is inconsistent with the aims of Ethics Bowl, and will not merit a high score.

THE RESPONSE: 4 minutes, 5 points
Team A confers for one minute. Team A responds to the points raised by Team B’s Commentary. This is not a dialogue: only Team A speaks during this portion.

JUDGES’ QUESTIONS: 10 minutes, 20 points
Each judge can (but doesn’t have to) ask one question of the team – not an individual member of the team, and if there’s time, a follow-up.

Teams will be judged on their demeanor – their ability to disagree without being disagreeable, to argue a point without becoming combative or adversarial, to main civil discourse throughout the rounds.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does Ethics Bowl differ from debate?
In ethics bowl, teams are not required to pick opposing sides, nor is the goal to “win” the argument by belittling the other team or its position. Ethics Bowl is, at heart, a collaborative discussion during which the first team presents its analysis of a question about the ethical dilemma at the core of the case being discussed, offering support for its position but also considering the validity of other positions.

How many people on a team, and how many teams can participate?
Teams can have up to 7 members. A minimum of 3 and a maximum of 5 students participate in any single round. Teams composition can change between rounds but not once a round begins.

Who wins an Ethics Bowl Round?
The winning teams is the one that is deemed having won the match by 2 of 3 judges. Total points does not determine the winning team.

What’s a good argument?
The goal is to demonstrate breadth and depth of thinking about difficult and important ethical situations. In fact, teams are rewarded for the degree to which they eschew adversarial positioning and instead adopt a more collegial, collaborative stance.

  • Teams are strongly encouraged to think of themselves as being on the same side rather than as opponents. That is, both teams are working together trying to solve a difficult problem–while impressing the judges with thoughtful, considered analysis and support. Listening to the other team with an aim to affirm, gently correct, supplement, or build on their argument is a prudent approach.
  • These cases are hard. If they don’t appear hard, you’re not thinking about them hard enough. You can agonize over your decision, that’s the essence of ethical dilemmas. Ethics isn’t about right versus wrong; it’s about competing theories of right. Take time to explore all the possible arguments, and experience them. Let us know that this isn’t an easy exercise.

Do we need to cite philosophers and ethical theories?
No. In fact, if you do, some judges won’t know what you’re talking about because they’re not all philosophers. In addition, being able to use philosophical jargon is not a requirement of a good answer, nor is it indicative of a poor answer. The argument matters; it is not necessary to name the philosopher associated with the argument. Keep in mind that a team is speaking to a broad audience: many judges have no formal background in philosophy or ethics, and may not understand your reference to “Kantianism.” A good strategy is to explain ethical reasoning in terms everyone can understand.

However, if a team member does refer to “deontology,” for example, make sure the reference is accurate. A judge may question you about it during the judges’ questioning portion of the match. In short, remember that philosophical name-dropping is not a substitute for presenting a sound argument.

Theories didn’t come first. No one woke up and said, “I’ll invent deontology today.” If a friend comes to you for advice, you don’t start by saying, “Here’s the utilitarian argument.” You begin by thinking about people.

How much research does a team have to undertake?
Successful analyses will include a clear and detailed understanding of the facts of a case. Since cases are often highly complex, researching the topic or incident involved may be helpful. Although teams may use outside research to prepare for a match, they should not assume that merely presenting factual information will impress the judges. Teams need to propose valid, sound, persuasive arguments that are buttressed by fact to score well. If a team introduces a specific fact not contained in the case, the team should cite the source (e.g. “according to a 2011 article in National Geographic…”).

When researching cases, teams should think of this as an opportunity to gather and assess arguments supporting a wide range of points of view rather than to seek only those sources that support opinions the team already holds. As team members analyze the range of arguments, they should strive to get inside the heads of those who have different beliefs than the ones with which they are familiar. What motivates people to have certain beliefs? What are their values? A team should also ask, “Why is this case hard?” If it doesn’t seem hard, it is a good sign a team is not probing deeply enough. The cases are supposed to challenge worldviews. Asking questions like these will help a team solidify its own position.

Can we change our minds?
On occasion, team members may discover that they want to modify or perhaps change an aspect of their initial “position” as a result of the second team’s commentary. Some judges may think this indicates that the team did not fully think through its initial position. However, because the ethics bowl is about ethical inquiry, and because changing one’s mind can be considered a sign of fluid rather than crystallized intelligence – a hallmark of higher-order thinking – changing or modifying a position is not necessarily negative.

What can I bring to the EB?
You don’t need to bring anything except a pen, though pens will be available. You’ll also receive scrap paper and copies of the cases and questions. You can’t bring any device that connects to the Internet. You can bring any other non-internet timepiece but only the moderator will keep official time.

What should I wear?
Avoid the winter equivalent of shorts and flip-flops. Some wear suits, some don’t. Business casual.

What awards are presented?
Trophies are presented to:

  • winning team
  • second place team
  • both teams that were in the semifinals but didn’t advance.

There are two Honorary Mention awards:

  • team that scores highest on Commentary
  • team that scores highest on Judges Questions

The Robert Ladenson Spirit of the Ethics Bowl is awarded to the team that scores highest in Respectful Dialogue.

Downloadable PDF Documents