Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

In polarized times, the Ethics Bowl embraces the gray areas

UW Center for Philosophy for Children
Molly Sanderson (middle) and her team from Seattle Academy, at the 2018 Ethics Bowl.

This story originally aired on March 10, 2018.

There are times in life when the answers aren't black and white. 

Your friend is getting married, and asks you to be best man--but you don't approve of his fiancee. Should you speak up about your reservations? Should you be quiet and agree to be best man? 

You suspect that wearing makeup might help your advancement at work, but you also suspect that sexism is at play. Should you put on that lipstick?

Some employers reject job applicants because they smoke. Is that right?

Those questions are among the ten moral dilemmas discussed by local high school students at a recent regional High School Ethics Bowl hosted by the University of Washington Center for Philosophy for Children.

Although the Ethics Bowl is similar to debate team, participants in the Ethics Bowl don't have to hold fast to any one position. They can agree, disagree, and change their minds throughout the course of the discussion. The point is to get at the root of the issue, find common ground, and come to a solidly reasoned position--while understanding that your opponents dissenting position might be just as solidly reasoned.

It's a form of debate that seems particularly well suited to a polarized age.

In this conversation, Gabriel Spitzer hosts a miniature Ethics Bowl, with Jana Mohr Lone of the UW Center for Philosophy for Children which hosted this year's debate, as well as with two students who participated in this year's bowl: Paris Hodgson, a Junior from a team at Ballard High School, and Molly Sanderson, a Senior from a team at Seattle Academy. (Sanderson and her team will be headed to the National High School Ethics Bowl this April.)

They discussed the following dilemma: Ten students were admitted to Harvard--and then participated in a Facebook group where racist, sexist, and violent memes were shared. After Harvard found out, the students offers of admission were rescinded. Was Harvard in the right?

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.