PHS Ethics Bowl competes at nationals

April, 2024
Maxime DeVicoEmily KimAnna Petrova

From April 12­–14, PHS’s Ethics Bowl team traveled to UNC-Chapel Hill Campus in North Carolina to compete in the 2024 National High School Ethics Bowl Championships, an annual competition where two teams face each other to discuss and evaluate case studies with moral questions or dilemmas. Facing 24 teams from across the nation, PHS’s Ethics Bowl team engaged in a series of riveting discussions on ethical dilemmas, placing fifth overall and winning the Judges’ Choice Award.

In order to qualify for nationals, each team had to win their respective regional Ethics Bowl competitions. Back in November, the PHS Ethics Bowl team began preparing for the New Jersey High School Ethics Bowl competition that they won in February. During their preparations for nationals, the Ethics Bowl team scrutinized numerous philosophical topics and practiced employing analytical strategies that they have developed throughout their past meetings.

Unlike other discussion-based competitions, such as debate, where judges are instructed to discard their biases, ethics bowl judges may bring in outside knowledge or their own opinions during the rounds. As a result, co-captain Amanda Sun ’24 explains that the questions posed by judges and opposing teams during the tournament rounds are idiosyncratic, often making them challenging for the team to answer on the spot.

“Personal opinions can influence the judges’ decisions when asking us hard questions or giving lower points ... but we just have to try our best and just present what we came to the table with,” Sun said.

In addition to addressing judges’ varying moral beliefs, the team members also had to discuss differences in their own ethical values in order to reach a consensus on a moral framework to apply to potential cases during the national tournament.

“We [spent] so many hours on the plane, in the hotel rooms, in the classrooms, just talking to each other about the cases and just trying to figure out how to resolve each of our individual beliefs and disagreements,” Sun said.

While competing with students from across the nation, PHS’s team also noted that the geographical origin of other teams influenced how they approached the same moral questions.

“We got to see other people’s perspectives for the first time on these new cases and be exposed to new ideas, as opposed to just kind of agreeing with ourselves over and over again,” said Sun. “The teams were more diverse geographically. People in the South have different concerns than those in the West and the East for example, so it was interesting to see how philosophy is taught in different areas.”

The geographical diversity of the competing teams was paired with a diverse set of judges with different areas of focus in philosophy.

“One judge got really detailed with John Locke’s specific language for the social contract, which we hadn’t foreseen,” said Nikolai Margulis ’25. “One of our cases focused on the morality of speculating about Taylor Swift’s sexuality. We were asked if pop stars and politicians should be held to different standards in regard to publicity with their private lives.”

The team not only treated the tournament as a chance to broaden their perspectives on ethical viewpoints but also to explore local eateries and events, attending a bluegrass concert and dining out at fro-yo spots. For Margulis, the highlight of the entire experience was the down-to-earth atmosphere during the competition.

“We were all amazed by the spirit of genuine interest in discussion that seemed to fill every match. There was definitely an air of gratitude and excitement among each team,” Margulis said.