Don’t get into an argument with these three, at least if you want to win.
On Thursday March 1, Caroline Christoff, ’12 Rachel Petrack, ’13 and Tim Luttermoser, ’12 will take their 4-0 streak of ethics debate wins on the road when they compete in the 18th Annual National Ethics Bowl Competition at the conference of the Association for Professional and Practical Ethics in Cincinnati. They will be debating against the top thirty-two teams from the regional competitions across the country. This is the third year Hiram has competed in the Ethics Bowl, and the first trip to the national competition.
Since January the trio has been researching and preparing argument on 15 different case studies they may have to de3bate in the competition, on subjects as diverse as the ethics of using of MRI scans for hiring or college admissions decisions, the ethical obligations of authors to the people on whom they base their fictional characters, donating organs to obtain early release from prison, the ethics of the estate tax, and ethical questions surrounding the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
“At this point you could say we’re a little tired of these subjects,” Petrack, a philosophy major, with minors in ethics and gender studies. “We each focus on a couple of cases and then talk about them together to work up our arguments.”
Colin Anderson, associate professor of philosophy, said Petrack was understating the amount of work the team has to do.
We’ve been working on these cases for about four to six hours a week since January” he said. “A lot of times they can draw on things they learned in their previous classes, as well as their current research. In the competition, they have 10 minutes to present their argument, and then the opposing team get five minutes to rebut it, and then there is 10 more minutes to address the rebuttal.”
The teams don’t know until the competition begins what cases they will have to argue, or which side of a case they will defend. So they have to be able to argue either side of each case. To make it even more difficult, the team can’t use the reams of information they’ve amassed during their preparation. Instead, once assigned a case and a “side” of the argument, they have two minutes to prepare.
“So you try to scrawl everything you’ve learned about a subject down on notes in two minutes” said Luttermoser, a biology major, with minors in environmental studies and philosophy. “Usually whoever has the interest or has focused the most on that case gets to present the arguments. They others on the team can pass notes to them during the argument.”
The argument kind of evolves out of all the study that we do,” said Christoff, a Philosphy and Sociology major, with minors in ethics and Gender Studies. “We work as a team to develop the cases.”
But, with their busy regular schedules of classes and activities, what makes the team want to devote so much effort to debating ethical issues that may have no right or wrong answers?
“I got dragged into it,” joked Luttermoser. “There weren’t enough people interested. Most of the teams have five members, and so they dragged me in. Once I got in, though, I liked it.”
“It helps you learn how to make a good arguments,”said Christoff. “And we have learned to work as a team. Some times you get a case where you have easy arguments on one side and harder ones on the other, but we don’t always take those easy arguments, because they might not be as good.”
The team said it’s not always easy to argue a case in terms of black and white, right or wrong, as in the case of the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.
“It depends on the case,” Luttermoser said. “In the Bin Laden case we might argue in hypotheticals, because it would depend on what they (U.S. forces) had certain information at a certain time. If they knew this, it might positive, if they knew that, it might not.”