Ethics Bowl Team Finishes In Top Eight At National Championship

The school’s Ethics Bowl team finished in the top eight at the National Championship in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the culmination of a breakthrough year during which the group surprised competitors by first winning the Connecticut Championship and a playoff round against the Rhode Island Champion — all in its first year of official competition.

In reaching the quarter-final round of the National Championship, the team outlasted 15 other regional champions — including Philips Exeter Academy and University of Chicago Lab School — and solidified its place as a formidable opponent on the national stage.

The team’s first nationals appearance marked the successful conclusion to a months-long effort of preparation. In Ethics Bowl, teams are tasked with presenting responses to philosophical questions about current events. For example, one question the team posed during preliminary rounds was, “Is minimizing tax payments using legal methods morally permissible?”

Preparing a quality response to each question — which are given to participants weeks in advance — required the team to analyze different moral frameworks, consider the stakeholders, and weigh different ethical factors.

Led by Instructor in Philosophy Dr. Thomas Fisher, the group — comprised of Rahul Kalavagunta ’22, Stella Ren ’22, Ben Who ’24, Yixi Zou ’25, and Ishani Kalavagunta ’25 — met throughout the school year to collaborate and organize their thoughts.

Kalavagunta ’22, who is a co-captain of the group, attributed the team’s success to this vast preparation effort. “I believe our thorough review of each case was a key aspect of our success,” he said. “It allowed us to have deep, quality discussions with our competitors because we were so in-touch with the topics.”

However, the team also focused on practicing impromptu speaking skills: a large portion of an Ethics Bowl round is dedicated to fielding questions posed by a panel of three judges, who are often philosopher professors or Ph.D. students.

“Our ability to think on our feet really benefited us,” said Stella Ren ’22, who is also a co-captain of the team. “Our responses to the judges’ questions solidified the notion that we understood complicated ethical concepts.”

The team also grappled with the unique format of Ethics Bowl during its preparation. Unlike in debate, where opposing teams take directly contradicting stances and are judged on their ability to refute all of their opponent’s points, teams in Ethics Bowl are scored on their ability demonstrate an understanding of different ethical concepts. Judges determine a winner based on the breadth of topics covered, clarity of presentation, and and professionalism.

Because three of the five members of the team are veteran debaters, the group put a special emphasis on avoiding the refutation-heavy style of speaking they had grown accustomed to.

“Straight refutations are frowned upon and penalized in Ethics Bowl, so we needed to practice demonstrating our understanding of a topic without rebuffing everything our opponent presented,” said Zou.

Dr. Fisher, the team’s coach, praised the format of Ethics Bowl, saying that it teaches participants how to discuss complex and controversial topics without defaulting to argument.

“I don’t think that Ethics Bowl will bring about world peace or heal partisan divides, but there is still a lot to like about its model of searching for the truth together while still pointing out deficiencies in each other’s reasoning,” they said.

The team hopes to continue their success next year, albeit without the veteran presence of Seniors Ren and Kalavagunta ’22.

“I’ve learned so much from our Seniors, and I’m confident we can keep winning like this next year,” said Zou.