Success in the Ethics Olympiad

Posted on July 22, 2022

By Ben Felstead, Teacher of Philosophy & Theory of Knowledge

On May 6th, five Friends’ students from Years 10 and 12 (Ellie Huxtable, Tarcin Marriott, Elizabeth Ralph, Yong Cheng Vajra, Grace Winspear) won the gold medal in the Tasmanian Senior Schools Ethics Olympiad and, early in Term 3, will participate in the International Final.

The Ethics Olympiad is an event in which students from different schools around the world meet via Zoom to discuss contentious ethical issues in contemporary society. Issues explored at this year’s event included the ethics of choosing to have children in an overpopulated world, the role of restorative disciplinary practices in schools and in the criminal justice system, the toppling of statues of historical figures who held racist or sexist views, and whether artists can legitimately cross ethical boundaries that others may not.

There is a tension at the heart of the Ethics Olympiad because the event is both competitive and collaborative. Teams compete to win gold, silver and bronze medals and their performance is scored by expert judges; however, the goal is not to dazzle others with rhetorical prowess or produce a ‘knock-down’ argument against opponents views, as is often the case when similar issues are discussed in school debating programmes and in public discourse more broadly.

The things that judges look for when assessing the ‘Ethletes’ are excellence in: attentive listening, respectful communication, the consideration of multiple perspectives, the giving of reasons in support of a perspective, the offering of constructive feedback, and the reasonable modification of stated beliefs in response to the opposition’s feedback.

In short, the teams are assessed on their ability to honestly, collegially and open-mindedly inquire into the complexity of making ethical judgements about the pressing issues of the day and, acknowledging this complexity, give reasons to defend a shared position on how we ought to respond to that issue.