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Tennessee High School Ethics Bowl

How do you know the right thing to do in sticky situations? We will all face moral dilemmas at some point in our lives, but very rarely do we take the time to seriously examine how to make decisions in such cases. In an effort to bring this type of ethical reasoning into sharper focus among the future leaders of our society, the Department of Philosophy and the Humanities Center at the University of Tennessee encourage East Tennessee high school students to get involved in the Tennessee High School Ethics Bowl (THSEB). First established in 2010, the goal of this educational outreach program is to foster the kinds of critical thinking and moral reasoning skills that not only help to make successful students and professionals, but also to instill key intellectual and civic virtues in the democratic leaders of our society for generations to come.

After all, one of the hallmarks of a modern democracy is the existence of disagreement on a variety of issues. In order to function well, such a society needs citizens capable of engaging in respectful deliberation and dialogue about a vast array of controversial and complex issues, with emphasis on reasoning, not rhetoric. This requires not just critical thinking, but a healthy respect for others’ values and perspectives, as well as an understanding that the world seldom operates in black and white.

The THSEB is sponsored annually by the Department of Philosophy and the UT Humanities Center and has been made possible by the continued involvement of students, faculty, and administrators from schools across East Tennessee, volunteers, and by generous financial support from Home Federal Bank.

At its heart, the THSEB is a discussion, not a debate. Teams are not required to choose opposing sides, nor is the goal to “win” arguments by belittling other teams or their positions. This focus on engagement, reasoning, and critical dialogue has many benefits for student learning, including honing skills which are proven to boost standardized testing performance, and which are explicitly targeted by Tennessee educational standards. Additionally, the event encourages social and intellectual interactions that are crucial to a functioning democracy, namely, the consideration of other, often competing, perspectives when making moral judgments and decisions.

Congratulations to the winners of the 2019 THSEB!

Champion – St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School
Runner-Up – L&N STEM Academy
Semi-Finalists – Hardin Valley Academy & Maryville High School

2020 Event Information

The eleventh annual Tennessee High School Ethics Bowl will be held on Saturday, January 18, 2020 at Knoxville’s Holiday Inn at World’s Fair Park.  It is a full day event, with lunch provided for all participations. All participating teams will be guaranteed at least five matches during the course of the day.  No prior experience with philosophy is expected or necessary to participate in the THSEB, and we are always happy to welcome new teams to the competition.

The THSEB provides coaches with detailed informational packets (including information on the basics of ethical reasoning) and, upon request, meet with you or your team to go over the event details and expectations, answering any questions you might have.  We also offer a program that provides a volunteer to visit your practices to help provide feedback and offer additional perspectives on the cases. We are here to provide whatever we reasonably can to ensure the readiness and competitiveness of your team and look forward to working with participating faculty and students!

Registration for the 2020 THSEB opened on October 1st.  Click here to registerThe first 18 schools to register will be guaranteed places in the eventwith the potential to go to either 20 or 22 teams (we are continuing to explore options for this).  As such, you’ll want to register early to be one of the 18 that are guaranteed a spotYou will not need to provide a roster at the time of registration with us, but please make sure that you have the commitments from students to form a team and participate prior to registering.  We will collect official team rosters in December.

Initially, schools are only allowed to register one team.  Starting in mid-November, if there are any remaining spots available for the event, we will allow schools to register a second team (giving those opportunities based on original registration order).
After completing the registration form, you will be contacted by the THSEB to confirm your registration status.  All teams that gain entry to the 2020 THSEB will be required to register with the NHSEB and pay a $125 registration fee to them (NOTE: the THSEB does not have our own separate registration fee).  That registration fee can be waived in cases where it would present a barrier for competing.  Information and directions regrading this will be sent to all confirmed participants.  Please do not try to register with the NHSEB prior to hearing from us.  You are required to register with the NHSEB (even if you are getting a fee waiver) to be eligible to compete in the THSEB.

Volunteer Opportunities

There are a variety of ways that you can volunteer on the day of the event to help make the THSEB a success and provide a memorable experience for over 100 students who will join us from schools across middle and east Tennessee:

  • As a JUDGE, you will listen to teams present their arguments and score them based on their clarity, engagement with the central ethical dimensions of the case, deliberative thoughtfulness, and respectfulness. Again, no background in ethics or philosophy is required to be a judge. We will provide you with an informational packet and answer any questions you might have.
  • As a MODERATOR, you will present the cases, read the questions to be answered, keep time, and control the room during matches. All materials will be provided for you on the day of the event, including a script to follow.  No advance preparations are required, but we are more than happy to go through the script with you in advance and answer any questions that you might have.
  • As a GENERAL EVENT VOLUNTEER, you will assist on the day of the event with setup, registration and other logistics, etc.  Typically, our general volunteers will have some time in-between tasks to watch the competition (or for students, get homework done).  Given the variety of tasks, we can place people in roles that allow more flexible scheduling if you were to have other commitments that day.

You can express your interest in volunteering, by completing our volunteer interest form here.

If there are any questions or for more information regarding the Ethics Bowl program, please don’t hesitate to e-mail us at

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