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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 2017 THSEB!

Champion – Hardin Valley Academy
Runner-Up – L&N STEM Academy
Semi-Finalists – Oak Ridge High School & Pigeon Forge High School

2018 Event Information

The ninth annual Tennessee High School Ethics Bowl will be held on Saturday, February 3, 2018 at Knoxville’s Holiday Inn at World’s Fair Park.  It is a full day event, with a light breakfast and 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 will provide coaches with detailed informational packets (including information on the basics of ethical reasoning), conduct a coaches' clinic in late October, and can also send liaisons to visit participating schools upon request, in order to assist with preparation for the event. 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!

Participation is limited to 16 teams (due to space, volunteer, and budgetary constraints). Registration for the 2018 THSEB will began on October 1st and will remain open until all sixteen slots are filledYou can register via on our online form by clicking here.

After completing the registration process, you should be contacted via e-mail by the THSEB to confirm your registration status.  Should more than 16 teams express interest, we will create a waitlist based on the order of registration.  Initially registration will be limited to one team per school, but if spaces are still remaining on November 1st, we will then allow schools to register a second team.

Now is a great time to start identifying your team and building student interest!  Please note that while you will not have to provide a team roster during the initial registration process, it is important to make sure that you know there is sufficient commitment from your students prior to registering.

For more information on the Ethics Bowl program, please direct all inquiries to

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