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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 2018 THSEB!

Champion – Maryville High School (4th Place finish at National Competition)
Runner-Up – L&N STEM Academy
Semi-Finalists – Oak Ridge High School & Webb School of Knoxville

2019 Event Information

The tenth annual Tennessee High School Ethics Bowl will be held on Saturday, February 2, 2019 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) 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 coaching assistance. 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 2019 THSEB is now open.  You can register your team here.  Schools are allowed to enter one team, on a first-come, first-serve basis.  The event will initially be capped at 16 teams (due to various budgetary and logistical reasons), so the earlier you register the better opportunity you have for guaranteeing your space.

Once all spaces are filled, we will begin forming a waitlist.  There is a possibility that we will be able to host 18 teams, in which case the first two teams on the waitlist would join the competition.  Starting on November 15th, 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 2019 THSEB will be required to register with the NHSEB and pay a $75 registration fee to them (NOTE: the THSEB does not have our own separate registration fee).  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.

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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