Montana State University

MSU Ethicats are Northwest Regional Ethics Bowl Champions

Montana State University "Ethicats" Win First Place in NW Ethics Bowl

Ethicats 2010
Ethicats Huddle

The Montana State University Ethicats have WON FIRST PLACE in the Northwest Regional Ethics Bowl in Seattle and have qualified as one of 32 teams to compete in the National Ethics Bowl in Cincinnati, OH in March. This year’s team included students Samuel Foulkes (Philosophy), Madeleine Pike (Philosophy  & English) Shelby Rogala (History SETS and Philosophy), Matt Smith (Philosophy & Business), Griffin Stevens (Mechanical Engineering) and Joseph Thiel (Chemical Engineering).  On their road to victory, the Ethicats had to beat debate teams from the University of Washington, the University of British Columbia, Central Washington University, Whitworth College, and Washington State University.


In the first round, teams grappled with cases that focused on our moral duties to the environment and responsible energy policies.  Shelby Rogala argued that from an ethical perspective, Brazil should not build the Belo Monte Dam, which would be the third largest hydroelectric facility in the world.  As Shelby argued, the dam would cause irreversible damage to an area with unique biodiversity and several indigenous groups who use the surrounding land for subsistence farming.  (There was also a lot of discussion with the judges about megawatts of energy per something or other, but I must uncomfortably admit that some of that went over my head).   In the same round, Madeleine Pike provided a powerful response to a case on coal development arguing that while development with coal should be limited, developed countries who have benefited from coal use in the past have an obligation to subsidize alternative energies for developing nations. The Ethicats handily won the round 144-121.

In round two, the discussion of our duties to non-humans continued with
Matt Smith arguing that whaling is morally wrong and that some direct action tactics, such as disabling whaling vessels, destroying drift nets, and throwing acid onto whaling boats to taint whale meat are justified in so long as they merely affect economic interests and do no physical harm.  In the same round, Matt also argued that Facebook has acted unethically in changing their privacy policies without the consent of users.
(Ironically, the Ethics Bowl organization later announced that they have set up a new Facebook page for the competition.)  Luckily, the judges agreed with Matt and the Ethicats pulled out a 124-122 victory.

In round three the Ethicats faced the formidable University of Washington Team, which was won more ethics bowl titles than any other team in the northwest region.  Shelby Rogala argued against the criminalization of computer-generated child porn where no actual children are used (and while that SOUNDS really bad, everyone agreed her arguments were shockingly compelling).  Griffin Stevens responded to a difficult case about whether we need an “objective independent” media to act as a government “watchdog,” or whether it is preferable to abandon the ideal of objectivity and try to establish a “balance of diverse biases” in the media.  Griffin skillfully handled questions about whether objectivity in journalism is possible, a challenging task in
any context but even more so when you only have five minutes.  The Ethicats trounced UW 148-127, securing themselves a spot in the semi-finals.

In the semi-finals, the Ethicats faced off against last year’s second place team, Central Washington University’s ”Moral Kombat”.  Ethicat Joe Thiel hit a homerun with his presentation on why the 14th Amendment should NOT be repealed so as to exclude citizenship rights to the children of illegal immigrants in the U.S.  Invoking James Madison, John Rawls’ theory of justice, and Immanuel Kant, Joe defended current citizenship practices.  The shock and awe continued with Griffin Steven’s response to a case on whether the U.S. should have mandatory voting.  Griffin argued that although citizens have some duties in virtue of the social contract they benefit from (like military service or jury duty), that voting was relevantly different.  As Griffin argued, voting is a right and not an obligation (so just as the right to bear arms doesn’t imply we have an obligation to own a gun, we can refrain from voting).  MSU won the match 130-124, earning a spot in the finals.

In the finals, the scrappy Ethicats had to face Whitworth College’s “Philosoraptors” (so named for their ability to shred and devour their competition).  In recent years, Whitworth has won three Regional Ethics Bowl titles, one National Ethics Bowl title, and placed fourth at Nationals last year.  The Whitworth team began with an admittedly powerful and polished presentation on why bullfighting should be banned in Spain.  Nonetheless, Ethicat Madeleine Pike was able to articulate several problems and limitations with Whitworth’s reasoning.  This was then followed by a second dazzling display of the philosophical and oratory skills of Joe Thiel who made several sophisticated arguments as to why it is unethical for investors to purchase annual annuities for terminally ill patients whom they pay a small fee to in exchange for cashing in on the insurance company when the patient dies.  Joe argued that it was morally wrong for investors to benefit from betting on the death of a patient, particularly when such patients are likely to be coerced and exploited into entering into such contracts.   In a nail-biting finish the Ethicats were proudly announced as the 2010 Norwest Regional Champions, having slain the Philosoraptors 130-127.

Thank You

The team wishes to thank everyone who served as guest judges for our practice matches, as well as all of the students who contributed to the team’s success through class debates. The team would also like to give special thanks to Dean Paula Lutz and the College of Letters & Sciences, as well as Brett Walker and the Department of History & Philosophy for their continued support of our travel and participation.

Please join the History and Philosophy Department in congratulating our students on their accomplishments and in wishing them the best of luck as they begin to prepare for Nationals in March!