Ethical Theories and Fiction Writing by Jessica Schott-Rosenfield

On Saturday, I participated in my first Ethics Bowl competition. Ethics Bowl is an event in which teams from various schools discuss the moral dimensions and values of certain set situations. For instance, one of the cases tackled the question of whether it was morally praiseworthy, as a billionaire, to donate more to the rebuilding of Notre Dame than to humanitarian charities. The format is much like a classic debate, except that in this case, both teams are in essence working together to better each other’s arguments. One team presents, the opposing then asks questions about that presentation and suggests other points which may have been left out. The first team addresses those questions, and together, both groups create a strengthened stance. Since it is a competition, there is a winner, but the spirit of the event strays from a traditional competitive drive.

The process of gaining the knowledge to go to the bowl was incredibly enlightening in terms of learning about new ways to think and argue in situations where both sides have strong evidence to back up their point of view. It allowed me to think of conflict outside the bounds of law, and focus solely on what is morally permissible. In relation to my writing process, this fresh way of thinking has given me a new way to write my characters with mindsets different than those I would defer to automatically. Rather than sticking to a point of view that is similar to the way I already contemplate life’s ups and downs, and the way I form opinions on them, I can switch sides on the situation and contemplate those ups and downs from a different standpoint. After participating in ethics bowl, I can find a strong opposing argument to a position much more quickly, and argue both sides in my head before I get to the one which I think is most appropriate for my character, and their lifestyle or purpose within the story.

I could only see arguments within my short stories as based on my own experience and those I had heard about before absorbing the format and intricacies of Ethics Bowl. With moral theories like autonomy, utilitarianism, or consequentialism, I am able to frame points of view with basic groundwork and rules that we as a society have created in order to maintain order in a somewhat immoral world. This makes the verbal disputes in the fiction I write more complex and engaging. Ethics Bowl as a learning experience has impacted the detail with which I create my characters.

-Jessica Schott-Rosenfield, class of 2022

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