St Andrew's Cathedral School

Ethics team philosophise their way to gold medal

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Our Year 10 philosophers were taken by surprise when they were awarded first place at an international ethics competition last month. Ethan Crosweller reports on the amazing achievement.

Early last month the Middle School Ethics Team competed at the postponed 2021 International Ethics Olympiad where they were awarded first place out of 260 competing schools from across Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Students had to prepare an ethical stance in response to 10 complex moral dilemmas. The dilemmas were wide-ranging in scope including topics like social pressure, lying, and the ethics of charitable giving. In one case, students were asked to present their view on the morality of public nudity, a topic which proved especially controversial with several students on the team taking a different stance on the issue.  

“That’s the beauty of the Ethics Olympiad. I really liked how you could stake out your own position but then in some cases you were forced to advocate for the opposite position which was really interesting – to see an issue from another perspective,” said team member Lois Arthurson.

L/R: Dr Hall, Stella Browne, Lois Arthurson, Bronte Parkin, Rama Chadda-Harmer and Calvin Newling

During the competition, the students worked together to mount thoughtful arguments, respond insightfully to other teams, and field complex questions from the judges (all of whom are practising academic philosophers). Points were awarded according to ‘quality of thought’ which was determined by four criteria: clarity, concision, criticism and collaboration. The St Andrew’s Cathedral School team received three judges’ commendations, the most of any team in the competition.

“They all love philosophical discussion,” said team coach and philosophy teacher Dr Jonathon Hall. “They’re very good at understanding philosophical issues and they have a keen sense of where the problems might lie in an argument, they grasp complex arguments, they’re very quick to take a view on something but they’re also not afraid to sit back and wonder about something.”

According to Dr Hall, the students benefitted greatly from the opportunity to sincerely test out what they think about philosophical issues in a competitive environment.

“It’s an exploration of what is true and students get a chance to explore the truth. They get put under pressure and they put pressure on each other, not in the sense of cornering your opponents, but simply because they have to hold onto what they think is true.”

– Dr Jonathon Hall

The students hope to continue their involvement with the competition in future years. Now that they are in Senior College, they can choose to compete for the gold medal in the Senior event this year. They also have the chance to craft their own ethical dilemmas.

“We were told about an opportunity to write some cases for the next Ethics Olympiad. You can enter into a competition and create a case that will be used and argued about in the next one. That might be what we do next!” Lois said.

The International Ethics Olympiad champions for 2021 are:

Rama Chadda-Harmer
Calvin Newling
Stella Browne
Lois Arthurson
Bronte Parkin

Team members who competed in the preliminary rounds:

James Maddison
James Small
Julius Beech
Luca Lamaro
Eva Still