Preparing for the Ypsilanti Ethics Slam: A Primer for Teams

A2Ethics' highest good is to provide our community with welcoming, worthwhile events where ethical matters take center stage. That's why we love hosting the Slam. For one evening, strangers and friends can talk openly and congenially about the Big questions that are at once baffling and beguiling to us all. Questions like: Is happiness the highest good?

Since the very first Ann Arbor Slam, teams have been asking us for advice on how they can best prepare for this once-a-year event.

We have the highest aspirations for Slam teams. We think diligence is a virtue.  And we definitely want to celebrate the love of wisdom.  

So, when teams ask for our ideas about how to broaden their philosophical horizons, we are happy to oblige. Ecstatic and delirious actually. And we very much appreciate being asked.

That said, here is a brief primer intended to provide teams with useful direction and helpful resources as they prepare for their Big night out at the Slam.

Slam Prep 101: Practical Tips

1. Some questions in the Slam do not, at first blush, look like ethical questions. Just remember that the essence of ethics is thinking about right and wrong actions and conduct. Keep in mind that ethics questions are also demanding: they require reasoning and reasons or justifications.    

Our advice: A few words sometimes help to mark off an ethics question, among them--should, must, ought and permissible. Consider them a signal that the question is asking what ought or ought not to be done--or perhaps--what is permissible or impermissible. And don't forget: in your team responses, reason through your insights and ideas, and offer reasons for your ethical decisions and judgments on conduct.  

2. There are questions in the Slam that seem to demand special knowledge. Too many teams decide that if they demonstrate their knowledge of a field referred to in the question, e.g., business or medicine, that they have done well. It's equally important that team responses consider consequences, recognize virtues or acknowledge principles and rules.

Our advice: Go big. For example, does the question involve an issue of fairness? Is it about obligations or what we might owe or not owe to others? Are fundamental rights being violated? These issues are woven into the facts of the questions. Try to tease them out as your team talks them over.

Slam Prep 101: Resources on Ethics

The Internet has opened up unparalleled opportunities to learn about anything and everything. The number of resources relating to philosophy is overwhelming. But are these resources trustworthy and reliable? This is a big ethical question in itself.

We are constantly looking for resources that could be helpful to Slammers. Here are two we highly recommend:      

1. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

It is the go-to introductory resource for anyone interested in ethics and philosophy. What did we do before it existed?  Did we really exist? 

2. Zoe Johnson King's Primer on Three Big Ethical Theories: 

Zoe is a PhD student in the University of Michigan Department of Philosophy. She is also coordinator of the department's popular Outreach Program, our partner and co-recipient of a 2014 University of Michigan Arts of Citizenship grant. The goal of our ongoing and strong partnership is to introduce students to the Michigan High School Ethics Bowl, an extracurricular program affiliated with the National Ethics Bowl movement. As part of that project, Zoe created some brilliant curricular materials that present ethics theories in an accessible, challenging and entertaining manner. While these presentations were originally designed for High School Ethics Bowlers, we think they're perfect for Slammers too. 

Slam Prep 101: Resources on Civil Discourse

In launching the Slam, A2Ethics wanted to design an event that would strengthen and expand our ideas of civic discussion and engagement.

Yes, we know all about the polarization in our communities. We know there are enclaves and islands where people of like minds wall themselves off from other perspectives. Still, we hoped that our event--because it was about ethics and not politics, because it didn't include the elements of debate, and because it involved dinner together in a small and intimate setting--would avoid partisan bickering.

We wanted to create a friendly space where people could discuss compelling issues, disagree and still come out of it all with good feelings, a philosopher refrigerator magnet and possibly even the Philosopher's Hat or the Golden Sandal.

Have we been successful? We don't really know. But the question has intrigued us enough that we have barnacled ourselves onto the coral reef of Civil Politics.org, a group directed by Professor Ravi Iyer and Professor Jonathan Haidt.

Their work is so fascinating that we want to share it. Granted, we don't know what to do with it yet. But we think it has something to do with the Slam. And if it helps teams co-exist happily on the coral reef, we are all for it. 

For those who would like to visit that coral reef, and to get an idea of the research and projects that might be helpful in building a better team, we recommend watching Professor Haidt's Ted Talk on "The Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives." 

How Well Did You Prep? 

We invite team members to take a brief quiz AFTER your prep sessions and your foray into ethicsworld. The five philosophers in the graphic are in the pantheon of philosophers you may want to know about. So who are they? Here are some hints about them, following their pictures in order from left to right: 

Various thinkers

1. Author of Animal Liberation
2. Went to school with well-known philosophers Elizabeth Anscombe, Iris Murdoch and Mary Midgely in the late 1930s
3. Performed with Bert Lahr, the "Wizard of Oz"cowardly lion, in a production of "The Birds" at the Ypsilanti, Michigan Greek Theatre
4. Taught philosophy at the University of Michigan and wrote his dissertation on the psychology of the philosopher pictured in the last photo
5. Never traveled more than 20 miles from his home in what is now known as Kaliningrad 
 

Answers: (use your mouse to highlight the text below to reveal the answers)

  1. Peter Singer
  2. Philippa Foot
  3. Martha Nussbaum
  4. John Dewey
  5. Immanuel Kant

 

 

Photo credits:

Martha Nussbaum By Robin Holland [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons; Philippa Foot By MPMWikihelper (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons;  John Dewey By Eva Watson-Schütze (1867-1935) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; Immanuel Kant By unspecified (/History/Carnegie/kant/portrait.html) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; Peter Singer By Bbsrock (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons.