Matthias Steup addressing graduates

Click here for the Fall 2019 Philosophy Department Newsletter!

2019 Letter from the Chair

Dear Students, Colleagues, Friends, and Alumni:

This year, I’d like to focus on a special event our Center for Values and Social Policy ( has been sponsoring for the past three years: the Colorado High School Ethics Bowl.

An Ethics Bowl is a debate-like event, competitive yet collaborative, in which students discuss real-life ethical problems and dilemmas. They are organized into teams that defend whichever position they think is correct on a certain ethical issue and provide each other with constructive criticism. The winning team has demonstrated best that they have thought carefully and systematically about the problem cases and discussed them respectfully and supportively with the other participants.

The National High School Ethics Bowl is run by Dominique Déry, the program’s Director, and supported by an Executive Committee consisting of faculty members of the Philosophy Department and the Parr Center for Ethics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The 2018-19 season started on September 7th with the release of the cases to be discussed and ended on February 4th, by which time all the regional events had to be completed. The winners of the regional competitions move on to the Nationals in April on the UNC campus. The regional organizer of the Colorado High School Ethics Bowl is our very own David Boonin, who in the fall of 2016 reached out to several high schools in the area and inaugurated the Colorado High School Ethics Bowl with the first annual competition in February 2017. In this year’s event, five high schools participated, fielding eight teams: Peak to Peak High School (Lafayette), Boulder High School, Vanguard Classical School (Aurora), CEC Parker, and Colorado Academy (Denver). The Colorado Academy team came out on top and then won in the playoff round against the winner of another small regional tournament. They are now qualified to compete at the national tournament in North Carolina on April 5-7. (Update: the national competition was won by Jesuit High School from Beaverton, OR, while Colorado Academy came a very praiseworthy fourth – Ed.)

Here is what three of my colleagues who served as judges say about their participation. Iskra Fileva: “The day of the Ethics Bowl is one of the most enjoyable days in the year for me.” Bob Pasnau: “I’ve participated in each of the last three years, and it’s no exaggeration to say that it’s one of the highpoints of my year in philosophy. It’s wonderful to see young people who have thought so deeply about ethical questions and then listen to them work as a team trying to articulate their insights.” Brian Talbot: “I was impressed by how engaged and excited the students were. It seemed to me that this event had brought out in the students a love for doing philosophy and working through difficult ethical issues. Given how much time and effort these students clearly put in to prepare, and how motivated they were during the competition, it seems to me that this will have a life-long impact on most of them.”

In conclusion, I wish to thank David for his leadership in organizing this fantastic example of philosophical outreach, as well as the many judges and moderators (too many to name) who have helped make these competitions a success. I also wish to express my gratitude to the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility at the Leeds School of Business for their financial assistance, and to the parents and coaches who have supported the Colorado Ethics Bowl with donations. The goal of each High School Ethics Bowl is to teach and foster ethical awareness, critical thinking, civil discourse, civic engagement, and an appreciation for multiple points of view. If you share my enthusiasm for this goal, please consider supporting the Colorado High School Ethics bowl with a gift.

Matthias Steup
Professor and Chair