“Public Philosophy For All” fans convene in Ypsilanti for confounding questions and convivial commentary

Ann Arbor, MI – On the evening of April 18, Ypsilanti’s Corner Brewery became the ethics epicenter of Washtenaw County when four competing teams, members of the University of Michigan Philosophy Department, volunteers from host organization A2Ethics, and a devoted and curious audience launched the 10th Annual Big Ethical Question Slam.

Described by A2Ethics board member and Slam MC, Erin Mattimoe as “a think-off with oversized aspirations,” the yearly event—which alternates between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti—is a community get-together where teams and onlookers meet over drinks and food to discuss the what’s, how’s and why’s of doing the right thing.

Each year, in preparation for the competition, A2Ethics solicits ethics questions from the  community at large. As usual, this year’s selection was both wide-ranging and thought-provoking:

  • Should you be fired in response to a social media outrage?
  • What morally entitles us to have free speech and do we also have a moral duty to listen?
  • What occupations or parts of life should we not automate?
  • Is it ethical for physicians to discuss cases with their partners and spouses?
  • What do we owe the persons we create, and can we wrong them by selecting their genetic traits?
  • Should we offer financial subsidies for those who can’t afford their animal companions but are attached to them, or need them for daily support?

These were just some of the intriguing, “on the public’s mind” conundrums tackled by this year’s Slam teams, which included:

  • The Feminosophers, an Ypsilanti-based team, first-ever winners of the Golden Winged Sandal, and judge and audience favorites for their “I never thought of that before” insights;
  •  Head for the Hillz, led by well-respected Greenhills English teacher and Michigan High School Ethics Bowl coach Mark Randolph, whose always thoughtful teams have been in the Slam since its inception, and have won Slam glory on more than one occasion;
  • The Hume-an Condition, a newer team, comprised of talented archivists and librarians from Wayne State University, who in their first Slam appearance in 2018 came in second; and
  • We Nietzche To Buy Us A Round, a team of knowledgeable Oakland University philosophy and writing/rhetoric graduates, who remember everything from their classes, and truly understand Slam ethos and humor. The Nietzsches include Zac Lichtman, Cody Corbin and are annually brought together by RJ Mey, web developer, rock band drummer, and veteran Michigan High School Ethics Bowl judge.

The evening began with a tribute and toast to Lisa Ortiz, a gifted Spanish language and literature teacher who participated in the first Slam as a member of the Greenhills School team. Ortiz died unexpectedly in February of this year.  

The Slam was judged by Mercy Corredor, Brendan Mooney and Eduardo Martinez, all graduate students in the University of Michigan Department of Philosophy. The judges are also volunteer coaches for the Michigan High School Ethics Bowl, the annual event produced by A2Ethics in partnership with the U-M Department of Philosophy. Corredor is also the U-M coordinator for MAP (Minorities and Philosophy), an organization primarily of graduate students from 131 institutions, whose purpose is to increase awareness of issues facing minorities in academic philosophy. Both Mooney and Martinez were interested in judging for the Ypsilanti Slam. Over two years, they coached the Ypsilanti Community School Ethics Bowl Team, known as Ypsilanti Youth, which made the Michigan quarterfinals in 2017.   

At the end of the evening, when rounds were completed and results tallied, the grand prize of $600 along with the Golden Winged Sandal were awarded to We Nietzsche To Buy Us A Round. As winners of the second prize, members of The Feminosophers each received a limited edition poster entitled Faces of Philosophy, published by MAP.  Based on a vote by audience members, The Feminosophers also claimed the People’s Choice Award of gift certificates for Beezy’s Café.

The Slam festivities ended with a raffle for audience members who chose to submit their answers to the question: “When does a bartender have a moral obligation to keep conversations private?” Prizes for the winning entries, selected at random, included books on privacy by notable philosophers who have written on the subject, philosopher mugs, and refrigerator magnets of George Orwell.

The evening theme was given its due…and according to Jeanine DeLay, President of A2Ethics, not lost on the participants.  “This year, we thought it might be interesting to give prizes that illustrate the moral entanglements and distinctions between private and public. A global discussion about privacy is taking place right now, given the power of information monopolies, the normalization of giving away personal data, and the ethical implications of the internet of things. What if we decide together that privacy itself is ethically wrong? Do we wish to live in a community where the one person who chooses to keep their information private and doesn’t want to be under surveillance--is shamed? Or even put on trial? Or alternatively, what happens if we decide NOT to have these discussions in public and with public participation anymore? These are questions that professional philosophers are talking about today.  And our aim for the Slam is that they are BIG issues that the public should be talking and slamming about too.”