Resolved: In the United States, reporters ought to have the right to protect the identity of confidential sources.

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Resolved: In the United States, reporters ought to have the right to protect the identity of confidential sources.

Resolved: In the United States, reporters ought to have the right to protect the identity of confidential sources.

Welcome to another debate season! I’m disappointed that we’re starting off with such a bad topic. It’s not that the area of discussion is bad, but the topic is worded terribly. The question that not telling someone a person’s name is or is not a “right” is not a good one. Everyone obviously has the right to say what they want, so to say that a journalist doesn’t have the right to reveal someone’s name is ridiculous and unenforceable. What’re you going to do? Prevent the article from running in the paper if there isn’t a named source? Obviously that can’t happen. But alas, we have to debate what we’re given, not what we want to debate. So let’s get to it.

Definitions

Reporters – Don’t think too much about this. A reporter is basically someone who reports the news. This includes journalists of all types.

Identity – Some people may try to define identity very precisely. Simply put, though, this is an identification of who a person is. It’s not just a name, but can also be a description that points to one particular person. For example, if I said “the attorney general of the U.S.” that would be akin to identifying the person.

Confidential Sources – In journalism, people often provide information to the reporter. The people are called sources. If that person’s identity isn’t revealed, it’s a confidential source.

Ought – This is the most important word of the resolution. Ought means should, and to develop a framework for your case, you’ll need to identify how we determine what the United States government ought to do.

Case Positions

Affirmative

1. Utilitarianism – Allowing confidential sources is the most utilitarian approach. It leads to the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people. Otherwise, you end up with a lack of people wanting to come forward with information, and you also end up with people’s lives inappropriately being affected just for telling the truth.

2. Freedom of Speech – It’s actually impossible for source confidentiality not to be a right. What is the option to enforce? Are you going to torture journalists? Are you going to limit what can and cannot be printed in the press? These would all be violations of the freedom of speech the United States is founded upon.

3. Correspondence Theory – Any truth proposition, like the resolution, must be weighed against already accepted truths to determine its truth. When we weigh the resolution against things we already accept to be true like freedom of speech, the value of a free speech, and democratic ideals, we find that the truth of the resolution is evident.

Negative

1. What is a right? – Source confidentiality can’t function as a right. Rights, like freedom to protest, function as claims against others – either claims to not interfere or claims to confer some benefit. Neither of these apply to source confidentiality in journalism. Because it can’t be a right, the resolution essentially doesn’t work. We can’t say something that’s impossible “ought to be.”

2. Moral Progress – There are schools of philosophy which propose that a society’s moral progress is only possible through the most direct moral conflict. Source confidentiality prevents that from happening. Without confidential sources, though, the moral conflict in a society would be exacerbated, thus contributing to more rapid moral progress.

Well, that’s it. I hope that helps get you started. Good luck, and don’t forget to check out the academy if you need help!

 

Resolved: Wealthy nations have an obligation to provide development assistance to other nations.

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Resolved: Wealthy nations have an obligation to provide development assistance to other nations.

Resolved: Wealthy nations have an obligation to provide development assistance to other nations.

This is a very relevant topic in today’s political climate. It’s an interesting one, and should lend itself to some good debates. Hopefully students don’t try to turn it into a definition debate or take abusive positions focused strictly on the meaning of development assistance. Regardless, let’s get into it!

Definitions

Wealthy nations – This is a relative term. Wealthy nations can also be translated in the context of the resolution to mean “wealthier nations.” The intent is basically to make a delineation between countries that can provide assistance, and countries that need assistance.

Development assistance – This is basically foreign aid designed to help a nation develop a particular part of its society or government. It can come in many forms including but not limited to money, resources, and personnel. The thing to focus on here is that the assistance is designed to help the development of the country, so it is distinct from things like humanitarian aid or military assistance during armed conflict.

Obligation – What’s interesting here is that the resolution doesn’t state “moral” obligation. So, your case must explain how nations determine what obligations they have, period. This can include legal obligations, moral obligations, or other obligations you can think of. The resolution isn’t limited to the realm of moral theory this time.

Frameworks/Case Positions

Affirmative

1. Categorical Imperative – The categorical imperative, all three maxims, work pretty well to argue for this resolution. It is easy to conceive of a world where every wealthy provides assistance as a desirable one to live in. Not only that, the act of providing such assistance can reasonably be thought of as an action which strives toward a number of different ends in the kingdom of ends. This is a strong framework for the affirmative of this resolution. Read more about the categorical imperative on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy here.

2. Veil of Ignorance/Original Position – Everyone has defining characteristics which impart biases onto their political and moral reasoning. Ideally, if we could, we should develop social justice policies without these biases because that will yield the most objectively reasonable outcome. This state of deliberation, in which actors are free from the influence of any personal bias, was dubbed by John Rawls as the original position. One could contend that, when evaluated from the original position, it is easy to see that wealthy nations have an obligation to provide development assistance to others. After all, you could wake up tomorrow and be a member of one of those “other nations.” Read more about Rawls’s original position here.

3. Virtue Ethics – Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Mean would establish providing assistance as the proper course of action between the two extremes of doing nothing and taking over/doing everything. It is the moderate approach to helping other nations develop, and as such, is the virtuous course of action. Read more about Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Mean here.

Negative

1. Social Contract Theory – The social contract, and government, are formed primarily to protect a nation’s own citizens. Therefore, any government primary obligation is to its own people. One could argue that no government in the world, however wealthy, has sufficiently met this obligation. Even in the United States, we have yet to have proper due process of law and equal protections for minorities. Providing assistance to other nations must come at a price; the money has to come from somewhere, and that is money that could be used to solve domestic issues. The opportunity cost of providing assistance for any nation is too high. Read more about contractarianism here.

2. International Law – The only obligations that exist between nations are legal ones. There is no global social contract as citizens have not formed or consented to a global government. Nowhere in international law does it specify an obligation for wealthier nations to provide development assistance, and as such, an obligation like that cannot exist. It should be noted that this position will require a clear distinction to be made between humanitarian aid and development assistance because international law is rife with obligations for humanitarian aid.

3. Utilitarianism – For any action to be good, and therefore reasonably be considered obligatory, it must provide the most good for the greatest number of people. Often, development assistance does not do that. There is evidence to suggest that it can actually harm the countries receiving the aid. Often, such countries are ruled by destructive regimes which do not actually direct the assistance towards its intended goals, and instead use it to carry out their own agendas. Additionally, this assistance means that there is less available for the wealthy nation’s own citizens.

That’s it, hope it helps you get started. Feel free to post comments and questions below, and check out the Academy if you want personal private coaching!

Resolved: Civil disobedience in a democracy is morally justified.

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Resolved: Civil disobedience in a democracy is morally justified.

This is a topic I like. I actually debated it for one of the tournaments I did PF, fun times. Let’s get into it.

Definitions

Civil Disobedience – Civil disobedience is when someone refuses to obey a law as a means of protest. Think Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus. The key to civil disobedience is that it is a nonviolent form of protest.

Democracy – A democracy is a system of government where people vote on laws and/or elect representatives. Some people will probably try to turn this into a definition debate where they limit the scope of “democracy” to only absolute democracy. Don’t let them do that. Democracies include representative forms of government like we find in England, France, and the United States. In the modern world, an absolute democracy does not exist anywhere.

Morally Justified – This is the crux of your case, and it’s up to you to define. You must use your framework to explain what it means for something to be morally justified. How do we determine what is morally justified? And how does that framework of evaluation apply to the resolution?

Important Point – The resolution must presuppose that the law being is unjust. Otherwise, there’s no point in debating. I am sure people will try to weasel their way out of that, but you need to corner them into actually debating. Obviously, we can agree that civil disobedience to protest an already just law is not morally permissible; it would be difficult to argue otherwise without taking an anarchist position. Don’t let people use abusive definitions and frameworks to turn this resolution into a definition debate tipped in their favor.

Case Positions/Frameworks

Affirmative

1. Justice is the Highest Value – A democracy is not automatically just. Like any other government, a democracy is subject to the moral arbitration of the principles of justice. Because justice is the first virtue of any social institution (Aristotle), all such institutions must ultimately answer to the principles of justice. Therefore, civil disobedience is morally justified, even in a democracy. If the government is being unjust, then the people have the right, and arguably the moral obligation, to disobey the government.

2. Right to Civil Disobedience – Dworkin argues that people have a right to civil disobedience when the government is unjust. This is an extension of his framework of rights. The government’s right to govern is contingent upon the consent of the governed, particularly in a democracy. Therefore, people must also have the corresponding right to dissent when injustice occurs. Otherwise, consent can never truly be meaningful, or even exist really.

3. Virtue – A virtue position, based upon Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean, concludes that civil disobedience is the most virtuous course of action. You can therefore argue that it is morally justified. In short, civil disobedience is the middle ground between the two extremes of doing nothing and violently rebelling.

Negative

1. John Rawls’ Alternatives – John Rawls argued that, if there are multiple options when trying to reach a just end, the one that gets you there in the best way possible is the only just course of action. The others automatically become unjust because they are worse. You can argue here that violent revolution is a significantly better option. If we look at the tolls that civil disobedience movements have taken, like those in India and the United States, we can see that people have endured decades of punishment and injustice. In fact, death tolls over the course of entire civil rights movements are remarkably less than death tolls in violent revolutions, historically speaking. Violence also ends the injustices more quickly and actually punishes the oppressor, which civil disobedience does not.

  • If you want to take a safer approach, you can also argue that democratic avenues of recourse and other nonviolent protests methods are also better options, because they don’t involve breaking the law.

2. Rule of Law – In order for the social contract to remain legitimate, the rule of law must be respected. Thomas Hobbes argues that people forfeit their rights when they enter into a social contract because the state of nature is so much worse to be in. As a result, they must respect whatever rights they are afforded and the laws of the government. Even an oppressive life under a government is vastly preferable to a life in the state of nature, so people must respect the rule of law under the social contract.

3. Moral Precedent – Civil disobedience sets a dangerous moral precedent which eventually leads to more violent forms of disobedience and a degradation of respect for the law. It would be a dangerous precedent to admit the moral justification of civil disobedience because you cannot do so while at the same time arguing that people should obey the law. The two are, by definition, mutually exclusive.

I hope that helps get you started. Good luck!

Remember to leave a comment if you have questions or want to discuss anything, and remember to visit the debate academy website if you’re interested in private coaching.