Resolved: States ought to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

“A second bomb will not make us safer.”

Resolved: States ought to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

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Finally, we have a good topic. Let’s get to it!

Definitions

States – This term refers to any nation. Don’t get caught up in what exactly makes a state a state; it’s really irrelevant to the resolution. Especially in the context of the real world, all nuclear states are very clearly sovereign nations.

Affirmative

1. Veil of Ignorance – The veil of ignorance is a powerful position here. You can pretty consistently argue that, no matter who you are, you would want to live in a world without nuclear weapons.

2. Utilitarianism – The Utilitarian position certainly favors the elimination of nuclear arsenals. It would lead to the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, especially if nuclear weapons stop being a bargaining chip on the international stage.

Negative

1. Mutually Assured Destruction – Nuclear weapons are the only thing that can deter the use of nuclear weapons. If states get rid of them, that opens the door for non-state actors to access and use nuclear weapons with impunity.

2. Moral Conflict – There is value in promoting moral conflict through the existence of nuclear weapons. This will be a tough position to run, but a nuclear war that resets the impact of humans on the planet may not be a bad thing. It will prevent the progress of climate change, likely lead to a world in which nuclear weapons no longer exist, and reset the human development clock. Human life is only valuable because we place inordinate value on it. Instead, we should allow for globally catastrophic events to happen because they would solve so many problems.

That should help get you started. Good luck! And don’t forget to visit the Debate Academy if you’re looking for private coaching.

Resolved: The United States ought to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels.

Resolved: The United States ought to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels.

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When did LD become PF? I don’t understand why we keep seeing these types of topics. LD used to be high level debate about moral principles and big questions, but we’re going more and more towards these garbage topics about public policy. Hopefully there’s a shift back the other way because I don’t know if I’ll want to do this much longer if it keeps going in this direction. Anyway, let’s get to it.

Definitions

subsidies for fossil fuels – This is really the only thing that needs to be defined in this resolution. Subsidies are basically some form of governmental incentive or tax break. In the case of the fossil fuel industry, there are a number of different types of subsidies that the U.S. provides. It’s important to note that the specific type of subsidy should not matter to your case. You should be debating the principle of the matter. Here’s a good place to find more information.

Case Positions

Remember here that your case will need to answer the question of how we determine what the United States government ought to do.

Affirmative

  1. Progress – A government’s first goal ought to be to promote societal progress – moral, economic, and otherwise. Civilizations perish because they are drowned by the tides of time. In order to progress as a society, the U.S. must get away from fossil fuels. They are a perishable resource, and eventually they will be too scarce to be reliable. Imperial conquering of resource rich lands will not be feasible in the future, and so subsidies need to be eliminated to direct society away from fossil fuel development into alternative renewable energy.
  2. Utilitarianism – As much as I dislike basic utilitarian position, this resolution provides a lot of room for a utilitarian calculus. A simple cost benefit shows that the U.S. is spending money on subsidies for dying industries that would be better spent elsewhere. Plus, it would be better for everyone due to the economic benefits of investing in clean energy.
  3. Survival – It times of great crisis, it can be argued that all governmental priorities should be directed toward survival. The realities of climate change create such a crisis. As such, the U.S., and all governments, should act in such a way to mitigate climate change and ensure the survival of the human race. Therefore, all subsidies for fossil fuels should be terminated.

Negative

  1. Moral Conflict – Nietzsche argued that the only way to determine the true morality or proper moral outcome was to let all ideologies compete openly, almost like a free market but for ideas. Fossil fuels and clean energy should be the same. We should continue subsidies for fossil fuels while also giving subsidies for clean energy. Let the industries compete, and survival of the fittest will dictate which one wins.
  2. Utilitarianism – There is a utilitarian argument to be made on the negative as well. It can be argued that ending these subsidies would have devastating economic consequences. While we might be moving toward clean energy, we’re certainly not there yet, and the U.S. economy continues to be largely dependent on fossil fuels. As such, it would be far more harmful to end the subsidies than to continue them.
  3. Lack of Timeline Kritik – It can be argued that the resolution is impossible to debate without a timeline attached to it. When should we end the fossil fuel subsidies? How long should we take to phase them out? A proper consequentialist analysis cannot be complete without a timeline because the short term, medium term, and long term consequences are completely different. After the critique, you can present a time-based counter-advocacy.

I hope that helps get you started. I’m sorry you have to debate this garbage topic, but good luck! And don’t forget to visit the Debate Academy if you’re looking for private coaching.

Resolved: In a democracy, the public’s right to know ought to be valued above the right to privacy of candidates for public office.

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Resolved: In a democracy, the public’s right to know ought to be valued above the right to privacy of candidates for public office.

I get the importance of debating current topics and issues, but we really need to stop when we start struggling to put current issues into “debate terms.” This topic is trash, probably the worst one I have ever read. Not only is it worded poorly, but it relies upon presumptions of rights that may not necessarily be true. It’s also very open to being debated in narrow real world contexts which provide opportunity for abusive positions. Let’s get to it then.

Definitions

Democracy – There is no absolute democracy in the world today, we know that. And that doesn’t make a democracy definition critique of the resolution valid. The word democracy here can be replaced with “democratic society.” Democracies share certain characteristics like popular representation, people being able to run for public office, and a certain level of freedom enjoyed by citizens of the society. Don’t belabor the point about what  democracy is; we all know what this is referring to.

Right to Know – This refers to the peoples’ right to have access to information, personal and political, about a candidate running for public office. Yes, you can debate whether or not this right actually exists, and yes, this does make for a valid critique of the resolution.

Right to Privacy – This is also pretty straightforward. It’s the right of a person to keep information about themselves private. Once again, don’t belabor the point about what exactly is covered within this right.

Candidates for Public Office – Anybody who is either running for or appointed to a government office. Yes, this does include people who are in non-elected positions like cabinet members and justices. These are still public offices even if not directly elected.

Ought to be Valued – This is the most important part of the resolution. It asks us this question: when a candidate’s right to privacy is in conflict with the public’s right to know, which one wins? Should the candidate reveal information? Or should they be allowed to keep all that information private?

Case Positions

Affirmative

1. Utilitarianism – Public knowledge promotes the greatest good for the greatest number of people. When all information about a candidate is publicly available, it allows people to make the most informed decision about a candidate for public office. This ensures that the public opinion holds the character and behavior of these candidates accountable.

2. Rights are not absolute – A person’s rights only extend as far as another’s rights begin. This is why we can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. That is an exercise of free speech that puts other people’s lives at risk. Therefore, that right is limited. Similarly, the privacy of candidates for public office puts the rights of the people at risk. They are at risk of electing a candidate that could damage their rights significantly, or if given undue power, could continue violating the rights of others. Therefore, when it conflict, the public’s right know should be prioritized.

3. Governmental Legitimacy – All governments, and democracies in particular, are only legitimate if they are accountable to the citizens which they govern. This accountability is not possible in a world where candidates are allowed privacy. It prevents the public from fully evaluating and judging the candidates for public office.

Negative

1. Right to Know Doesn’t Exist – Rights must exist as claims of people against each other. Under a balanced social contract, it is not reasonable to contend that people would have a claim on each other to reveal information about themselves. Quite the opposite. People have a claim on each other not to interfere with their privacy. As such, it’s impossible to affirm the resolution.

2. Public accountability happens anyway – The public can hold a candidate accountable without them divulging requested information. The simple act of holding back information is enough for a public indictment of the candidate’s character. We’ve seen this happen across the United States repeatedly over the past few years. The right to privacy can still hold priority, because the right to privacy doesn’t matter in cases where it’s in conflict with the public’s right to know.

Hopefully that helps get you started. Good luck!

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: Adolescents ought to have the right to make autonomous medical choices.

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Resolved: Adolescents ought to have the right to make autonomous medical choices.

Welcome to a brand new debate season! Who’s excited?! I’m excited that, maybe, for the first time in nearly 5 years, the NFL will go back to the glory days of LD Debate, when topics were broad and philosophical and not stupid….or more stupid. Yay! Let’s get into it.

Definitions

Adolescents – This is the group of people who are no longer children but not yet adults. The specific ages differ depending on where you are, but the age should really be irrelevant. You’re arguing the principle of whether or not these people, however society decides to define, should be able to make autonomous medical decisions.

Autonomous Medical Decisions – These are decisions one makes about his/her medical care free from outside influence or coercion. This is to say that a person can freely and independently make their own medical decisions, as an adult would.

Ought – Ought means should. Your job here is to explain how we determine what rights people should have.

Right – This is also your job to define. There are a lot of rights theories out there which explain rights in different ways. While we conceptually know what rights are, it’s important to elucidate exactly what you’re arguing for/against.

AFF

1. Veil of Ignorance – The argument here is that, from behind a veil of ignorance, all people would choose to have control over their own medical decisions. Ergo, any just social policy would dictate that adolescents have the right to make autonomous medical choices.

2. Self Determination – The right to self determination corresponds to one’s ability to be self-determinant. All beings who have such a capacity have a de facto right of self-determination which extends to medical decisions. Adolescents are self-determinant, and therefore, should have the right to make autonomous medical decisions.

NEG

1. The Categorical Imperative – Such autonomy is not universalizeable. We cannot reasonably say that all adolescents, or even all people, should have the right to make autonomous medical decisions. Therefore, we cannot say that, in general, adolescents should have the right to make autonomous medical decisions.

2. Utilitarianism – Adolescents are short sighted and prone to mistakes. Allowing them to make autonomous medical decisions would often result in harmful choices with long term consequences that they will not be able to foresee. Allowing parents to make their decisions for them is the more utilitarian approach.

I hope that helps get you started. Good luck!

 

Resolved: Individuals Have a Moral Obligation to Assist People in Need

This is a great topic! It is a throw back to the good ol’ days of LD Debate when arguments were not confined by the rigid constraints of the real world but were actually debated on metaphysical territory, as they should be. So, let’s take a look into the topic and see what questions arise and which ones we can begin formulating answers for. Keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive analysis of this topic like you would find coming from Victory Briefs. Instead, this is an overview designed to get you thinking about the issues the topic raises.

Resolved: Individuals have a moral obligation to assist people in need.

It is important to begin with a grammatical analysis of any topic to understand the parts of the sentence which are important.

Nouns: individuals, people, moral obligation

Verbs: have, assist

Adjectives: in need

As you can see, terms are defined slightly differently when it comes to debate resolutions. Moral, for example, is not an adjective which describes a type of obligation. Rather, ‘moral obligation’ is a noun, taking on a different identity of its own entirely. It is improper to delineate the two and attempt to discover how our morals lead to obligations. Instead, we should look to where our moral obligations come from on the whole. The former method of examination already presupposes that our moral obligations originate from our morals, and so we inevitably end up trying to derive sources of our morality instead of deriving sources for our moral obligations.

The second important term to examine is assist. What precisely does it mean for someone to assist someone else? Do our obligations extend as far as putting our own lives at risk to save the lives of others? How much are we obligated to sacrifice of ourselves?

The final important term is in need. Again, the two words are not separated here. Rather, they comprise an entirely new adjective which describes a type of person. So, what is a person in need? People suffering from genocide are distinct from those involved in civil war, who are distinct from impoverished people, who are distinct from orphans, etc… Granted, these categories can intersect, but is there a need to separate them? The scope and type of assistance provided to each can be radically different. What if you don’t agree with the cause of the people? Are anti-Tamil elements obligated to help Tamils in Sri Lanka?

These are the term definitions which need to be addressed. My take on the resolution essentially ignores these nuances because the implications do not change the argument. Whether a person gives their life or gives some money, the point does not change that they are obligated to give something. Also, the object of any assistance would be to create an overall positive impact, so if the self-sacrifice is absurd, the goal is not really achieved. Continually, when examining the question of someone in need, it is more proper to examine regions or populations than it is to examine specific people or nations. For example, the Middle East is in need of assistance as opposed to a solitary Palestinian being in need. This prevents the issue of supporting specific causes, and rather institutes common goals like peace and justice. Therefore, the key to avoiding squirrelly arguments and abusive definitions/counter-arguments is to universalize things. This will be more important in rebuttals than in case construction because some people will undoubtedly attempt to corner you.

With those issues out of the way, the only thing left is the issue of moral obligations. This is the crux of this resolution. In order to debate the topic, you must adopt and argue for an origin point for moral obligations. Essentially, the resolution is asking you where you think our moral obligations come from and whether that means we have a moral obligation to assist people in need or not. So let’s talk about some sources of our moral obligations and the implications they have for the resolution.

The Social Contract – Our moral framework as individuals comes from the social contract. There are several philosophers which address the social contract and how it operates. The two most common philosophers referenced in LD are Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. The troubling thing is that these two individuals are often mentioned synonymously though their renditions of the contract are entirely different. For Locke, individuals have claims against each other because they are morally good and seek to promote the betterment of society. So, I don’t kill somebody because I recognize that everyone should have their life protected, as should I. If this is true, this means that we indeed have a moral obligation to help others in need because we deserve to be helped when we are in need. This principle leads to the betterment of society, and so a moral obligation arises. Hobbes, on the other hand, contends that humans are self-interested evil creatures. Therefore, we sacrifice all our rights to a sovereign (government, dictator, whatever), and that sovereign decides upon a fair system of obligations and punishments that everyone abides by. The extension of this point is that the sovereign cannot institue a punishment for not being altruistic because there is no corresponding right which is surrendered to the sovereign. Therefore, no moral obligation arises.

Natural Rights – Everyone is due natural rights, so our moral system ought to be based upon doing whatever maximizes natural rights. This means that, societally speaking, we have an obligation to help other people because it promotes life, liberty, and property/pursuit of happiness. Because inidividuals comprise society, this means that these obligation falls upon the individuals. On the other hand, there is the autonomy argument on the negative side. If we force people to be altruistic, we violate their autonomy. This argument can be made, but the impact is difficult to make. So what if we violate autonomy? It isn’t absolute anyway. We don’t let people yell fire in a crowded theatre because it risks peoples’ lives. Autonomy can be limited when its exercise causes more harm than good. So why not limit it in this case to prevent harm to people and promote societal welfare and such?

Utilitarianism – In this case, our sense of morality is derived from an ethical system. So, whichever course of action promotes the greatest good for the greatest number of people is the moral option. This is easy to argue on the affirmative side. If helping people in need promotes the greatest good for the greatest number (as is entailed by the word “helping”), the we have a moral obligation to do so. On the other hand, if helping people in need is actually more harmful, then we ought not to do it. I am also not a fan of this argument at all. It ignores the actual value clash in the resolution. The resolution is not asking which side has more benefits. In fact, the resolution assumes that the affirmative has more benefits. It is asking whether or not these benefits merit making altruism an obligation. Nevertheless, it is still a defensible position; I’m just not a big fan of it.

The Categorical Imperative – In order for an action to be moral, it must meet the three maxims of Kant’s categorical imperative. This can also be run on either the affirmative or the  negative side. On the affirmative, we can argue that we could definitely will helping people in need to be a universal law, and it doesn’t treat people as a means to an end only. On the negative, we can argue that altruism can never be universally willed because of its extremes, and that it treats people as a means to the end of their own betterment (effectively claiming inferiority of their moral judgment).

Anyway, these are just a few of the basic systems of moral evaluation that can be used when arguing this resolution. What I have seen a lot of is people using Singer and Korsgaard. While these two are very intelligent and well regarded modern thinkers, they actually do not provide logical justifications for their arguments. Singer argues that one is morally obligated to help others if he/she does not have to sacrifice anything of comparable worth. Yet, he never explains why this obligation exists. He claims that one’s moral worth increases, but again, he never proves why this is the case. The same can be said for Korsgaard on the opposite side of the argument. I would admonish debaters to stay away from modern thinkers as they do not develop actually systems of moral evaluation but rather solitary arguments without much solid grounding. Instead, LD debaters should understand how moral systems operate and develop cases built around a particular moral system, as that is what the resolution is really asking of them.