This is Part II of a series on What’s Different for Stoa LDers this year. Part 1 can be found here. Having covered values, we now move to contention-level arguments.
Last debate season, for the resolution “The Needs of the Public ought to be valued above private property rights,” a lot of Affirmatives initially had trouble with proving their side. After all, Stoa is hardly UC Berkeley. There’s often a knee-jerk reaction against government involvement and in favor of rights that can be hard to counter.
But by December I realized that the way to counter that was to give examples, or applications, of where violating Private Property Rights was sensible or necessary. I started with five and whittled it down to three when I kept running out of time. But my win rate immediately improved. The key to proving this resolution was to show the judges what it meant in real life. The way to show the resolution true was to demonstrate to the judges that they already agreed with it in many situations.
The point of this story is that applications are useful- for a number of reasons. They help the judge to draw concrete associations with the resolution. They provide the judge with a picture of what voting for you side causes. They prove to the judge that your side is correct. Applications are a very useful, even critical part of normal value debate.
But not this year. Applications are not logically necessary to prove or disprove preemptive warfare as morally justified. You’re probably thinking that that seems a little ridiculous. Applications have been an instinctive addition to value cases ever since well, value cases have existed. But for this resolution, they don’t prove it true or false (aside from in the two exceptions I mentioned in the previous article, which I will cover eventually, I promise).
I’ll prove this by looking at the nature of morality, then specifically at this resolution.
When we discuss morality we do not do it in the same way we discuss the relative value of two things. If one was to ask whether armed revolution was morally justified, one could turn to Locke’s understanding of the Social Contract. If one was to ask whether armed revolution or nonviolent protest was more valuable when addressing injustice, one could turn to the example of Malcolm X vs. Martin Luther King Jr.
Here’s the point I’m trying to make with that. Moral justification comes from appealing to higher or more foundational principles. The relative value we assign two concepts may come from more foundational principles but is just as likely to come from the results we see through example. So when asking whether armed revolution is moral, you can talk about Malcolm X and MLK Jr. all you want but unless you look to the principle you are no closer to knowing.
You can recount every preemptive war ever fought in fantastic detail, you can detail the circumstances of the situation leading to war in incredible specificity, you can outline the strategic benefits of preemption with unassailable logic and you will be no closer to a decision on the morality of preemptive warfare. Why? Because morality relies on principles, not results (unless you are utilitarian- but more on that later).
Moral argument has two parts- identifying deeper principles and then applying those principles to specific situations. This corresponds directly to the structure an LD case should take. Establish the deeper principle by which you judge moral justification (the value) and then apply that principle to preemptive war (the contention).
So when we make moral decisions, we do that based on applying deeper principles to the decision we have to make. Let’s look at how that applies to our resolution.
A solid case for a fact resolution should look something like this:
Resolution: X is Y.
RTP: Z is the standard for Y.
Contention: X is/leads to Z
The principle by which we judge moral justification is Z. That could be something you drew from Aquinas, Locke or Rawls, as long as it is a standard for the morality of warfare. Then the contention is when you show how X (preemption) meets the standard set by Z. As soon as you prove that preemption meets that standard you are done. You have proven the resolution true. That’s all folks. Fin.
Once everything in that structure is a full argument (claim/warrant/impact), anything else you add (besides of course definitions) is extraneous. Applications take up time and space in your case where they don’t logically need to be. Because morality rests on principles, not on results, once you have proven that the principles back your side, you have proven the resolution.
This is why there is no logical application-centric case for the resolution (again except for the exceptions which I shall address later, but I stand by this statement for reasons I shall elucidate in a future article). That isn’t to say that application-centric cases won’t be winning cases. People win with non prima facie cases all the time. But that doesn’t mean they’re logical.
To be clear, I’m not saying that applications aren’t useful or helpful. They certainly are. I plan on employing applications in cases I will run this year. But they must be kept in their place. They’re there to make the message stickier. They’re there to make the message concrete. They’re there to connect the resolution to reality. But they’re not there to prove the resolution.
The impact of all this takes us back to the old debate adage: Time = importance. Last year, I would spend the majority of any rebuttal talking about applications. This year I will not. It’s a mistake to spend your time arguing the particulars of Operation Iraqi Freedom when it’s irrelevant to proving the resolution true or false.
The lesson is this: Figure out what’s important, and then spend your time on that. Doing that is part of respecting your audience. For any debate, what’s most important is logically proving your side. So don’t waste your time on applications when you have principles to discuss. To do so is a disservice to yourself, to the judge and to the resolution. Rather, recognize your applications for what they are- and spend your time accordingly.
In Part III we’ll discuss the pesky exceptions that keep popping up and conclude this series on what’s different for debating this resolution.