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In my last post, I talked about the different types of burden scopes for different resolutions.  In this post, I intend to address how to identify the different burden scopes you see in debate resolutions.  Let’s look at three examples.

Policy Resolutions

I touched on this in the previous post, but it warrants more explanation.  In the past, policy resolutions were often held to be of a general scope, which meant that Affirmatives were supposed to prove the majority of the policy in question should be changed.  So despite the Affirmative case, the Negative would in many cases stand up and insist that nuking Russia or abolishing Social Security was a bad idea, bringing up disadvantages to plans not advocated by the Affirmative.  

The solution to this was the logically-bankrupt idea of parametrics, which insisted that by presenting a topical case then narrowed the resolution so that the only material of consequence was that plan, thus eliminating off-topic disadvantages.  Others have extensively covered this subject, so there’s no need for me to repeat their arguments here.  Fortunately, there is an alternative to the notion of parametrics to prevent Negative abuse: affirming that the policy resolution asks whether the actor should reform a specific area of policy.  If the Affirmative can prove that that area needs change by exploring a specific case, then they have affirmed the resolution. They’ve done so by establishing that that specific area of policy should be reformed.  Of course it must be a significant change, but the simple proof by the Affirmative that a change should happen does prove the resolution true.  

Everyone wants Policy debate to look just about how it looks now–that is, Affirmatives present cases and Negatives dispute them.  The question is how we get there.  The very simple solution is to recognize that the resolution can be proved by one Affirmative plan.  Policy resolutions are almost always specific-burden resolutions.

Moral Resolutions

Probably one of the most difficult questions regarding burden scope comes about when facing moral questions (like Stoa’s current LD resolution).  These resolutions typically explicitly say the word “moral” somewhere or they employ the great word “ought” (that is, provided that the word is not used as a question of probability).  These resolutions typically ask where something is morally acceptable or obligatory.  For example, “Judges ought to disregard the original meaning of the Constitution when doing so furthers the cause of social justice.”  

As it comes to the burden scope of such “ought” resolutions, the best I can say is that it a rule burden if not an absolute burden.  The example I gave is a categorical rule.  One cannot affirm the resolution and also hold that there are cases when one should choose original meaning over social justice.  These “ought” resolutions necessarily imply that there is a duty to do something which is neither conditional nor optional.

On the other hand, you see resolutions which ask not about duties but about acceptability, such as the Stoa resolution (Preemptive Warfare is morally justified).  These are a bit more difficult.  I would hazard, though, that these resolutions are closer to a general rule.  However, this is very hard to quantify.  

This becomes a bit more difficult in the case when the resolution is clearly asking about a concept and not so much about resolutional application.  In the case of preemptive warfare, I would argue that the question is about the concept of preemption rather than any specific applications, so the resolution becomes more about whether the concept fits within moral rules (provided you don’t fall into situational ethics) than about the applications of it.  In this case, strange as it is to say, the burden scope is almost non-existent.  But if I was forced to say, I would call it an absolute conceptual burden, which is different from an absolute burden in which the Affirmative must prove that all examples are acceptable.  The conceptual burden only ties the Affirmative to the concept addressed and not to any examples of it.  In this case the Affirmative must prove that the concept is 100% acceptable, but not that all examples of the practice are good.

Negative Resolutions

Negative resolutions put the Affirmative in the Negative position, roughly speaking, by forcing them to argue that something should not happen.  That may mean stopping a current policy or preventing a possible one.  These resolutions frequently use the verbs “ought not” or “should not.”  For example: “Sanctions ought not to be used to achieve foreign policy goals.”

These resolutions present absolute burdens.  They are categorically disavowing a course of action.  One cannot hold that sanctions ought not to be used and say that there are cases in which they can be.  To take another example, “School vouchers should not be given to private schools,” would also forbid giving any vouchers to any schools.  These resolutions, by establishing that something can’t be, cause any Affirmative trying to carve out exceptions to engage in doublethink.  The burden is absolute.  No means no.


Most of the burden analysis you’ll have to do is as you set up an LD case or craft an interpretation of a Parli resolution.  To do that, you’ll need to understand the various burden scopes and be able to apply them both to easy cases and difficult cases.

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