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Voting for next year’s NCFCA debate resolutions is still open! Be sure to read our analysis of the TP options, too, and cast your vote before the polls close next week, May 21st.


A. Resolved: When in conflict, rationalism ought to be valued above empiricism.

Noah Farley

Pro 1: Correct Verbiage. This resolution uses the terms employed by philosophers and academics.  That’s awesome, both for research and for understanding the topic.

Pro 2: Actual Debate. There’s also an actual discussion going on about this topic.  There’s even a Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy page about it.  

Con 1: Unsuited to the Format. There’s a reason philosophers tend to be authors and university professors.  They need lots of time to think, write books and understand convoluted concepts.  This topic mandates deep understanding as these are complicated ideas. The time to explain and provide cogent arguments is non-existent in LD, and very few debaters will be able to provide the necessary nuance.

Con 2: What’s the RTP? Forget a simple debate with this resolution.  Debaters will really struggle to come up with understandable reasons to prefer, either for values or for the resolutional concepts.  Get ready for a lot of RFDs solely based on who was clearer.

Noah’s Rating: ✩✩

This philosophical resolution is not going to work well due to the limitations of high school forensics.

Joel Erickson

Pro 1: Uncharted Territory. Political philosophy deserves its venerated position in the discipline, but LDers have dredged up the government obligation terrain ad nauseum. Here, we instead venture into the realm of epistemology, where debaters can’t depend on their trusty social contract theory to secure the win. Everything about this—the arguments, the cases, the rounds themselves—will be novel and refreshing.

Pro 2: Requires Research. You’ll have to delve deeply into the philosophical literature—both primary texts and secondary sources—which will galvanize your abilities to read closely and critically, synthesize major themes, and process abstract concepts. This resolution requires everybody to research, which affords major benefits.

Pro 3: Philosophical Breadth. Pythagoras. Parmenides. Zeno. Plato. Galileo. Descartes. Spinoza. Leibniz. The Sophists (Ethos is collectively triggered). The Epicureans and Stoics. Augustine. William of Ockham. Hume. You’ll have your horizons broadened (and find that Locke did more than write his Second Treatise on Government).

However, like any good thing (except, maybe, for Jesus and bacon), this rez suffers some drawbacks. In this case, crippling drawbacks.

Con 1: Nonsensical Wording. What does it mean to “value” one epistemic framework above the other? How does the act of prioritizing rationalism above empiricism manifest itself in actual decision-making? The conflict clause further complicates the rez—rationalism and empiricism aren’t two things you juxtapose “in conflict.” On the contrary, they’re alternate systems of attaining knowledge of reality. To comport with the philosophical discipline, the resolution should say something along the lines of, “Rationalism is a superior epistemic framework to empiricism.” However, this phraseology would exacerbate the second con.

Con 2: Alienates Audience. Ideologies—generally words with the suffix “-ism”—stymie most people. They sound horrendously complicated, abstract, and esoteric. As a result, terms like “rationalism” and “empiricism” are psychologically overwhelming… judges will flee orientation, grabbing donuts from hospitality on their way out.

Con 3: Kant. The rationalism and empiricism debate dominated the philosophical conversation in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries…then Immanuel Kant arrived on the scene and revolutionized philosophy. This resolution bars more contemporary developments in philosophy via the conflict clause.

Joel’s Rating: 3/10

B. Resolved: That competition is superior to cooperation as a means of achieving excellence.


Pro 1: Values-Level Debate. This resolution takes debaters to the value-level right in the resolution.  These are fundamental concepts, and debaters will really have to work to give solid reasons to prefer.

Pro 2: Massive Application Field. Want applications?  Well, just look basically anywhere in the world, because they’re everywhere, from economics to academics to geopolitics.

Con 1: Circular Debates. For a value, you’ll have to run excellence (or something like it), as competition and cooperation are so broad that any non-buffer value will probably be circular.

Con 2: Nonsensical Application Debates. You’ll have to be prepared to hit the same response to every application: “but they needed my side too.”  Debaters will be at least wash-turning every application. Capitalism? “Companies and individuals have to cooperate together to develop products and technology.”  High school forensics? “You have to cooperate with your debate partner and club to do well.” With the value debate a wash, judges will be voting on applications, which will make most of the rounds fairly messy.

Noah’s Rating: ✩✩✩

This values-level resolution has a lot of potential, but the messy application debates will be a huge drawback.


Pro 0: I labored over this… I promise…

Con 1: Meaninglessly Broad. Aside from the nebulous notion of “achieving excellence,” there’s absolutely no context. Get ready for a year of resolutional analysis-centric debates.

Con 2: Semantics. Free trade achieves economic excellence through creating competition…or are countries actually cooperating together to facilitate free trade? Cooperation achieves excellence when I’m working with classmates on a group project…but we achieve a higher degree of excellence when we’re competing against other groups in the class…but we’re all cooperating with the professor…

Con 3: Superficial. LD resolutions are intrinsically generalizations, which require cogent principles to unify wide-ranging situations. When the means of attaining excellence varies depending on the situation, general principles fail to emerge. This degrades the ability to engage in substantive dialogue, and creates a superficial debate atmosphere.

Con 4: Recycled Resolution. NCFCA LDers debated the exact same resolution in 2010. Few resolutions deserve a repeat, and this isn’t one of them.

Joel’s Rating: 0/10

C. Resolved: When in conflict, governments should value fair trade above free trade.


Pro 1: Timely Debate. This stuff is a big deal in a world with protectionist sentiments increasingly challenging the neoliberal world order.

Pro 2: Lots of Empirics. This has been extensively studied, which means debaters have a rich history of rigorous study to draw upon.

Con 1: What is Fair Trade? Looking for a definition of fair trade, I first found information that said that fair trade is paying poor farmers in developing countries fair wages.  But that’s something only NGOs and companies do, not governments. What I believe this resolution means is a conflict between truly free trade and equitable outcomes in terms of trade deficits.  But that’s far from clear from the resolution itself. Expect abusive interpretations.

Con 2: Aff Ground? If you do adopt the common-sense meaning, then Aff doesn’t have a whole lot of ground.  All those empirics I mentioned almost categorically support the Neg position. Aff is going to have to be extremely nuanced and careful in their interpretation of the resolution.

Noah’s Rating: ✩✩

This could be a good resolution if the meaning of fair trade was clearer.  Absent that, it’s not.


Pro 1: Melds Principles and Policy. This resolution presents the optimal equilibrium between underlying principles and practical policy, with its underpinnings of governments’ moral obligation(s) in conjunction with economic theory.

Pro 2: Revitalizes Last Year. The economic tension between nationalism and globalism was one of the more intriguing, yet underdeveloped conflict areas in last year’s resolution. This resolution grants us a second chance—reskinned and refocused—at probing global economic policy.

Con 1: Nebulous Conflict. “Fair trade” is a nonentity. Similar to economic equity in NCFCA’s notorious last foray into economics-centric LD resolutions, different experts proffer vastly different definitions, leading to every LDer’s favorite activity of distorting definitions. (A heads up if you’re new to the LD world: you should know that free trade will mean absolute anarchy on affirmative.) A savvy fifteen percent of competitors will unveil resolutional kritiks arguing the two terms are synonymous. Any inkling of term overlap should be enough to reject against a resolution.

Con 2: Tired Context. It includes the words “governments should.” ‘Nuff said.

Joel’s Rating: 3/10

Noah’s Final Verdict: B>C>A

Joel’s Final Verdict: Don’t vote for B.

Bonus Perspective: A Rebuttal of DFW’s NCFCA LD Topic Analysis, by Thaddeus Tague

Choosing the resolutions for next year is a big responsibility and argument every year. We post voting guides as do other great coaching organizations–including this one by DFW. Now, don’t get me wrong, we respect DFW and a lot of what they do. However, when I read the NCFCA LD topic analysis that they posted, it struck me as being rather lackluster. Sure – readability is a thing – I get that. Regardless, here is an Ethos response that we believe you can gain knowledge and insight from.

A. Resolved: When in conflict, rationalism ought to be valued above empiricism.

Problem: To say that rationalism vs. empiricism is the center of epistemological debate is as short-sighted as it is incorrect. Sure, those subjects were the genesis of the discussion, but they are nowhere near an encompassment of it.

Solution: How do I know? Well, Idealism, Constructivism, Pragmatism, just to name a few, provide alternate viewpoints of epistemology (i.e. how we know what we know). I appreciate how the resolution limits the topics at hand to digestible tidbits. But analytically, looking to epistemology will only cloud the debate, not clarify it.

A note on this: while the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (aka Google) will tell you that Berkeley was an empiricist, anyone who has studied his writings at any length would point you in another direction. He actually went on to disprove cause and effect. How’s that for an empiricist.

“How Berkeley Argues for Metaphysical Idealism” (http://people.loyno.edu/~folse/Berkeley.html)

B. Resolved: That competition is superior to cooperation as a means of achieving excellence.

Problem: Reading this segment feels like sitting in an LD round that is more circular than…well…a circular LD round. Dad-pun-level bad analogies aside, the PRO gets it wrong while the CON gets it right.

Solution: Debaters won’t spend precious seconds arguing excellence when they can literally both equivocate it as material, moral, or mental success. The debate over excellence will fall short in favor (as CON points out) of a juicy debate over examples that are hyper generic and supportive.

Reminds me of Parli round I once debated about how quantity was better than quality. That was a dark time for Parli debate.

C. Resolved: When in conflict, governments should value fair trade above free trade.

Problem: The analysis here is rather optimistic. Exploring intricacies of neo-colonialism or metrics of economic growth linked to free/fair trade, while helpful, is not necessarily going to happen in a 45 minute round between two competing cases. Will some of this analysis potentially enter rounds accidentally? Yes, but asking a debater to explore those issues in order to make a persuasive case for one or the other is really impossible. The CON analysis here points a finger to LD debates that delve into policy, and that’s about it. Here is what it missed:

Solution: Trade is an extension of a nation’s state, not a nation’s ideals. The fledgling United States colonies had one source or tax revenue: tariffs. They taxed the daylights out of all imports. The state of the nation’s economic stature and hegemony dictates its trade policy, not its idealism.

Thus, it is hardly a ripe field for a debate about how values determine policy.

All is fair in Love and War – your move, DFW.


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