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It is an age-old (cliche) question: Is the journey more important than the destination? This question plays out in many different areas of debate. For example, one of the largest arguments in ethics is the divide between deontology (focus on means, rights, and duties) and consequentialism (focus on ends). However, when people think of LD resolutions, they seem to often neglect this kind of analysis.

For example, when visualizing “providing for the needs of the public,” do you imagine

  • Expanding welfare, providing public services, practicing eminent domain, etc. or,
  • Investing, reducing economic inefficiencies, practicing fiscal responsibility, and otherwise strengthening the economy?

Much of the homeschool debate community may prefer the second option in practice, but “needs of the public” still tends to bring the first option to mind. Indeed, many debaters seem to interpret the “ought to be valued” part of value resolutions to mean that the focus should be on comparing specific courses of action. However, there is an alternative: one can also focus on comparing the values as end goals or “destinations.”

In the first of this two-part series, I will be focusing on explaining a general concept which is important for interpreting various other value resolutions, whether in LD or in parli. This concept is the difference between values as means and as ends.  The second article in this series will focus on specifically exploring that concept in the context of this year’s Stoa LD resolution.

What’s the difference?

There are a lot of ways to express the distinction: “journey vs. destination,” “means vs. ends,” “actions vs. goals,” “immediate vs. long-term,” “What should we do vs. what do we want to achieve” etc. “Means vs. ends” is perhaps the simplest and most accurate conceptualization, but “journey vs. destination” may sometimes be easier to visualize. Regardless of the description you prefer, the important difference is that when the focus is on the destination/end/goal, the path taken does not need to always move straight toward the destination. In fact, with this focus, the means/path taken may temporarily lead away from the destination: for example, if I argued that sometimes freedom must be restricted in order to promote greater freedom, I would be valuing freedom as an end.

Further Explanation and Illustration

Take for example the resolution “In developing countries, freedom of the populace ought to be valued over citizens’ economic welfare.” If the affirmative interprets the values (“freedom of the populace” and “citizens’ economic welfare”) as means/paths, he would argue that “In general, the government should take actions which directly improve freedom for the populace… Thus, the government should avoid policies which directly restrict freedoms, even if they promote the citizens’ welfare.” (If the negative accepts this interpretation, they would argue the reverse.)

However, if the affirmative interprets the values as destinations/ends, there is an important shift: Now, the affirmative can accept policies even if they violate freedoms, so long as they promote freedom in the end (which the affirmative would have to argue is what would happen). For example, an action which bans protests or imposes curfews in order to protect against the threat of violent demonstration and possibly even anarchy would violate a “means” interpretation but may uphold an “ends” interpretation of valuing freedom. By taking the latter approach, the affirmative can accept these policies since their long-term purpose is to promote freedom, even if the policies directly restrict freedom in the short-term. If the negative accepts this interpretation, the two sides would ultimately debate on whether or not a hypothetical free society is better than a hypothetical economically stable one. In other words, the debate focuses more on the ideal destination of policy, and less on the policy steps that are taken to reach those destinations.

Another example to further illustrate the importance uses a slightly modified version of a past year’s Stoa resolution: “Developing countries ought to [value] economic growth over [environmental quality].”

If just interpreted as being about means, the debate basically turns into the 2016 NITOC Final LD round, in which the affirmative won rather handily on the issue of “Without economic capacity, the people burn twigs and dung as fuel, causing even worse environmental and health damage.”

However, if the debate focuses on the values as ends, then the negative can fully support even policies that bring some economic growth (such as investment in oil/coal energy), so long as the primary purpose (or actual end goal) of the actions are to better achieve environmental quality, rather than just improve the GDP. With this interpretation, the neg can make the debate about “Which world is better: one where countries have higher GDP or where the people are free from toxic air and water pollution?” The neg’s response can then be “The fact that some economic growth policies are necessary for the latter—just as basic environmental quality is necessary for the former—is largely irrelevant.”

As you can see, the negative would likely prefer this debate, if only to turn the whole “Twigs and dung” argument (by claiming it is more of a reason why environmental quality is crucial). Yet, so many people fail to consider this possibility in making their arguments for or against resolutions they encounter.

Another case

Having described the above case of values as means and ends, I can now add an addendum or clarification to the concept being described: you can also do something in terms of both means or ends. Take for example the 2012–2013 NCFCA LD resolution: “Governments have a moral obligation to assist other nations in need.” When the resolution says “assist,” one would likely interpret this as focusing on means: “The government should provide aid or otherwise take action whenever other nations need help.” However, one could also interpret this as focusing on ends: “The government should do whatever best helps those nations, even if it means strengthening itself first or not immediately pulling all the weight” (Similar to how airlines tell people to put their own oxygen mask on before helping others). This isn’t quite as common, but it’s still just as legitimate, so it’s worth bearing in mind that this concept doesn’t only apply when there are two values being compared. And technically, in the case of values the distinction still rests on “valuing” in terms of means and ends, but it is easier to explain it the way I have been explaining it.

Exceptions: it’s not always up for interpretation

All of that being said, sometimes the distinction is locked in (or strongly suggested) by the resolution itself. Two primary types of exceptions are as follows:

  • The values can’t/shouldn’t be both ends or means:

For example, the current (2016–2017) NCFCA LD resolution weighs rehabilitation and retribution in the criminal justice system. Since these things are generally approached as questions of policy in the criminal justice system (“Do we rehabilitate or punish?”), the debate is arguably focused on a discussion in terms of means. One could make an argument for focusing on what is an ideal outcome of the criminal justice policies, but one could respond by saying that a common reading of the resolution suggests an interpretation on means and/or that focusing on means creates a more productive debate. A clearer, more restrictive example would be “Resolved: The pen is mightier than the sword.” It seems fairly difficult to convince a judge to accept an ends interpretation for this resolution.

  • The resolution is worded to focus on the destination or journey:

An example of this situation would be the earlier-mentioned Stoa LD resolution, “Developing countries ought to prioritize economic growth over environmental protection.” It was argued in that NITOC final round that the word “prioritize” means that the focus should be on the more immediate action. This is debatable, but the ultimate point of this exception is that the phrasing of a resolution may suggest one type of interpretation or the other, and you can use this as a formal “resolutional analysis” support.

These aren’t the only exceptions, but they represent some of the common ones. Again, these are cases where it generally is not very easy to interpret the resolution in both ways. Yet, ultimately it is up to you, the debater, to determine and argue for which interpretation should be used with a given resolution. There are ways to argue for or against interpretations, as previously detailed. Don’t feel like you must accept what the affirmative gives you; don’t assume that when you are the affirmative, whatever you say should be accepted.

Additionally: be reasonable

While you may find this to be a very interesting concept (or not, and think I get too excited about debate theory), I should note that one must practice this with some moderation and balance. For example, it is not reasonable to say that a focus on means does not allow even the slightest amount of reasonable foresight and deviation: if the value is “liberty,” nobody should say that one must “abolish the government” in order to uphold this value. As a result, when focusing on means, you may need to state how “wide” or “narrow” you are interpreting the path to be. On the other side, it isn’t reasonable to claim amazing, utopian goals, but not even suggest methods on how these outcomes can be achieved. And remember, destinations necessarily come with a cost, which must be weighed even if you are comparing destinations. Thus, if you treat the value as an end, you will probably need to explain how one gets there.


If you choose to use it, this form of resolutional analysis will open up new and potentially round-changing opportunities which can be used to your advantage. However, even if you do not wish to actively use this analysis, you still need to be prepared to argue this kind of interpretation in the event the other side uses (or abuses) it to its advantage.

Additionally, don’t forget that this is only the first article in a two-part series; we have not yet completed the full journey. Especially if you are competing in Stoa LD this year, I would highly suggest looking out for the next article, since it will be applying this concept more in-depth and specifically to the Stoa LD resolution. Yet, even if you aren’t in Stoa LD, but compete in NCFCA LD or even parliamentary, I would still recommend the article so as to see the concept in deeper application.

In the meantime, you can be thinking about how “Needs of the public” and “Private property rights” can be treated as ends vs. as means and what kind of a difference it will make. Perhaps our analyses will be similar?

Harrison Durland is a blogging intern at Ethos. Now a college student at Ole Miss, he is studying international affairs, Russian, (hopefully public policy,) and intelligence and security studies, seeking to do analyst work and perhaps later move into public policy or organizational administration. He began debate in his sophomore year of high school, in Stoa. Despite an unenthusiastic first year, he later found that he had a passion for debate, especially policy debate. His third and final year of high school debate was 2016, during which year he qualified to NITOC. His primary interests outside of debate and academics include his faith, ethics, and game and decision theory.

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