Hopefully, you’re planning on making your voice heard as the votes are cast for Stoa’s 2018-2019 debate resolutions. Before you do that, though, take a moment to read what two Ethos team members have to say about the LD options this year. If you missed it, be sure to check out our TP voting guide as well.
1. Resolved: Criminal procedure should value truth-seeking over individual privacy.
Pro 1: Fertile Topic Area
The field of criminal law is a field which has been debated back and forth for all of human history. Different societies have come to different conclusions. America places a high value on individual privacy to the exclusion of truth-seeking in many instances, and other countries do the opposite. The good thing about this resolution is that there are plenty of reasonable, well-governed countries on both sides and many unique areas to debate.
Pro 2: Broad application field
The field of criminal procedure is so huge that there are a plethora of applications to employ. You can debate the merits of the Fourth, Fifth or Sixth Amendments, just to name a few. And that doesn’t even touch the many state-level regulations on this matter or the court precedents further defining and elaborating on these rights. One of my favorite potential topics is the exclusionary rule, but you really can’t go wrong here.
Con 1: Clumsy Wording
My bigger problem with this resolution is the wording involved. NCFCA’s 2011-2012 resolution put it much better: “In the pursuit of justice, due process ought to be valued above the discovery of fact.” “Truth-seeking” isn’t the problem. Criminal procedure is. A cursory overview of the definitions of this term reveals that the term is typically held to begin when a criminal is charged, removing from conflict anything leading to the charge. But the phrase “individual right to privacy” is even more problematic. This right is so broad and so open to interpretation that the only way I can see to reasonably debate this is to specifically use a criterion of due process. What this means is that this resolution distracts debate from the real issue for a much smaller field.
This resolution asks debaters what the purpose of criminal procedure is and forces them to consider what the limits of truth-seeking and individual privacy are in a crystal-clear conflict. The strength of this topic lies in the ripe ground for substantive application debate. Unlike several resolutions where debaters routinely “refute applications” by arguing they do not apply or topics that have completely different (and heavily slanted) applications for affirmative and negative, Resolution 1 provides applications which could be debated as singular topics for many tournaments. Should we reevaluate attorney-client privilege? Should the exclusionary rule established in Mapp v. Ohio be overturned? Should police be required to wear body cameras? Certain applications, such as the exclusionary rule, have proponents and opponents on both sides of the political spectrum; thus, judge bias can be substantially minimized. Overarching philosophical arguments as well as effectiveness concerns will both be key in the application debate. Thus, this topic will challenge debaters into allocating time effectively between philosophical framework arguments and applications.
Conclusion: A solid choice. 9/10
2. Resolved: The United States overvalues the ‘right of the people to keep and bear arms.’
Pro: Lots of material
If you’ve watched the news, you understand.
Con 1: Bias
Unfortunately, as with all political hot topics, judges will walk into the room with opinions set and it will be extremely difficult to change them. If this resolution is chosen, it will be the resolution with the most potential judge bias I have ever seen debated. That isn’t to say that it’s impossible to win on Affirmative, but it will require that Affirmatives be extremely creative.
Quick digression: What I suspect would happen is something like what happened with public needs vs. private property rights a couple of years ago. Competitors assumed judges favored property rights, so they wrote Neg cases filled with rhetoric and lacking analysis on the resolution. Aff pointed to specific and major examples like taxes and then destroyed Neg by requiring conflict and of course, doing analysis. Negs had to rework their entire strategy. Because there are so many actual common-sense gun control solutions that have next to zero impact on the purpose of the right to keep and bear arms, Aff will support specific targeted reforms and outmatch Negs on analysis, at least early on. So I suspect that Aff would overcome the bias initially, but as Neg catches up bias will rear up later in the year with a fury.
Con 2: Lack of Nuance
The problem with debating resolutions this biased is that debaters stop making nuanced arguments and start repeating the points in Sean Hannity’s monologue from the night before. What this practically looks like is a rhetorical match instead of an argumentation match. Unless you like being judged on speaks or on the judge’s bias, you want good, solid nuanced debates.
Con 3: Abstruse Burden
Lastly, this resolution presents a very difficult burden for Affirmative. What does it mean to overvalue something? Who is the United States? Do we judge value by the laws of the United States or by the opinions of its people? Gear up for debates on how we tell what a country values rather than on the merits of the resolution.
This resolution asks debaters why the right to keep and bear arms is important within the context of the U.S. and whether or not certain limits should be placed on that right. Although a timely philosophical and practical conflict is articulated, the wording of the resolution is clunky and could hinder substantive debate. An interesting aspect of the topic is that it is a question of fact–though affirming does not require endorsing an action, negatives may push affirmatives to advocate for measures that do not “overvalue” this right. Such arguments could shift debates away from substantive material. Additionally, overcoming bias on this issue may definitely prove to be an uphill battle, as judges may have difficulty separating their valuation of the right from the United States’ valuation. Even with its shortcomings, debaters will have access to a litany of applications, court-cases, and law reviews which consider this pertinent issue.
Conclusion: I’d rate this as my third choice, at 4/10.
3. Resolved: Advances in biomedical engineering that save human lives ought to be valued above deontological ethics.
Pro 1: Excellent Topic
Biomedical engineering is one of the best resolution topic areas I’ve ever seen. It outranks all the resolutions I’ve debated besides developing countries environmental vs. economic policy. It’s a thrilling field absolutely worth your time to explore.
Pro 2: Behind the Scenes
This is also, quite helpfully, a topic that doesn’t regularly come up in the news. Advances in this kind of science tend to exist mostly behind the scenes rather than being played in the front pages of every major newspaper. Forcing debaters to engage on this level encourages learning and doing balanced research rather than debating on the surface of major political debates.
Con 1: Wrong verbiage
Ethos has made it exceedingly clear that we support always going to the literature on a resolution and learning what is being said by the people who make it their living to debate these issues. Well, that’s going to be really hard here because this isn’t the verbiage that the philosophers of science employ to discuss this issue. It’s all grouped under the general idea of “ethics.” From preliminary research, the debate that people are having on this issue seems to be generally over what should be considered ethical in biomedical engineering, so it’s going to be very hard to find a discussion over saving lives vs. deontological ethics.
Con 2: Confusing
Putting the issue of deontological ethics into this resolution simply makes it more confusing. Why? Because there is no set standard of what deontological ethics are. This isn’t a term the scientific community employs, and deontologist philosophers have wildly different ideas about what is ethical. Should we look to intention or to action? Should we allow some violations of ethical standards for the greater good? The point is that there are valid interpretations of deontological ethics in which absolutely no conflict exists within the resolution. Debating what deontology means rather than the merits should appeal to no one.
This resolution’s conflict delves into technological developments and whether or not they ought to be constrained due to violating aspects of deontological ethical codes. This is certainly a pertinent issue with a great deal of research and debate in the status quo. A substantial amount of literature on the topic broadens the scope and allows fresh arguments to be made as debates progress. The main flaw with this resolution, however, is that “deontological ethics” do not refer to a single value system. This will harm clash on affirmative and negative. Deontological ethics merely argue that the morality of an action is not based solely on an end result, but on higher prescribed duties or inherent rightness or wrongness of actions. Problems could arise from poor wording because those duties are will change from value system to value system. Some debaters could argue that using biomedical engineering does not violate, but rather upholds deontological ethics. Although a healthy conflict is at play in this resolution, the wording hinders debatability in the long run.
Conclusion: Second choice, 5/10.
Noah’s and Joshua’s Verdict: Choose Resolution 1
Resolution 1 offers a good topic and a lot of ground for nuanced debate. LD could use a resolution with this depth and complexity, and we look forward to seeing what you all will come up with.