The journey continues, and it seems we are nearing our destination! That is to say, this is the second article in the two-part series on the destination vs. the journey with value resolutions. In the first post I explained the distinction one can make between valuing something as an end vs. as a means. (If you haven’t read that article, you will probably need to in order to best understand what is being discussed here.) I also briefly detailed a few examples of how this distinction can be applied. However, because we at Ethos felt it would also be beneficial to go in depth on the current Stoa LD resolution, we have devoted an article to doing just that.
The Stoa LD Resolution
The current Stoa resolution (“Resolved: The needs of the public ought to be valued above private property rights”) is a great example of the importance of thinking in terms of Journey vs Destination:
- Public needs and private property rights (PPRs) can both be understood either as ends or means,
- Just saying “Ought to be valued” doesn’t lock in one interpretation, and
- Your approach to arguing for this resolution can greatly affect your sides’ strengths, as certain arguments depend on which interpretation you take.
Thus, if you are debating in Stoa LD this year, this article should prove timely and practical. Yet, even if you aren’t in Stoa LD, this a great resolution for you to practice making—or at least, responding to—the distinction.
In addressing this resolution, this article will detail what interpreting the resolution in terms of means vs. ends would look like, compare the advantages of each approach, and lastly, provide reasons to prefer each interpretation.
Treating the values as means/paths
As the affirmative, interpreting the resolution as means would be arguing that “In general, our actions should be providing for the public need more than protecting PPRs; if the two conflict, then we should generally provide for the public’s needs.” To illustrate with a concrete example, an affirmative may argue that if banks are failing, the government should use taxpayer money (private property) to provide for the public. The same would apply in the case of something like healthcare: “If members of the public need the government to help them with medical bills, the government should help them.” You would then give reasons as to why this is more important than protecting PPRs.
However, you might recognize that such a value leads to a problem which can be exploited by the negative: What happens when the government says “If a bank fails, don’t worry: we’ll cover it”? This creates a situation known as moral hazard, where people are more likely to take risks or otherwise make bad choices because they know they won’t bear responsibility for their actions’ consequences. The result is often great economic harm or inefficiency. Thus, the negative team can then argue that in the end, widely overvaluing “needs of the public” leads to massive economic failures, at which point the government cannot adequately provide for the needs of the public. To sum up a negative’s position, one might say “Following their path of consistently providing for the public doesn’t actually reach what they are trying to achieve.”
The affirmative could, however, get up and explain why taking a “Value PPRs” as a means requires that we generally not violate PPRs, which arguably leads to a situation where the government can’t effectively maintain order (because collecting taxes could be argued to technically violate PPRs), and thus can’t protect PPRs. The affirmative would argue that “this can at least be avoided through providing for the public instead of protecting PPRs; vote aff to achieve both ends through our means.”
Still, the examples given are primarily for purposes of illustration. In practice, taking a means interpretation would likely come with more moderation: one shouldn’t assume that practicing a value “in general” means zero deviations can be made, and thus that some of the worst decisions will be taken to uphold the value. Here is where it may be important to clarify how “wide” one is interpreting the paths to be: when are deviations okay (e.g. “In times of clear moral hazard,” “Taxation”), and how significant can they be? This analysis doesn’t always need to be very formal or detailed, but if you think it might be confusing, you may want to make it. Lastly, however wide you interpret one side to be, the same standard usually should apply to the other side; except in rare cases (e.g. the resolution specifically says “____ is better than strict ____”) you shouldn’t say “My path allows for many deviations, but the other side must follow a very narrow, strict path.”
Treating the values as ends/destinations
By interpreting the resolution as ends, the affirmative can easily avoid the issue of crippling moral hazard, by establishing “What is contrary to the end goal of providing for the public, the government won’t do. So, no bank bailouts (etc.) if they cause a crippling moral hazard.” However, doing this also allows the negative to avoid the whole “No taxes, regulations, etc.” issue. Thus, the debate comes down to comparing destinations: “Would we rather have a world where the public’s needs are provided as best as possible, or where PPRs are upheld as best as possible?” This debate offers many different routes to explore, based on all kinds of philosophies such as imperative rights, imperative duties, or lack of either; it is ultimately up to you on how you want to argue for your side under this interpretation.
Comparing the two approaches’ advantages
Which interpretation seems more advantageous for which side depends largely on whether or not one supposes that basic things such as taxes and product regulations violate PPRs (again, as described here): if one believes the answer is yes, then I would imagine that the answer is that treating the values as means favors the affirmative, whereas treating the values as destinations is better for the negative. If one believes the answer to the question is no, then I would imagine the opposite is the case. This is because with the answer being “yes,” despite instances of potential moral hazard on the affirmative side, there are so many (arguably) vital things that violate basic PPRs that the negative’s position seems impractical. On the other hand, the negative’s position at least appears tenable, since some violations of PPRs can be allowed, if only in the name of promoting PPRs, which I imagine many community judges avidly support. Now, if the accepted answer to the previous question is “no,” then a negative would likely prefer a “means” approach since the issue of moral hazard cripples the affirmative side. At least with the “ends” approach, an affirmative can appeal to utilitarian values and the negative doesn’t gain very much. Yet, in either case, the affirmative naturally would greatly prefer that the judge believes taxes, product regulations, antitrust laws, etc. all violate PPRs (which is why I would so recommend reading the article on that question).
Weighing the two approaches’ support
Both interpretations seem fairly legitimate for this resolution, so it is hard to proclaim one as logically preferable to the other. As is usually the case with definitions, I generally suggest that whatever the affirmative chooses in a given round the judge should (note, not “will”) give slight preference to, just so that the debate can proceed more smoothly. Otherwise, negatives could just always choose to disagree with whatever the affirmative says, and arguments over definitions would take away from more educational topics of discussion. Regardless of which approach you adopt, however, you will generally need to give at least some support or “reasons to prefer.”
To briefly summarize a point of theory, three major bases of support for any interpretation argument (e.g. for definitions, rules, standards) are 1) because it’s logical/syntactical/reasonable, 2) for educational purposes, 3) because it’s fair. Under the first category, to support a means interpretation one might say that since this is about government policy, we should focus on the more immediate actions. A response to this could be that because the resolution is general and theoretical, the important issue at hand is determining general goals, and therefore an end approach should be adopted. Using the second basis of support, one might advocate an end approach since it avoids a deal of pointless absolutist discussions (“Always value PPRs/Public Needs”), and instead focuses on larger ideas of philosophies like rights and duties. The response to this argument might be that focusing on the means (in moderation) allows for substantial discussion on practical issues like moral hazard, what PPRs are, etc. Lastly, one perhaps could make a fairness argument if it was very unbalanced toward a specific side under a certain interpretation, However, in this case, I can’t see any one side having a major advantage, so I don’t imagine this will be very effective for preferring one side over the other.
I’ve only given examples; there are plenty of ways that you can argue for your interpretation, including how wide the path should be. However, as originally stated, the two sides seem fairly equal in their legitimacy, so it may just boil down to whichever approach the affirmative chooses.
Conclusion and takeaways
Ultimately, if this distinction is made in your round, it will likely have a significant impact: the effectiveness or even applicability of certain arguments will change depending on which approach is taken. Given this, one should recognize that the analysis here is not exhaustive, in that there are other points to make about this resolution that weren’t covered here. Thus, I would highly suggest that you consider this resolution on your own, exploring ways to argue for your side and how choosing one side affects the arguments made in the round. And on that note, I also want to reemphasize that this analysis should not just be used for this one Stoa LD resolution; it is an important concept to consider for many other occasions, especially in parli rounds. Practicing this resolutional analysis on this particular resolution will help you when you may be more pressed for time, as in parliamentary preparation time, or if you encounter an unexpected approach, whether in parli or LD.
With the conclusion of this discussion, it may seem that we have reached our destination. However, although knowing this concept was a goal, it isn’t actually an end in itself. Rather, it hopefully offers a path for improvement, through application of what has been learned. The question is whether you will see this journey through to its destination: greater success.