The following article outlines Rebar Niemi’s views on how framework layers tend to function. Is it appropriate for debates to play out in the ways debaters often claim, with certain layers full-out excluding others? Should debate move away from such a stacked framework debate in favor of a more streamlined system? Regardless of one’s answers to those questions, Rebar’s piece provides an informative account on the different ways framework layers can function.

The Nine Circles of Framework Hell
Article by Rebar Niemi
First I wanna say, this goes out to all the people who believe in the “is/ought” fallacy – I don’t believe in you.

I chose the terminology hell because knowledge has long been constructed as evil/treacherous. Apologies.

The LD metagame experienced a noticeable shift in the past few years, with metaethical frameworks becoming more and more predominant. I have several problems with the way these frameworks have been deployed, but what’s more interesting is what this development reveals about the potential for debate frameworks. Many of the things I refer to have long been present in policy and general academia, but are not well known in LD. I’ll first begin with a simple hierarchy that probably does not capture the full picture of things, since all hierarchies were made to be broken:

1st Circle: Ontology <> Epistemology Feedback Loop
The most basic of questions circulate on this loop. Some say “how do we know?” comes before “what is existence?”, others say “what is existence?” comes before “how do we know?”. Some argue that these questions are ultimately indistinct and cross over into each other’s realms. Ultimately, the greatest divide between the two seems to be thematic and stylistic. Ontologists are interested in proto-linguistic questions that drive at undistilled perception of being, epistemologists are concerned with symbolic/linguistic questions of logic and pursuit of the systemization of truth. Others counter both these questions with the question of not why do we exist, but instead “why does existence continue – what is the meaning of the new?”. This is another type of ontological question, but also includes/interdicts certain epistemological elements. These things come 1st. They are inherently prior by nature of their object and method. This is the actual reason “skep” “takes out” “your metaethic”

2nd Circle: Subject <> Object Theories
This circle is possibly a subset of ontology or on a similar level to metaethics, but I would argue it supercedes metaethics because it take ontological or epistemic claims and constructs arguments from them, and the arguments it constructs can be used to warrant metaethics – but metaethics does not warrant these arguments. The relation between subject and object (and the nature of these concepts) is a question of identity “what is the difference between me and you?”, constitution “what is the difference between perception and reality?”, and consciousness “what constitutes the I?”

3rd Circle: Science
Science is only this low because it needs epistemological/ontological/subject-object assumptions to function. For instance: what constitutes sufficient proof of a hypothesis? what types of knowledge are legitimate? what do we already know and can assume? etc. Science probably comes before metaethics because metaethics makes arguments about the descriptive nature of ethics, which ultimately boils down to claims about the nature of the world around us. Science can invalidate/validate those claims, but only within the world view it chooses based on its answers to the above circles.

4th Circle: Metaethics
Metaethics are constituted by either arguments from the two levels above or assertions about the two levels above that then terminate in arguments on the nature of what can constitute ethics. All metaethics appeal to the above levels, it would be impossible to formulate a metaethics without a true attempt at understanding ontology/epistemology/the subject-object relation, but many metaethical claims (particularly in the idealist tradition) rely on absolute assumptions that they do not attempt to back up as opposed to reasoned argument. In debate we’ve seen a similar trend emerge, where metaethical frameworks are given a presumption of absolute authority despite their wanton lack of identifiable content or warrant. Not only should you be capable of warranting your metaethic through the above circles, but it under no circumstances has the ability to cross over to the higher levels of framework.

5th Circle: Pure Ethics
The problem of “how do we act?”. Relies on all the above circles to be warranted. Can be constructed from them. Concerns typically the face to face interaction, how do you act toward another – what are your responsibilities, etc. Ethics gets overridden by justice all the time, but it still is the foundation for justice and looks beyond justice.

6th Circle: Justice/Institutional Ethics
Construction of necessary violence from ethics – ethics gives us values to pursue, but justice is the weighing of harms and bennies/the meting out of due in pursuit of those values. Justice itself is something we value because of ethics, but it is unattainable because thus far the kingdom of ends has seemed beyond our grasp. This is typically why you hear those arguments about how the state has a general obligation to protect people but doesn’t follow specific moral obligations.

7th Circle: Morality
Personal belief about what is right. If you believe its not relative/variant person to person, I don’t know man – that just seems false.

8th Circle: Bad framework spikes that don’t link to any of the above things but either function theoretically w/o a voter or internal link, OR are a priori and appeal to above circles without warrants.

9th Circle: Advocacy/Plan Texts
Informed by everything above, at this point you’re ready for some offense that isn’t framework.

Offense is so deep in hell it has no kingdom to rule over.

This should help younger or less experienced debaters identify everything that they’re ultimately subscribing themselves to when they pick a framework. I also hope it aids in the development of further frameworks and new ways of debating on the framework. These aren’t hard and fast rules. I believe that the value criterion model was a crude yet efficacious way to distill the ethics on down circles into a debate. But clearly that’s not where debate should end, and since we’ve seen exploration into the higher reaches of framework hell, why not lay the whole infrastructure out and open to debate.