Head to Head: Skepticism- Adam Bistagne vs. Martin Sigalow

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This is Head to Head!  Two people will argue back and forth on a controversial debate topic. They are presented with word restrictions and limits on time for when they must submit their responses. The winner will be declared upon the posting of the next “Head to Head.” Vote and let us know who you thought won!

Last time, Bob Overing defeated Sam Mathews  on a 760 to 752 decision because nobody voted twice for sure. Next up in a rematch of Round 3 of the 2010 Minneapple is Adam Bistagne versus Martin Sigalow, both coaches at their alma maters.

Question: Should arguments that suggest that morality does not exist (i.e. moral skepticism) be acceptable arguments in debate?

To facilitate difference in opinion. Two polls are below. One is the question of who won, the other is your opinion on the topic.


Skepticism is most often utilized today in the form of a “trigger” or an ethical justification for a moral theory that “escapes skepticism.” I will defend that both of these are theoretically and logically unacceptable.

Theoretically, “skepticism triggers” are unfair because they allow the debater to have two paths to the ballot: they can win by showing “skepticism is triggered” or through the stock debate. The other debater can only win the stock debate. This is an unfair 2-1 burden structure which should be rejected because it violates one of the central tenets of fairness in reciprocity.

The “you can do it too” argument is non-responsive. To “turn” skepticism requires winning a different interpretation of how burdens function in the round. However, this doesn’t solve the 2-1 structural advantage; it just means whoever wins this interpretation debate will be at a 2-1 advantage. It’s better to disallow arguments that when won change the round’s burden structure to be non-reciprocal.

Skep triggers are also anti-educational.

First, acceptance of skep triggers increases the incentive to run them rather than legitimate moral philosophy, shifting philosophical ground to arguments that have high strategic value instead of arguments with high truth-value. Debaters have an incentive to run arguments that “solve” for skepticism even when few to zero actual philosophers discuss moral theories as “solving for skepticism”. For example, contractarianism is usually run with Gauthier cards that are power-tagged to say “we have to be able to motivate the skeptic” or something of that sort. This is inconsistent with Gauthier’s argument because he’s not a motivational internalist; he’s a motivational externalist who believes the only reasons that exist are self-interested ones.

Second, skep triggers minimize clash because debaters will just extend framework defense to “trigger skep” instead of actually doing comparison between moral theories, which is what good philosophy should do. Clash is even more important than general philosophical ground because debate can uniquely teach how philosophical arguments interact (which is something just reading on one’s own can’t do nearly as well). Further, even if x moral theory is able to account for an argument against realism, this doesn’t imply that x moral theory is necessarily more valid than y moral theory. There are other concerns that should and do enter into our calculus about what is the most valid moral theory. These include whether an ethical theory has a coherent explanation of which acts are right or wrong or whether a theory matches our conception of the person. This undermines the very logic of skep triggers because they necessarily presume that a moral theory that has an account of escaping skepticism is the only moral theory that can be valid. This implicit argument is rarely brought out in debates and is logically incoherent..

Moreover, there are strong reasons to reject skepticism even if a debater never explicitly answers the contingent standard because we would still have higher credence in any particular set of moral beliefs than we would have in skepticism. For example, anyone who understands the meaning of the proposition “it is morally wrong to torture babies for fun” would agree that the proposition is true. As Thomas Nagel elaborates, we can compare our credence in these self-evident moral beliefs against our credence that morality does not exist. In a debate round, this would be the equivalent of comparing your standard justifications against the justifications for skepticism. Most of us, I hope, would agree that we have much stronger reasons to believe in some set of moral beliefs than some argument for skepticism because any argument for skepticism must claim that the proposition “it is morally wrong to torture babies for fun” is false


Thanks for having this discussion with me Adam!

Although most of your arguments aren’t about skepticism generally, I still feel obliged by our question to say it’s good. I will be brief. The top two reasons are: First, it’s an important school of thought in philosophy; as sort of the proverbial boogieman for shoddily warranted positions, skeptical objections are considered by philosophers when framing their arguments. This is not infrequent; ethicists after Moore must account for his broad-based use of the naturalistic fallacy, and analytics are still dealing with Wittgenstein. For the benefits of philosophy education, read Becca’s article. Second, it’s so counter-intuitive that it forces people to think in terms of arguments and not just feelings, helping us to become better philosophers and thinkers. It forces critical thinking because of how it doesn’t fit in with our pre-established web of beliefs, and forces the other debater to articulate their intuitive objections in rational argumentation, lest they lose to arguments from Wittgenstein.

I’m not feeling this NIBS thing. First, it’s now common for people’s triggers to link to presumption, not permissibility. If skepticism would mean no one has offense, and a judge should think that the negative probabilistically win in those cases, that isn’t unfair enough to disallow skepticism. This also indicts the impact to some triggers rather than triggers in general. Second, I think arguing here about whether NIBS are bad (I think they’re good, or at least not bad in principle) isn’t productive. That debate is so common as to be stilted and uninteresting. I recommend we eschew that discussion in favor of other issues. I also think, for reference, that “you can do it too” might work if you frame these answers as impact turns, but I won’t discuss that here.

Your say triggers supplant “legitimate moral philosophy.” First, most of the contingency portions of these arguments aren’t long, so any tradeoff is slight and not worth giving up the educational benefit of skepticism generally. Additionally, for a philosophy argument’s “legitimacy” it isn’t necessary for one’s ethics author to also advocate the decision rule for that ethic. That’s arbitrary and overlimiting. Similarly, it’s not illegitimate to argue someone’s philosophy is good at answering skepticism, even if they made that argument. I don’t think that equating “high truth-value” moral stances with “what someone previously argued” is justified. “Academic consensus” in philosophy isn’t reason to disregard fringe positions outright. If the position is beatable, beat it, and beating it intelligently is educational. Gauthier DOES frame his arguments to answer to the skeptic who asks “why should I be moral?” Even if you’re right that Gauthier isn’t internalist (I think you’re not, but I haven’t read much Gauthier), this isn’t a problem with triggers, but with debate’s treatment of Gauthier; the claim that Gauthier is an internalist easily predates the skep trigger version of the argument.

Your minimizing clash argument is decent in theory but not practice. It’s quite difficult to successfully trigger skepticism without having to clash, since most of the time the other debater’s arguments don’t actually trigger the contingency. Most skepticism triggers justify: the truth of a general skeptical objection, their framework avoids this objection, no other framework does, skepticism triggers a decision rule, and that decision rule flows their way. For a contingency to be triggered without clash, the opponent must have only answered that the triggerer’s framework avoids skepticism. Any other set of arguments, including or excluding the successful answer, necessitates clash. If the other side wins the skeptical objection is generally false, winning that no framework can solve it is irrelevant. If they wins their own framework avoids the problem, extending the contingency does nothing. If the other side wins it triggers another mechanism, new reasons they win are required. If the other side wins that the mechanism flows their way, the triggerer triggering skepticism means they lose. To successfully extend triggers, unless the other debater understands nothing or reads framework blocks without answering specifics (aka not clashing), the triggerer must respond to many objections at all levels and explicitly justify why the negative framework bites into the skeptical problem. This is hard, interactive, and educational.

Your substantive objection to skepticism as insufficient standard warrants on their own is fair given how these debates usually go. A skeptical disjunction is probably itself not a sufficient standard warrant absent some meta-standard about adopting frameworks that avoid skepticism. This doesn’t apply if someone actually goes for the trigger, however. If the only moral theory that could avoid skepticism doesn’t, skepticism is true. It’s immaterial that those false moral theories are false for additional reasons.

Your “come on” argument is unpersuasive. Assuming that by “credence” you mean how much we are willing to believe, then this argument is familiar: intuitively, most people think that there’s a moral reason against doing things we don’t like (abusing toddlers). Yes. They do. I don’t consider this the litmus test for successful refutation, although I “understand” the proposition. You’re overly dismissive of skeptical scholarship. That said, an attempt to warrant the value of intuitionalism might well answer skepticism. That’s a reason for a debate to play out, though, not a reason to reject skepticism outright. This is a substantive objection one might raise in round, and is something that perhaps should be brought up so some smart and interactive debate might be had! Excluding skepticism altogether means this debate is prematurely cut short where it could have involved spirited clash on the use of moral language.


There a few unique arguments that together make a very powerful case against skepticism generally and skepticism triggers in particular.

The first is that skepticism is a NIB. Even if debaters usually use skepticism to trigger presumption, my argument against “you can do it too” seems to answer this. Introducing presumption as a decision-rule into the debate (where the winner of who gets presumption gets an advantage that is non-reciprocal) seems to be an unfair way of constructing a debate. Skepticism arguments force debaters to use presumption as a decision rule, which is not how presumption ought to function.

Further, skepticism cannot enter into a decision-making process that is fair, because fairness is bound up with normative reasons. Debaters are not only claiming that the judge should vote for them, but also that the judge should fairly evaluate the round. Since skepticism claims that no normative claim could ever be true, skepticism denies that either debater could have a claim over the judge to vote for anyone or to evaluate the round fairly. Skepticism cannot function in debate since a basic premise of debate is that it is true that the judge should vote for someone and should carry out a fair adjudication of the arguments.

The second is that skepticism shifts arguments away from quality philosophical ground to positions that deliberately misrepresent the philosophical literature. Because of skepticism’s unfairness, it changes the research incentives of debaters to find positions that may not be logically coherent, but that can win debate rounds. My argument is not that “academic consensus” is a reason to disregard fringe positions outright, but that when an argument in debate incentivizes debaters to research incorrectly, or to misrepresent philosophical literature, as unfair positions do, then that provides an additional educational reason to bar the argument from debate. Unfair positions lead to non-educational experiences.

You also fail to understand how skepticism arguments diminish clash, thus providing another incentive for debaters to misrepresent the philosophical literature in order to find the path of least resistance to the ballot. In your ideal world, the debaters must justify skepticism generally, the other debater refutes skepticism, and we have an educational debate about whether or not skepticism is true. However, in practice, this is never what happens. Instead, debaters who initiate skepticism will not defend anything except that both frameworks are false, and then they will extend that the decision rule for skep flows their way. I think this is pretty terrible for philosophical debate because it doesn’t encourage clash at all; it destroys clash.

The way you supposedly account for this lack of clash is that “[debaters can argue] the mechanism flows their way”. However, this brings up another problem for skepticism. If skeptical debates just collapse to debates about to which side the decision rule flows, than skeptical debates are no longer about the truth of skepticism, but are rather now about an obscure debate of what the resolution means. Skepticism debates will thus no longer be debates about philosophy; philosophical ground that you say is so educationally valuable.

The third argument is that the question is not just about whether philosophical ground is good, but about how skeptical arguments interact with other philosophical arguments. If skepticism “crowds out” other moral philosophy, then any educational argument for skepticism must be compared against the quality and quantity of the philosophical ground that it replaces. Skepticism crowds out applied ethics, or topical debate, precisely because it creates a higher-level burden structure that allows debaters to ignore the topic.

Thus, the educational question with regards to skepticism is whether we prefer asking skeptical questions in a debate round, or whether we should try and decide what to do in the moral dilemma that is the topic. All the reasons that debating the resolution, such as predictability or the educational value of switch-side debate, are thus reasons to ignore skepticism in favor of topic education.

Lastly, this preference for topical debate over skepticism meshes very nicely with Thomas Nagel’s argument that we have reasons to have much higher credence in any minimally plausible ethical theory (as in any of the ethical theories you see in a debate round) that attributes the proposition “it is morally wrong to torture babies for fun” a value of true, than any skeptical theory that attributes the proposition a value of false. You’re overly dismissive of the power of this argument, for what it claims is that a warrant for any plausible ethical theory gives us a higher reason to believe in that ethical theory than it does to believe in skepticism. We ought to thus tailor debates to focus on areas where there are substantial disagreements among the experts, such as the moral dilemma that is the topic, in order to provide for the best learning experience debate can offer. In short, skep is wrong, moral facts exist, and an educational experience should reflect these facts.


Thanks again for your responses!

There’s no answer my arguments about skepticism’s general value. First, it’s necessary to understand how philosophers justify their positions, i.e. Moore and Wittgenstein. Philosophy education outweighs. Second, it’s great for helping debaters grow as people by learning to transcend personal bias. I think these lasting impacts probably outweigh the, let’s be real, slight fairness dip from having a single NIB. Second, my first argument answers your assertion below that skepticism is literature nobody considers/defends; they do, and it’s great.

You haven’t answered that this’s a poor place to debate NIBS good/bad since that’s, by now, stilted and will teach everyone nothing new. Let’s table this before it bores us to tears. And, presumption has always been a decision rule, just not one invoked by a debater. The judge does it, which seems even worse for fairness since it’s out of debaters’ hands. A presumption burden exists even if you don’t want it to. But I’d say I mostly just don’t think we should regurgitate about this.

Skepticism answering theory obviates the prefiat/postfiat distinction. It’s best to assume a distinction, in absence of a Kritik, because it makes debate possible: if a debater justifies Utilitarianism, must I vote them down since they failed to exit the round and feed starving children? Should a debater’s contention about income equality of result mean I vote for the poorer debater? Skepticism is similar: it doesn’t trickle up to prefiat concerns like fairness. Moreover, this is a conflation; just because skepticism says fairness isn’t important doesn’t make skepticism unfair, just that it answers the impact to something being unfair.

You’ve not proven this is bad literature. I’ve given two examples of my own and link-turned your Gauthier one. Your conflation of fairness due to structure and fairness due to research burdens/predictability is also striking. Plus, there’s literature on it, which is above.

Your “crowd out” argument was initially just about triggers not skep generally, but it’s still answered above: skep is good philosophy. Also, this probably begs the question of whether skep is a NIB. Even if it is, skepticism education outweighs.

My objection to your clash argument is 100% responsive. You say a triggerer will “just” defend that both frameworks are false, but that requires winning a) a general skeptical problem, b) that other frameworks don’t avoid the problem c) that it triggers a decision rule and d) that decision rule flows their way. Even if the opposing debater just said “your framework doesn’t solve,” the triggerer must make new arguments why the other’s framework linked to the objection. Most debates, the opposing debater will, as normal refutation, make multi-layered objections the triggerer must answer, which PROMOTES philosophical clash.

Debates need not devolve to decision rule discussions, but even if they do, that’s an exciting area of philosophy! Analytic claims about what it means to say certain words, what happens when words in statements are meaningless, and arguments about the importance of metrics for evaluating those claims are great, complex philosophy.

Switch-side debate good’s best argument is critical thinking skills, which I have links to. Plus, you haven’t said why skepticism isn’t TOPICAL debate; obviously, arguments about morality’s falsity proving the resolution false would make it topical and predictable since you can write stable answers. You’ve not refuted the immense value of philosophical education re: Becca’s article anyway, which probably means philosophy outweighs.

You’ve not answered my two objections to your credence argument. First, there’s NO IMPACT to this. Even if there’s a good argument why skep is false, that’s not a reason to exclude it from the debate outright. In fact, you should allow skepticism because using this argument in round is educational because it fosters great debates about moral language. Second, this is illogical. People, especially skeptics, understand what these propositions mean and can still not automatically find them immoral. Maybe I’d read Nagel and become convinced, but I’m not blown away by your rendering.


Who won?

What do you think?

Think they made all the right arguments? Did they miss something? Are they wrong? Are they right? Let us know in the comments down below!

Want to suggest topics or go head to head with somebody else? Email nsdupdateheadtohead@gmail.com or better yet message Ben Koh on facebook. 


  • John Scoggin

    People love to hate on theory debates or politics debates, but personally I think that skep aff/neg or presumption aff/neg are some of the least interesting debates in existence.

    • Bob Overing

      But John! Time skew!

  • H Siddiqi

    Great discussion. I don’t normally post here, but someone linked me to this and I found this discussion really interesting.

    Suppose I am a researcher that studies genetics. One day, a few people come along and tell me “We have new evidence that strongly indicates that DNA doesn’t exist.” And, for the purposes of this scenario, assume that there is some merit to their criticism. Pretty much the worst way for me to respond would be to say “This is an un-educational point. I’m going to disregard your criticisms, and continue on with my research, even if the existence of DNA is in question.”

    If anything, something that makes me reconsider my work and the ultimate value of what I’m discussing is highly educational, and possibly even enlightening. If I truly respect my subject, I ought to be prepared to defend its existence when people raise reasonable objections.

    Though I personally think that morality exists, I also think that the critical thinking that results from responding to all forms of criticism of morality’s existence is valuable and often overlooked.

    Simply put, the position against the educational value of skepticism seems to be in a double-bind: If it is easy to respond to skepticism, people should have no trouble responding to it. But, if people have difficulty defending morality, then they should probably figure out why morality exists before wasting any more time discussing it. ­

    • Adam Bistagne

      I’m not sure I follow this double-bind as a reason for the educational value of skepticism. I think we can bite the first part of the double bind. If it is easy to respond to skepticism, because skepticism is false, than it is not educational to engage the skeptic. Mackie can keep saying that morality is epistemically queer, and we can just keep ignoring him because he is wrong.

      I also think that there are better forums to engage meta-ethical questions than in debate, because debate is about an applied ethical topic that is the resolution.

      BTW, if you think Mackie is right, I challenge you to defend his objections on this blog.

      • r30145

        Why should we reject arguments totally from debate because they are uneducational (as you seem to suggesting when you claim that education should be a voting issue or at least a reason to reject certain arguments)? So, under your paradigm, instead of beating back and arguing against a bad DA or CP, we should theoretically exclude them from debate. This unintuitive scenario seems to suggest that just we shouldn’t reject arguments from debate theoretically because they are “bad” arguments (in terms of their logical quality) but just argue against them.

        • Adam Bistagne

          I don’t think we should reject non-educational arguments. Skepticism is unfair, and this is the reason to reject it. Thus, the only way that skepticism is acceptable in debate is if it’s educational benefits outweigh the harms to fairness (which I think can’t happen because fairness trumps education, but those who believe skep is okay will say otherwise). Thus these posts about how skepticism is not educational are meant to be a pre-emptive attack against those debaters who will attempt to defend the theoretical legitimacy of skepticism.

          I’m sorry I haven’t made this explicit. I thought it was pretty obvious that fairness came first. Because fairness comes first, those who want to defend skepticism are on the back foot. Thus, they have to win some kind of educational benefit for skepticism to even make an argument for allowing it in a debate round.

      • anon94

        “I’m not sure I follow this double-bind as a reason for the educational value of the politics disad. I think we can bite the first part of the double bind. If it is easy to respond to the politics disad, because the politics disad is false, than it is not educational to engage the politics disad. People can keep saying that political capital fights will lead to extinction, and we can just keep ignoring them because they are wrong.

        I also think that there are better forums to engage political capital questions than in debate, because debate is about an applied ethical topic that is the resolution.

        BTW, if you think the politics disad is right, I challenge you to defend it on this blog.”

        • Jacob Nails

          Congress is on track to universalize its maxims now. But, skepticism drains Obama’s political capital, which undermines his efforts to get Republicans on board with Kantianism. The impact is human worth.

        • Bob Overing

          Yeah, it probably would be better to give significantly less credence to extinction scenarios. Good point…

          The terminal impact being speculative is not a reason why the disad isn’t valuable, however. This is a non-sequitur.

          This is all beside the point, however, because it is not just the anti-educational, nonsensical nature of skepticism that makes it a problem. It’s also that it is one of the most (if not the most) unfair practices in all of LD that still retains some support.

      • H Siddiqi

        “Mackie can keep saying that morality is epistemically queer, and we can just keep ignoring him because he is wrong.”

        Perhaps because of my limited understanding of philosophy, I feel that you are too hastily disregarding the arguments in favor of moral skepticism. Though I don’t think moral skepticism is true, and wouldn’t be qualified to defend it, I think that the arguments made by moral skeptics aren’t completely ridiculous or so easily dismissible.

        For example, arguments that claim that moral disagreement, the lack of consensus about the sources of normativity among philosophers, and epistemic skepticism are sufficient to prove moral skepticism seem pretty reasonable to me. Several books and papers by qualified philosophers have been written on the subject, and both sides have proposed strong defenses. I am unconvinced that it is so abundantly clear that the skeptic is wrong that it is not even “educational to engage the skeptic.”

        “I also think that there are better forums to engage meta-ethical questions than in debate, because debate is about an applied ethical topic that is the resolution.”

        This is a very strong objection, and one that I have given much thought to. While you are right that debate isn’t the best forum for meta-ethical discussion, I think it’s still an excellent forum for such discussion, and possibly the only one readily accessible to high school students.

        Additionally, I don’t think its true that debate must only be about applied ethics. We can still discuss the sources of normativity and challenge the assumptions of the topic without completely undermining the purpose of the resolution. Moreover, meta-ethical questions seem quite pertinent to all discussions of applied ethics, as I tried to illustrate with my genetics analogy. ­

  • Martin Sigalow

    I’ve participated in multiple debates with good debaters where I went for skep and they engaged the truth of those arguments. Those rounds exist.

  • David Joannides

    same could be said when an aff reads a plan / afc

    • Bob Overing

      The difference is that debaters should be expected to answer specific aff advocacies (if they are fair, in the lit, etc.). There is no expectation that debaters should be able to prove morality exists, and that discussion is certainly net disadvantageous.

      Also, plans/AFC can be evaluated on their own merits regardless of whether or not skepticism is a theoretically valuable argument.

      • Debater

        If your moral framework isn’t responsive to skep, it is probably a bad framework.

        • Adam Bistagne

          This is unwarranted and false. Contractualism and consequentialism frameworks, as they are normally run in LD, and as they are normally justified in the philosophical literature, are good frameworks that are not responsive to skep.

          • sjadler

            Not to be rude, but yes they are responsive to skep. For example, with contractualism, per Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “The term ‘contractualism’ can be used in a broad sense—to indicate the view that morality is based on contract or agreement”–if morality is based upon contracts or agreements, that seems to engage a claim that ‘morality doesn’t exist’ or that you can’t make moral claims since it attempts to show a legitimate basis for moral claims.

            What about the narrower sense of contractualism argued by Scanlon? Scanlon argues that “an act is wrong if its performance under the circumstances would be disallowed by any set of principles for the general regulation of behaviour that no one could reasonably reject as a basis for informed, unforced, general agreement.” Arguing that an act is wrong seems to engage the question of whether acts *can* be wrong–same with proffering a set of principles by which to regulate behavior.

          • Adam Bistagne

            You seem to be conflating meta-ethics with first-order normative ethics. These are two separate domains that do not have to overlap. As in yes, sometimes good frameworks will explicitly justify some kind of moral realism (such as a constitutive framework), but it does not follow that a good framework must justify some kind of moral realism.

            If morality is based upon contracts, then it is assumed that morality exist, it is not proven that morality exists.

            I think there can be other arguments that when logically combined with a moral theory imply that skepticism is false (such as my claim about intuitive moral propositions), but I don’t think a good framework must justify some sort of moral realism, or is directly responsive (as in can be extended) to take out skepticism.

          • sjadler

            Yeah I’m not interested in a super drawn-out conversation of this, but here’s how I see our posts interacting:

            You list contr. and conseq. as two common LD FWs that aren’t responsive to skepticism (and therefore it’s silly to think that LD frameworks should have to be responsive to skepticism). I agree that some frameworks run in LD probably aren’t responsive to skepticism directly (for example, bad impact-justified frameworks), but for what it’s worth I do think that contractualism is responsive.

            Also, for what it’s worth, I do think that a good framework probably should be able to answer skeptical responses. Unsurprisingly, I disagree with your claim that “morality based upon contracts” entails the assumption of morality’s existence rather than its proof. I think that if you can show a decision-rule or normative claim about contracts, that should be able to engage these sorts of meta-ethical claims.

            Here’s an example:

            Let’s say the skeptical claim is about relative morals meaning that you can’t make moral claims. Here, contractualism engages that objection because the moral principle is derived from an agreement between the relevant parties–so it shows a legitimate basis for morality’s existence.

  • Adam Bistagne

    We don’t have to be confident about the empirical claim with a sample size of one when we know that presumption args in the aff and neg will not be justified through analytic philosophy. Skep collapses to presumption. Presumption isn’t philosophy. That’s my argument in the H2H and I’m not sure how your post contributes to any discussion or refutation of this point.

    • Sam_Azbel

      I think it is true, that people do not justify presumption with analytic philosophy, but I think that Martin’s argument about why skep is educational is not really about that. Instead it focuses more on how skepticism is such a great educational tool in LD because people need to explain how a certain skeptical argument would take out/interact with a framework. The procedural issue of which way presumption flows is similar to determining if a plan is topical, or if something is a plan or a counterplan. This is clearly not optimal, but the education in this situation comes from reading the plan, just as in the case of skep, the educational benefits come from reading it and explaining how it takes out/interacts with arguments.

      • Adam Bistagne

        Plan debates do not collapse to whether the plan is topical or not. My argument is we do not get this argument interaction that you claim happens with skep because the debate will always collapse to claims about presumption.

        • Sam_Azbel

          Even if these debates always come down to Presumption/Permissibility my argument is that the good stuff is what happens before this. When someone reads an Aff, and then the neg reads skep, the educational benefit is when the Neg shows how the skep interacts with the aff/ how it takes it out. Even if presumption plays a part in this, it does not detract from the NC making those arguments and the Aff debater getting a new understanding of how certain args interact with his or her aff on such a critical (not “kritikal” lol) level.

          • Adam Bistagne

            The good stuff? That single argument interaction by one debater is the good stuff?

          • Sam_Azbel


  • Emily Massey

    “The ‘you can do it too’ argument is non-responsive. To ‘turn’ skepticism requires winning a different interpretation of how burdens function in the round. However, this doesn’t solve the 2-1 structural advantage; it just means whoever wins this interpretation debate will be at a 2-1 advantage. It’s better to disallow arguments that when won change the round’s burden structure to be non-reciprocal.”

    ^ I don’t get this. Why is it unfair for someone who wins some sub-debate, given that that sub-debate itself is fair, to then have an advantage in winning the round? Isn’t that true of any argument that ever wins a round? Like, if I win that my disad, which you dropped, outweighs all your impacts, then I am at an advantage.

    So if it’s true (and I’m not claiming it is, necessarily) that both debaters have an equal chance of winning that skepticism affirms/negates, then I don’t see what’s unreciprocal here.

    • Adam Bistagne

      We are not talking about whether winning a sub-debate gives just any advantage in the round. We are talking about whether winning a sub-debate should give you a structural advantage in the round. Your disad example is thus not relevant to the debate at hand.

      Just because the sub-debate itself is fair does not mean that the outcome of the sub-debate itself is fair. This is what I mean when I say that “it’s better to disallow arguments that when won change the round’s burden structure to be non-reciprocal”. If a sub-debate has structural outcomes that affect each debaters path to the ballot, there are legitimate reasons to prevent the sub-debate from creating a non-reciprocal burden structure. Your argument rests on an implausible assumption that just because a sub-debate is fair, the outcomes of the sub-debate are thus necessarily fair. I don’t get why that’s true.

      Also, Occam’s Razor. We can choose between a reciprocal burden structure that exists without skepticism, and that everyone agrees is fair, or we can introduce skepticism arguments as an additional burden that may or may not be fair. We should always prefer the simpler burden structure that keeps the round reciprocal than the more complicated burden structure that changes the playing field to be non-reciprocal.

      “You can do it too” is not a legitimate response on theory.

      • Emily Massey

        Well, obviously “you can do it too” is at least sometimes a legitimate response. Reciprocity arguments say “you can do something that I can’t do” — how else would you make a no-abuse argument there?

        But specifically in this situation, your structural vs. non-structural distinction doesn’t help. The debate as a whole is not actually structurally skewed in the skepticism scenario; it’s only “skewed” after you evaluate who won skep affirms/negates, but this isn’t a skew if both debaters had an equal chance of winning that argument. Both debaters then had an equal chance of winning the round as a whole, which is all that matters. Yes, the debater who loses the skep affirms/negates layer will then find it harder to win the round, but this is always true once you get to a certain point in debate rounds — this is also true in the disad example.

        On Occam’s Razor:

        1. Why is simplicity in itself a virtue here? If anything, I think complexity is a virtue in debate rounds, since it teaches you to think strategically and adapt to individual situations rather than blindly read blocks.

        2. Occam’s Razor is unfair if it excludes un-abusive arguments — this skews the judge’s evaluation of the round by unjustly penalizing the debater who ran those arguments.

        • Adam Bistagne

          If “you can do it too” is a legitimate response on theory, then things like NIBs and a-priori’s may actually be fair. This is counter-intuitive and probably a reason to exclude it as a response on theory. There are other ways to respond to reciprocity arguments without having to rely on “you can do it too”. Seriously, explain why NIB’s or a-priori’s are bad if “you can do it too” is a legitimate response.

          The structural vs non-structural distinction does help. After a disad is “won”, the burdens in the round are still the same. There is no change, and so there’s no reason to exclude a “disad” from the debate. Whereas when the skep affirms/negates layer is won, the burdens change. One debater has a structural advantage, which is theoretically distinct from having a substantive advantage after a disad is won.

          On Occam’s Razor:

          1. Simplicity is a virtue in the theoretical structure of a round. Complex arguments may teach a debater to think strategically and adapt to individual situations, but I’m not sure how complex burden structures do this. Complex burden structures require multiple levels of evaluation that has a high chance of skewing a fair adjudication of the round.

          Further, the argument with Occam’s razor is not that simplicity is a virtue per se, but that when we have two different theories, or in the case of debate two different burden structures, we should choose the burden structure that relies on fewer assumptions.We should choose the burden structure that is simpler. We should choose the burden structure that doesn’t have skepticism.

          2. Occam’s Razor is not a practice or a burden in a debate round that can be fair or unfair. It’s an argument for which practices and which burdens are fair. My argument is that an argument is abusive if it violates Occam’s Razor. This seems plausible.

          • Bob Overing

            Agreed. A principle that would
            allow for very few (if any) good theory arguments is probably wrong.

            #1 on Occam’s is also spot-on.

  • Martin Sigalow

    My name is Martin Sigalow and I approve this message

  • Salim Damerdji


  • Debater

    Someone should provide a Sigalow-level ballot for this H2H

  • Salim Damerdji

    Huh, I guess I’ll go against the grain here. I thought Adam won definitively.

    I think Adam wins off his point in the second post about how most skep debates spend significant amounts of time on the “decision rule”. Martin uses the 2AR to say we learn about Analytic philosophy and the meaning of words. But like this is pretty utopian. The video posted where Sam debates Jessica is a good example of how these debates center on offsetting skews. (Martin also coaches Sam which probably means something about what Martin actually thinks.) I’m also not sure how much analytic philosophy even exists to interpret the resolution. The only argument of this vein that I’ve heard is Frege and that position is miscut at worst and inapplicable to debate at best. Anyhow the point is, I don’t think Martin’s new 2ar response is even remotely reasonable. I’m going to give credence to Adam on this issue. This controls the internal link to philosophy, which Martin thinks is incredibly important. This also trades-off with what Martin says is good about skep, so either way, Adam wins.

    And aside from the actual head-to-head, I think it’s bizarre to think skip triggers increase clash. The person debating a skip triggers case inevitably recognizes engaging the skip triggers is not a fruitful way to spend time: you have to beat all of them and losing either the delink or the link-in means it doesn’t matter so it’s way easier for them to get offense and moot your attempts at offense. No duh people prefer to go auto-pilot and rant about how presumption negates.

    I also think Adam wins off the arg that skep shouldn’t be in debate for its own merits. This is Adam’s original argument “we can compare our credence in these self-evident moral beliefs against our credence that morality does not exist.”

    Martin doesn’t seem to understand the nuances of this argument in his first post, so there’s a bit of a spread of blips and no-warrants. Allow me to rephrase Adam’s argument with stronger rhetoric:

    1. When forced to decide between two distinct beliefs, we should choose the better justified belief.

    2. Intuitions are appearances of the world.

    3. We form beliefs based on these appearances unless other appearances conglomerated into the form of an argument are more persuasive than the original appearance.

    4. There’s no stronger appearance than “It is morally wrong to torture babies for fun.”

    This isn’t an argument for intuitions being the source of morality; it’s an argument for guiding discussions based on what’s plausible via intuitions.

    Martin’s first point is that there’s no impact. Well given this is a debate about whether skepticism has a place in debate and Adam’s argument shows there could NEVER be an instance in which we prefer skep to other frameworks, I’d say there is an impact. I’m also not sure why you claim debaters can just make these arguments in-round; how is that relevant? Like obviously they can also make the theoretical arguments in-round too. And this argument doesn’t even try to show we should exclude skip on theoretical reasons, just logical ones. It’d be like Christian Tarsney saying “Condo Logic is not an acceptable argument in debate.” That’s not a theoretical issue and even if it’s good to know why condo logic is wrong, it’s still a waste of time. These H2H match-ups, as far as I know, are not secretly being used to DQ any debaters at circuit debaters that disagree. It’s just a question of whether they’re actually wrong or not. Also, given that this argument is just true, I’m not really sure what great discussion will occur in-round.

    Martin’s second point is that he disagrees with 4, but that’s either a lie or an admission to criminal insanity, so let’s assume it’s a lie since we’re not given any other possible reasonable excuse.

    • Debater

      I’ll focus on the intuition stuff because that is most interesting to me. The way you phrase it is similar to Moore’s “Here is a hand”. An interesting way of going about this argument is the way that Wittgenstein explains it in On Certainty, in which knowledge is seen as a web of propositions and we must see things as true which allow for the possibility of forming a web of propositions. Wittgenstein sees justification as an action, where we respond to a skeptical questioner. He gives many reasons why certain skeptical arguments go against our ability to call anything true or false, and are therefore untenable. Neither you or Adam take this approach, however. This pure appeal to intuition is very unpersuasive, however, especially because the main tenet of many forms of skepticism is to question whether these intuitions are really appearances. Also, the original argument isn’t even evidence of credence in morality. When people say, “It is morally wrong that people kill babies” they are generally referring to commonsense morality. Aside from the fact that Sidgwick destroys that concept of morality, the skeptic could preserve the meaning of these statements by simply saying that we assume in our language a non-moral metric that we mistakenly call morality. This also seems to address a common misconception in terms of moral skepticism. It need not deny all normativity. We can always say something is good or bad in relation to some end or feature and that is a normative judgment, but not a moral one necessarily. At best, the arguments from intuition are reasons why skep is false, not reasons why it should be excluded from the activity. Skep is not the same as Condo Logic in that the latter is decidedly false while the former is a debated issue in moral phil. I have more to say, but not much time at the moment.

      • Salim Damerdji

        While this has no bearing on the H2H, I still think Moore’s argument is persuasive in its own right.

        Keep in mind another part of Moore’s defense is that we know that our hand is our hand even if we don’t know how we know our hand is our hand. That adds to the overwhelming reason to believe my hand is my hand despite the skeptic’s long-winded arguments.

        I think the arg is especially true with the appearances wrinkle. Even the arguments of a moral skeptic rests their beliefs about morality on what seems to them to be true. They concede appearances matter and it certainly appears that torturing babies for fun is wrong.

        “When people say, “It is morally wrong that people kill babies” they are generally referring to commonsense morality”
        I’m not sure whether commonsense morality differs from regular morality or how else people would phrase their moral beliefs.

        I’m not sure it’s a fair brightline to say “a debated issue in moral phil” when condo logic isnt debated in phil. If there’s overwhelming consensus and given that philosophy is built to create some small amount of fringe thinkers, I think that’s good enough. And yeah there’s overwhelming consensus that morality exists.

        Ultimately, the brightline for where an argument is so straight-forwardly wrong isn’t clear-cut, so I don’t think this is the most fruitful thing to argue. (Though some would say skep is as clear-cut wrong as torturing babies…)

        Last, I just don’t get the distinction between normativity and morality. Wouldn’t this just mean we re-interpret the resolution as a normative ought (instead of a moral one) and then read a normative framework and all is good?

        • Debater

          I don’t find Moore’s argument persuasive, at least not in its original form. Your argument is that they rest their beliefs on appearances too, but that isn’t responsive to the question the skeptic raises. They question whether intuitions or moral statements are actually appearances. As such, they would not regard your example as accurate appearance without reference to an external standard, which i discuss later. We can preserve the wrongness of intuitive bads by just saying that when people generally use morality, they aren’t talking about the same thing we are. They are rather relating the action to an assumed nonmoral standard which they mistakenly call morality. Commonsense morality is a term of art Sidgwick uses and thoroughly destroys in A Method of Ethics. I think that the question of whether there is a debate in the mphil community is a question of whether there are established positions that have enough individuals within them to be called a position and that people argue for those positions. The fact that there are a ton of positions, error theorists, anti-realists, skeptics etc. that disagree is evidence that it is debated. Even aside from those views, all noncognitivists would disagree that the statement “It is morally wrong to kill babies” is true. So, I think this is still a debated issue in moral philosophy and one that current philosophers still use to frame their positions.

          About normativity/morality, people do this. That is what a function framework is. Some philosophers extend function to the moral realm, but it need not be. Oftentimes the resolution is not conducive to normative statements that aren’t moral, but it could be done.

          • Adam Bistagne

            Hopefully this comment clarifies why in fact the “intuitive” argument gives a strong reason to reject any skeptical argument. I think the argument I made in the H2H is sufficient, but word count probably limited my explanation so that maybe you’re not understanding the argument to the same degree as I understand it.

            The question of “is it morally wrong to torture babies” is if we set aside our meta-ethical disagreements, such as whether we believe in skepticism or a form of non-cognitivsm, would we agree with the proposition. I think the answer is yes. This belief is “intuitively plausible”, but not in some queer quasi-perceptual conception of intuition, but in the sense of intuition that the non-intuitionist Boghassian uses the phrase “intuitively plausible”.

            I also don’t think my original argument relies on “intuitionism”. My argument is that any plausible ethical theory will agree that the proposition “it is morally wrong to torture babies”. I think I might have made a mistake in saying that this proposition would have a value of “true”, and in not stating the proposition as “a moral agent should not torture babies”, but I still think all ethical theories would produce this proposition as an imperative that follows from the “standard”.

            You: “They question whether intuitions or moral statements are actually appearances”.

            This presumes that higher-level beliefs can be more justified than specific beliefs about a proposition. See Nebel’s “Discussion of Impact Justified Standards” for a reason why this is wrong:

            The extension of Nebel’s argument to the debate over skepticism is pretty simple. Just because meta-ethical beliefs are a theory to explain moral beliefs does not mean they are more justified than the moral beliefs themselves. Our cognitive systems are connected and so if we have conflicted beliefs, we should “choose” the belief-set that is more intuitive. My argument in the H2H is that the belief-set that is more intuitive is the moral realists’ belief. I, and any person who doesn’t admit criminal insanity, is much more confident that we should not torture babies for fun, than any argument that says that this moral belief is an illusion.

            I am not sure how error theorists are able to preserve the moral wrongness of intuitive bads. I don’t think they can. I think they have to uniformly say that all moral statements are false. If error theorists can’t explain moral beliefs being valid, then this argument is responsive to the error theorist because it gives us a reason to reject the skeptic’s argument.

            I’m still not sure how any of this answers the educational question as I framed it in the H2H. Even if I’m wrong about how we should have higher credence in moral beliefs than in the anti-realist belief, there are applied ethical questions that the topic presents us with that are much more important in dealing with the practical questions and policies that we will be confronted with in our real life. For reasons of predictability and switch-side debate, it makes much more sense to debate about these applied-ethical questions.

        • Sam_Azbel

          I think your arguments about intuitions and morality being the same thing are a bit problematic. Im not really that well-versed in any philosophical literature but I’m pretty sure that intuitionism is just a certain way of viewing morality ( a certain type of philosophical theory). I dont think that things that are un-intuitive are always false though. To the contrary, it is often the case that un-intuitive things are true. For example, take quantum mechanics. This is some of the most un-intuitive shit ever but it has been proven to be scientifically true. Like the “double slit” experiment and the fact that an atom changes position when we examine it (these could be completely different things, i am no scientist). This is clearly not intuitive, but it is very much a fact of nature. Similarly is morality. I honestly don’t know if moral skep is true or false, but the fact that it is unintuitive does not mean that it is false.

          • Salim Damerdji

            Your last comment: “I’m pretty sure that intuitionism is just a certain way of viewing morality”

            My comment: “This isn’t an argument for intuitions being the source of morality; it’s an argument for guiding discussions based on what’s plausible via basic intuitions about the world.” Keep in mind, this means that even the moral skeptic has to use intuitions to make claims about the world.

            Your last comment: “To the contrary, it is often the case that un-intuitive things are true.”

            My comment: “We form beliefs based on these appearances unless other appearances conglomerated into the form of an argument are more persuasive than the original appearance.”

            Concretely for quantum mechanics, the strength of the appearances in favor for quantum mechanics are stronger than the appearances against quantum mechanics. For instance, the math that proves these unintuitive things happen has 100% certainty, so we look to it instead.

          • r30145

            You seem to be justifying a conception of reflective equilibrium here, especially based on the part where you right, “We form beliefs based on these appearances unless other appearances conglomerated into the form of an argument are more persuasive than the original appearance.” You’re saying that skepticism by denying the validity of intuitions undermines its own argument. But skepticism, as the name suggests, undermines an assumption or intuition about how the world is. When Desartes says we could all be brains in a vat, I’m not sure how’s he’s assuming a feature of the external world due to his use of the modal (could). Skepticism about the world thus seems to be valid. You can say that we should reject skepticism through some reflective equilibrium process, but that just begs the question whether this web of belief is true or not. Reflective equilibrium might be a way to better justify normative claims than other normative theories, but it surely doesn’t outright answer any skeptical positions who deny the possibility of every thread that comprises the intuitionist’s web of beliefs.

          • Adam Bistagne

            I don’t think you’re getting the argument. You say “…skepticism, the name suggests, undermines an assumption or intuition…”. My argument is precisely that EVEN IF skepticism undermines an intuition or a moral belief, we can compare our credence in a moral belief to our credence in the skeptical argument. I think most people would agree that we ought to have higher credence in the moral belief than in the skeptical argument.

          • r30145

            Same question as Sam: Why ought we hold more credence in our intuitions than in an analytical claim that has been justified? I’m not sure how you answer this question without begging the validity of intuitions in the first place.

          • Adam Bistagne

            I’m not sure if I can answer this question without stating the value of intuitions, but I think I can.

            1. Some propositions are self-evident. This means that when we initially encounter them, we assign a high-level of credence to belief that the proposition is valid. In moral philosophy, I think it is legitimate to assign a higher-level of credence in these self-evident propositions than in an analytic claim. Your question rests on a mistake that the analytic claim is justified and the intuition is not justified. I believe that claim is false; intuitions are semi-justified beliefs. I think there is room for revising or rejecting some intuitions, but then we would have to have a theory that explains not only why our intuition is wrong, but also a theory that we have higher credence in than our intuition. I don’t think skepticism explains our moral intuitions, and as I said in the H2H, I think we’ll always have higher credence in our moral beliefs than in skepticism.

            2. Another part of my argument in the H2H is that an ethical framework that is run in round is analytically justified, and a skeptical argument is analytically justified. We need a way of comparing these warrants. I don’t think just because skepticism is a “meta-ethic” means that it’s warrants rest on a higher plane of epistemic logic that always trumps the warrants of first-order normative ethics [Again, See Nebel’s “Discussion of Impact Justified Standards”]. I’m not even sure why this would be true. Rather, beliefs must be a coherent set that match all appearances in the world. Given this, the fact that an ethical theory would attribute as valid some set of self-evident moral propositions seems to be a decisive reason in favor of the existence of morality.

    • Sam_Azbel

      FYI Salim, idk what round u were watching, but in the round of me v. jess, my aff literally had no skep, and the 2 shells that jess read were about me saying “no neg rvis” and the second being “descriptive standards bad.” Not sure what either of those has to do with skep. If anything I think it proves martins point true that I do not need to run skep to make an aff a NIB. This aff didnt really even have impact turn ground, meaning that skep is probably less of a nib than this aff.

      • Salim Damerdji

        I interpreted the NC’s responses on presumption affirms as a pre-empt to the 1AR triggering skep from the top of the AC.

        Besides, this qualm you have really has little to do with my larger point. The presumption args in the aff (and the NC) still were not justified through analytic philosophy. Martin’s claim that presumption debates promote analytic philosophy just isn’t true empirically.

  • Sam_Azbel

    Shoutout to my main dawg Martin reppin’ the skep since 2008. Your skep file that you have handed down to me has been invaluable in my debate success. Wittgenstein would be so proud <3333

    • Debater

      Wittgenstein wasn’t as much of a skeptic as you seem to think. Check out his On Certainty, he gives a pretty good account of why we can’t accept some different forms of skepticism.

      • Sam_Azbel

        Thats probably true. I only know the “big book” arg though (aka the best arg EVER) lol

        • r30145

          So Sam, why can’t we put write down moral facts in a big red book? Lol. Best argument ever.

        • Debater

          The better arg is the background to that, in both the Lectures on Ethics and Tractatus, where he says that all logical statements are on the same level. Without that, its just an unwarranted version of the is/ought fallacy. But yea, best argument ever.