Head to Head: Theoretically Justified Frameworks

Sam Mathews (left) and Bob Overing (right)
Sam Mathews (left) and Bob Overing (right)

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, John Scoggin defeated Yang Yi on a 253 to 188 decision. Next up in a rematch of the 2012 Golden Desert final round is Sam Mathews, who won the Cal RR, Iowa Caucus, and Voices amongst other achievements, versus Bob Overing, finalist at the TOC,  Stanford, and Blake amongst other achievements.

Question: Should theoretically justified frameworks be an acceptable argument in debate?

Sam Mathews will argue that they are not acceptable, and Bob will defend that they are.


The primary argument against TJFs is that they’re detrimental to the philosophical education that debaters receive from the round. While common, I think this is one of the best arguments against TJFs. TJFs gut the philosophical discussion of a round because they encourage the affirmative to prevent their framework without substantive justification. Further, they foreclose substantive argumentation about and comparison of the negative’s framework. Negatives engaging TJFs are forced to either spend less time philosophically justifying their own framework and more time linking it into the theoretical claims in the AC, or to run theory. Both are obviously harmful to any educational utility garnered from the round. Perhaps those in favor of TJFs will claim that they are not mutually exclusive with philosophical argument in frameworks. I think this further engenders the harms I’ve outlined above. Justifying frameworks using theoretical justifications in conjunction with philosophical ones is especially harmful to philosophical education. Affirmatives will spend less time developing a clear framework syllogism and more time writing theory frontlines. Some affirmatives even purposefully put poor or bastardized philosophical justifications in the framework in hopes that the negative will overcommit on the substantive layer and make it even easier for them to go all in on theory in the 1AR. Affirmative debaters who are particularly skilled with theory will spend more time honing what they’re already good at instead of developing a more comprehensive knowledge of philosophical literature.

I think it’s pretty clear that TJFs hurt philosophy education. However, this all begs the question of why philosophical education matters.

Many are quick to call philosophy useless or even harmful. I think these sentiments are symptomatic of being uncomfortable with or unused to it. There is immense value to philosophical education because it teaches you to think in a way that other disciplines do not. You’re taught to question every assumption you make and encouraged to challenge the viewpoints of others. In particular, philosophy makes its students more open-minded and less dogmatic. Bertrand Russell is famous for championing philosophy’s uncertainty because unlike any other discipline, it does not give definite answers to fundamental questions. Without a philosophical education, many of us would go through life imprisoned, as Russel puts it, by our prejudices. This is distinctly important in an educational context. Too often we become lulled into the passive trance of taking in information rather than interpreting it for ourselves.

Proponents of TJFs justify them on the grounds that their framework will be more educational or fair for the round. I don’t think that this is the case.

First, TJFs decrease clash in the round because they encourage debaters to jettison their substantive arguments and use preclusion to win their standard. I’ve seen too many rounds where a debater will concede several substantive objections to consequentialism and go all in on ‘util is the most fair because it provides an even division of ground.’ And often times, they’ll be rewarded for doing so with a win.

Second, using a TJF often destroys whatever educational benefit that is being used to justify it in the first place. If I theoretically justify utilitarianism on the grounds that it’s the most applicable ethical theory to real-world decision-making, but then concede substantive objections for why utilitarianism cannot guide action, I’ve lost the initial warrant for why utilitarianism was theoretically good. Debaters will often go all in on theoretical justifications for their framework because such justifications are assumed to function on a higher layer than substantive ones. What judges and debaters alike often forget is that substantive objections can challenge the assumptions made by theoretical ones.



I will argue that not only can frameworks be theoretically justified, but that they must be. I’ll focus primarily on fairness. Counterplans must be fair, kritiks must be fair, and burdens must be fair – why not frameworks too? Debate is important because it is educational, but there are constraints on the ways that goal is achieved. For instance, the AC has to be topical and the NC can only speak for 7 minutes. We should be highly skeptical of any practice that requires us to suspend our fundamental belief in the absolute value of fairness. More than that, there is no one debate argument that can give such great educational benefit that it can outweigh the value the rule of fairness. The rule has tremendous value, for instance, in promoting well-researched clash that produces the knowledge and skills the philosophy hard-liners want. If a debater cannot prove his/her framework is fair, then it should be discarded as a judge would any other unfair argument. This reasoning is applicable to education too – if some framework grossly mischaracterizes philosophical argumentation such that it would produce woefully unproductive and perhaps harmful debate, we should reject it.

Framework itself is only a subset of a theoretical category we already accept: topicality. It’s about defining the terms for the debate. Debaters have been reading T-Ought for years, but recently John Scoggin and I forwarded a version of the argument we called ‘parameters,’ which makes two claims: 1) any moral framework is an interpretation of the word ought or a similar evaluative term such as morally permissible in the resolution, and 2) any interpretation of a word in the resolution is subject to debate only on theoretical grounds. 1) is obviously true. The use of specific moral terms in the resolution is the only reason the types of frameworks in LD are necessary. If the resolution were “The sky is blue,” ethics would have nothing to do with it. 2) should be intuitive too. When we debate about words in the resolution, we do not appeal to the “truth” of our interpretation; rather, we make arguments about predictable limits or neg ground. Think how ridiculous it would be if the neg ran T-compulsory voting on the September-October 2013 topic, and the aff simply asserted, “but my understanding of compulsory voting is just true.” Such a line of argument would be out of place and insufficient. Before debate occurs, one must prove his/her interpretation of the resolution is appropriate for debate in the first place. This burden has been a part of debate theory for decades and should not be discarded.

Now I’ll address the seemingly pre-emptive arguments from Sam. The first is about clash. On face, it seems that theoretically-justified frameworks do not decrease clash; they simply move it to a different part of the debate, which is the part that addresses the resolution. This objection also begs the question because it states that preclusion via theoretical argument is un-educational, yet if employing the other framework would be un-educational or unfair, then there is no good reason to do so. The second point is about the interaction between theoretical and ‘substantive’ justifications. Of course, if a substantive argument would have theoretical impacts, then that should be argued. I see no reason why my position would be incompatible with this.

Philosophical education is important. First, my model provides for better philosophical argument by weeding out poor frameworks through systematic deterrence and exclusion. Sam seems to think that this encourages bad philosophy, but if frameworks are unjustified, they should be easily answered (or un-educational and thus theoretically suspect). Second, my model will still allow for philosophical debate once theoretical constraints are ensured. For instance, the aff could argue for a deontological conception of morality, and a debate over which duties are strongest might ensue. Third, these debates capture the benefits of increased topic discussion and more specific philosophical argumentation. This is far superior to the status quo where debaters can get by without talking about the topic for an entire debate season while reading the same framework on both sides. Theoretical arguments are the only recourse against current practices that allow philosophy to be not only central to the round but the only thing in the round. Something must change.



Bob says that there’s no reason for why fairness shouldn’t apply to frameworks. I think the key distinction between what I’m arguing for and his model is that frameworks should not have parameters built into them. Being fair should not be a proactive reason to vote for one framework over another. If the AC framework is unfair, the negative can run theory on it. I have no issue with that practice.

Further, Bob’s model seems pretty absurd when you think about how it would function in a debate round. If I had to justify why all of my arguments were fair proactively, every single argument I made in the 1AR would have to have an additional argument for why it were fair. And, if theory trumps substance, the arguments I made in my rebuttal would be judged as true according to how fair they were, not according to whether they were actually responsive to my opponent’s position. People use theoretical justifications for their framework like this all the time. But, if it is acceptable to say ‘Consequentialism, while perhaps logically false, is the most fair metric for evaluating the round,’ one could just as easily argue ‘Mandatory voting, even though it doesn’t really increase voter turnout, should be thought of as increasing voter turnout because that is the most fair way to evaluate the round.’

Not only is that model logically incoherent, but also it is also obviously detrimental to any of the educational value of the round. Debates would devolve into competitions of who could make the fairest arguments rather than the best, truest, or most strategic ones. At best, this model of debate would create extremely difficult scenarios for a judge to evaluate. Imagine a scenario where the affirmative won that their turn to the NC was the most fair, but the negative won that the NC offense outweighed the turn. It seems extremely unintuitive to vote for the affirmative because their turn was marginally fairer than the negative’s offense. But, voting for the negative makes it unclear why fairness mattered in the first place.

So, in sum, there is a clear disconnect between Bob’s argument and what I’m advocating for. My position is merely that theoretically justified frameworks, i.e. ones that use parameters as additional or preclusive justifications for the standard, are bad. That does not mean that a debater may not argue that a framework is unfair. Merely, they cannot use theory as a reason to prefer their framework.

Bob might be tempted to say that his argument is merely a topical interpretation of the word ‘ought,’ but that misses the point of my criticism. Bob argues that his view of fairness should be applicable to all arguments in the round.

Now I’ll move to my arguments for why TJFs are uneducational. I make the claim that TJFs hurt clash because they encourage affirmatives to use theory in a preclusive manner to avoid substantively engaging the negative’s framework. Bob responds by claiming that TJFs simply shift clash to the contention level debate. First, this doesn’t avoid the claim that TJFs are terrible for philosophy education. Second, this never happens in actual rounds. The negative is forced to spend less time engaging contention level debate because of the theoretical layers introduced into the framework debate by the affirmative.

Next, I argue that TJFs, when employed, often destroy their own educational value. Bob says that it’s fine if substantive arguments have theoretical implications, and his model is not mutually exclusive with that kind of argumentation. But that’s not my argument. My point is that TJFs innately undermine their own justification. It is intrinsic to using TJFs to win a framework debate that one concedes substantive reasons for why a framework is false and instead goes for theoretical ones. If that framework is logically false, we shouldn’t be using it as an educational tool in the first place. That is what undermines TJFs, and it is unavoidable by whatever model of debate that endorses them because it is intrinsic to their use.

TJFs do not make for better philosophical education. First, Bob isn’t responding to my argument that TJFs A) encourage debaters to less substantively justify their framework, B) bastardize philosophical literature, and C) spend more time honing theory skills than philosophical knowledge. My model can weed out abusive frameworks too. People can run theory on unturnable deont NCs. I just don’t force debaters to proactively justify why their framework is fair when they read it.



Being fair is certainly a proactive reason to prefer an argument. No unfair argument should ever enter the judge’s decision calculus. Of course, the neg can also access the fairness justification by arguing that his/her framework is fair; however, if it were at all less fair, we should reject it. We should never accept a less-than-optimal interpretation of the resolution precisely because it is less-than-optimal!

The following is extremely important: Sam has conceded that the evaluative term in the resolution (e.g. ought or morally permissible) should be interpreted according to what is most fair/educational. Those words, like all other words, are subject to the same standards as T.

There are many interpretations for a given word. Under my model, a debater can argue for a broad interpretation of ought such as “used to indicate moral correctness.” The question is whether or not we should assume such a broad interpretation from the start. The anti-parameters position is destructive because it enforces a T-interp before the debate even starts. This definition should be contestable in round. On some topics and with some literature bases, it makes sense to define the evaluative term more broadly (e.g. on the “kill one to save many” topic), but on others, it makes sense to define it more narrowly (e.g. on the “privatization of civil services serves the public interest” potential topic). The ‘parameters’ model captures the benefit of different types of framework debates for different topics. I see no reason why it decreases framework quality – it’s just a fairness test. Remember my argument about debaters reading the same framework arguments all year. That’s not good philosophy education! This is more complicated than just philosophy vs. topic education.

My argument is not that fairness is the ultimate standard by which every argument is evaluated – it’s only the standard for definitions. Sam’s example is alarmist and irrelevant; it’s about a case turn, which is not a resolutional interpretation. What counts as offense to turn a position is generally a choice exterior to the resolution. Obviously in an instance where the argument does rely on resolution backing, there would be a T debate!

The claim that theoretically justified frameworks decrease topic debate is wrong. I have debated, coached, and judged several rounds where the neg conceded framework in favor of topic debate. Sam’s claim is impossible to verify, but certainly more debates have been about the topic than before debaters started to argue for parameters. In a world without theoretically justified frameworks, there is nothing stopping debaters from avoiding topic debate altogether (in fact, many do).

There’s no reason one must concede philosophical arguments against a framework to argue that it is fairer. I agree that in general, “If [a] framework is logically false, we shouldn’t be using it as an educational tool.” I would also probably have a higher threshold for proving things “logically false” (a 2-second blip doesn’t cut it). Of course a debater can impact those arguments toward topicality standards. Sam just goes too far in thinking that proving something “logically false” is the be-all and end-all of theory arguments. He says that debaters can run theory on “unturnable deont NCs” but this is not so, on his view, if the violator merely proves the framework is logically sound.

Why shouldn’t our topicality arguments be logical and fair?


Who Won?

H2H Judge an Educator

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. 

  • Pingback: Structural Abuse, Substantive Advantages Part 2 of 3 by Salim Damerdji – NSD Update()

  • Pingback: Structural Abuse, Substantive Advantages P1: A Criticism of the Burdens View by Salim Damerdji – NSD Update()

  • Pingback: Cartier love bracelet unisex rose gold()

  • Pingback: Premier Debate Today()

  • Pingback: camisetas de futbol baratas contrareembolso()

  • Pingback: maillot psg enfant 2014()

  • also, something that i’ve thought out a little less but is unavoidable as a knee-jerk reaction to me: you don’t think that novices would have a really hard time adjusting to debate when they can’t just justify a framework by making arguments in favor of a belief the way we do in real life (i.e. good op-fashioned warrants)? like, novices should have to justify why the 1ac framework is fair instead of just being like “the social contract is pretty decent”?

    especially when you say “I will argue that not only can frameworks be theoretically justified, but that they must be.”, it gives me the impression that you think all debaters should be doing this. i think that debate probably looks way worse in a world where this is an expectation we affix to novice debaters.

    and if doesn’t apply to novices — then why MUST it be the case that we theoretically justify frameworks in general? if novices don’t have to do it then it probably shouldn’t be an EXPECTATION of varsity debaters even if it’s a tool in their toolbox — i.e. we don’t obligate debaters to run theory spikes in the 1AC even though that’s something you need to know how to throw down with when you’re playing at the top levels. (novice debates should only be different from varsity debates in terms of skill — NOT in terms of what are key features of the event)

  • why would it be theoretically illegitimate in a world where frameworks must be TJF for the 1ac to spend a few minutes being like, “the last topic was way better for debate than this one is, so for fairness and education, let’s just debate that”? — or, would it at all?

  • Matt Kawahara

    i just wanted to say that sam harris is a moron

  • Erik Baker

    i like turtles

  • sjadler

    Totally irrelevant to the issue at-hand, but thought I’d pop in to say that I’m really impressed with the depth of discussion going on here. Ben Koh deserves a ton of props for getting this going, but so does everybody else for participating and helping to tackle this issue.

  • Bob Overing

    You can define ought in a broad sense to have a framework debate… Why don’t people understand this?

  • Bob Overing

    I think it becomes a problem if it’s a continual justification for making poor arguments.

    But let’s not act like you have some moral high ground. Everyone at some point engages in some practices that we might find uneducational. No one is exempt.

    Still, there are certainly better examples of anti-educational practices than any arguments made by the two of us.

  • Bob Overing

    What happens when both T-interpretations are reasonable?

  • jnebel

    I agree with everything Christian has said. Utilitarians and deontologists are not engaged in a merely verbal dispute about how to use the word “ought.” Two additional questions for Bob:
    1. How is “maximizes utility” any more fair or educational a definition than “maximizes disutility”?
    2. If you think of topicality as constraining the affirmative advocacy, it’s hard to see how T-ought is sensible. That’s because “ought” doesn’t change what the affirmative advocacy is. So what’s your different conception of topicality?

    • Bob Overing

      I was wondering when you’d show up.

      Regarding the definitions, perhaps that’s true, but I don’t think it’s a reason that T-ought is completely wrongheaded. Some definitions clearly have different effects than others. E.g. ought as “logical consequence.”

      1. The former is a far more predictable standard than the latter. It’s also probably not good to learn to support one’s argument through how much suffering it imposes.
      2. I also tend to think that T is about advocacies. We could think that there is a moral component to the advocacy, but I don’t find that very persuasive. Alternatively, we can think of the T argument as more of an analogy. There’s no way to argue about what ought means absent appeal to T standards, even if it’s not strictly topicality. I think you would agree here.
      3. The strict utilitarian definition might be less tenable for some evaluative terms than for others.

      • Christian Tarsney

        If you define “ought” as “maximizes disutility,” why would saying “A ought to do x” suggest support for A’s doing x?

        • Bob Overing

          It’s about what the win signals. I don’t think it’s educational to vote for the debater who shows their advocacy would create more suffering. T

          There are certainly other reasons to think that ought defined as “maximizes disutility” is less fair, educational, and plausible than other definitions.

          John and I have repeatedly conceded that someone could argue for an absurd definition. They just wouldn’t win. That’s not a reason why the practice of ‘parameters’ is wrong. Nor is this an argument for why “maximizing utility” is a bad definition (Yes, some of the same justifications for utility would apply to disutility – but there are obvious reasons to prefer the former).

          • Christian Tarsney

            This is tangential, of course, but I still don’t understand: If the resolution say “The US ought to join the ICC,” and you interpret “ought” as “maximizes disutility,” then you’re defending the claim that joining the ICC would maximize disutility. Your advocacy, then, would if anything be that we *not* join the ICC, unless you’re antecedently an advocate of maximizing disutility.

            (My real point is that when you assume that affirming a resolution of the form “A ought to do x” must imply that you advocate or support A’s doing x, you’re tacitly assuming that the “ought” has some content, like a sense of to-be-doneness, which can’t be erased by the T debate.)

          • Bob Overing

            Yes, we tend to think that discussion of some action is assumed by most resolutions involving ought. Any good T-interp should probably take this into account.

          • jnebel

            Christian’s point is not merely that it’s an action, and that this action is being discussed, but that the affirmative is advocating, supporting, endorsing, or giving reasons to perform the action. And that comes from “ought,” which is a normative concept. But if the aff just defines “ought” as “maximizes utility” (or any other descriptive predicate), then she’s ignoring this normative content. When she says that we ought to maximize utility, she’s no longer *advocating* whatever maximizes utility. She’s just saying that whatever maximizes utility maximizes utility.

            Compare: If the resolution said, “Being mean to grandparents maximizes utility,” someone could affirm this resolution without advocating being mean to grandparents – e.g., by not thinking that we ought to do whatever maximizes utility. Advocacies are central to debate only when the resolution contains a normative term, like “ought” or “should.”

          • John Scoggin

            “Advocacies are central to debate when and because the resolution contains a normative term, like ‘ought’ or ‘should.'”

            Resolutions could just as easily be interpreted as ‘X moral code compels us to do Y.’

            1. I think that the arguments in the abstract why ‘advocacy’ is good generally support TJFs. It seems like you would gain a lot more from debating on a plane that is fair and educational rather than the other way around.
            2. Any type of real world standard is going to prefer topic debate to philosophy debate.

            Every day people make decisions in the face of normative uncertainty according to their own values. Just because for a particular question an individual hasn’t resolved some of the highest layer philosophical questions does not preclude advocating for that position. No one has decisively proven a particular form of morality to be correct beyond question, if it is accepted that advocacy requires normative certainty that would lead to the counterintuitive conclusion that no one has really advocated for anything.

          • jnebel

            I don’t understand how your comment responds to mine. If the resolution states, “Hammurabi’s code compels us to do Y,” then Y need not be something the affirmative *advocates* (or supports, endorses, thinks we should do). The same goes if you replace “Hammurabi’s code” with anti-utilitarianism or even utilitarianism.

            I don’t know what you mean by “the arguments in the abstract why ‘advocacy’ is good.” I haven’t said anything to imply that philosophy debate is better than topic-focused debate. And I don’t see how the argument commits me to anything about the irrelevance of normative uncertainty.

          • Bob Overing

            If someone made arguments for why being mean to grandparents was good (in some sense), I would take that as an endorsement regardless of the exact words used to describe the aff (i.e. even if (s)he didn’t say ‘ought’).

            If the res was “The sky is blue,” I would take the aff to be *advocating* that “The sky is blue.” I don’t think we need a normative term to think that.

            This is probably the reason why we don’t have resolutions that ask debaters to defend maximizing suffering…

          • jnebel

            Even if it were the anti-utilitarian resolution about grandparents, arguing for that resolution (i.e., giving evidence that being mean to grandparents does, indeed, maximize suffering) is not the same as arguing for, advocating, or supporting being mean to grandparents. The point remains that if you substitute some non-normative predicate for “ought,” then the affirmative need not be supporting or advocating the action that follows “ought” (even if they are “advocating” that a proposition is true).

          • John Scoggin

            Why would we want people to advocate for things that they “think we should do” in switch side debate?

          • jnebel

            Just replace “thinks” with “argues that.” That doesn’t affect the point.

          • Bob Overing

            Per John’s argument about the potential for descriptive oughts, I don’t think it matters that ought defined as ‘maximizes utility’ loses prescriptive content.

            Clearly there ARE non-normative definitions. E.g. ought as “logical consequence.”

          • Jeff Liu

            How can you admit that “ought=maximizes utility” is non-normative without admitting that a definition of “ought” as “maximizes utility” is not really a plausible definition of “ought”?Jake originally objects that it is equally fair and educational to define ought as maximizes suffering as it is to define ought as maximizes utility. Your response is that Jake’s alternative definition is not equally fair and educational, because it is uneducational for debaters to recommend actions that maximize suffering. Jake and Christian replied, if “ought” is defined as maximizing utility, then the affirmative need not make any normative judgment about what the “good” or “right” course of action is at all; that is, if ought just means maximizes utility, then the affirmative just has to argue that it is true that doing the resolutional action would maximize utility (a descriptive claim). The debate about whether an action maximizes utility is going to look the same as a debate about whether an action maximizes suffering–both debates are just empirical disputes about the amount of pleasure and pain contained in a world where the resolutional action is enacted. Or am I missing something?

          • John Scoggin

            “How can you admit that “ought=maximizes utility” is non-normative without admitting that a definition of “ought” as “maximizes utility” is not really a plausible definition of “ought”?”

            I wrote like three posts relating to this.

            “The debate about whether an action maximizes utility is going to look the same as a debate about whether an action maximizes disutility–both debates are just empirical disputes about the amount of pleasure and pain contained in a world where the resolutional action is enacted. So the two interpretations of ought–one as maximizing utility, the other as maximizing disutility–are equally fair and educational. Or am I missing something?”

            I wrote:

            “I agree that the only difference between the two definitions in terms of the debate round is it essentially makes aff arguments neg arguments and neg arguments aff arguments. The negative would just stand up and say T, ought = utility same ground is allowed but my definition is better because it makes what we expected to be aff ground aff ground and what we expected to be neg ground neg ground. How we prep is dictated by what we think the resolution likely means and my definition is clearly superior in that regard. Don’t see how the negative ever loses that debate.”

          • Bob Overing

            Even if debaters don’t advocate/recommend something under a descriptive framework, there are still good reasons to prefer the utility standard to the disutility standard. E.g. prep. When a debater is prepping for a round, they expect to debate a particular side. Also, one would prep different kinds of strategies based on how sides/speech times/speaking first affects the debate. For instance, politics works as a disad but not as an advantage.

          • jnebel

            The anti-utilitarian will respond: “Why did you prep all your arguments for why the aff increases utility on the aff side? You should’ve prepared them on the neg.” How do you explain why your expectation was more reasonable than theirs?

          • Bob Overing

            Because certain arguments are more common on one side within the debate community. A certain politics scenario is a neg argument and cannot be an aff argument.

            Second, even if disutility creates the same debate, it’s not supported by common usage/field context as well as the utility definition is.

          • jnebel

            Who are the authorities on the “field context” of modal verbs, especially in normative, deliberative sentences like LD resolutions? Here’s a plausible list: linguists, philosophers of language, and moral semanticists.

            How is Sam Harris an authority on the common usage of modal verbs? You can’t just count on utilitarianism here, because even though maximizing utility is something they think we ought to do, no utilitarians are using the word “ought” to *mean* “maximizes utility.” So that is not evidence of your interpretation being more common.

            If the reasons to prefer utility to disutility collapsed to what’s more common in the debate community, I would think that’s a reductio.

          • Bob Overing

            *The field that is relevant to the topic area

            Authors discussing criminal justice policy, for instance, say “ought” and mean “maximizing utility” (or something similar).

            I think what is common practice in the debate community is reasonable grounds for declaring that something is predictable. E.g. by the end of the college policy topic, what is a viable T strategy changes not because of linguistic evolution but because so many or few teams run particular affs which make various definitions more or less predictable.

          • jnebel

            No, authors discussing criminal justice policy do not mean “maximizing utility” (or something similar) when they say “ought.” People who are actually experts on the semantics of “ought” have accounts of what the word means in a variety of contexts. None of them, even in the context of criminal justice policy, is “maximizing utility.” No expert on criminal justice policy has thought anywhere near as much about what the word “ought” means, even when it comes out of their mouths or keyboards. It’s not like “ought” is a term of art or a technical term used with some specialized meaning in their sub-field.

          • Bob Overing

            I’ll defend the CJS claim on the other comment line where I said “Re: ought in various contexts.”

            I think that more than 50% of debaters running anti-utilitarianism would make for a good predictability claim about that standard. Of course, that is not the case and like we’ve said, the utility definition will always win out (for more than a few reasons).

          • jnebel

            There are non-normative definitions of “ought” because the word is often used in non-normative and non-deliberative contexts: for example, “The train ought to be here by now.” Fortunately, LD resolutions are not such contexts. The importance of context is explained by the most widely accepted account of “ought” and other modal verbs in linguistics.

          • Bob Overing

            Right, so context matters. I’m not sure why applying the standard of “maximizing utility” to evaluate the resolution would be non-deliberative or somehow out of context. In fact, some resolutions probably readily lend themselves to that sort of analysis.

          • jnebel

            Like which resolutions?

            (I didn’t say that “maximizes utility” is ruled out by context. I said that context explains the existence of non-normative uses of “ought.”)

          • Bob Overing

            “Privatization of civil services serves the public interest.” It makes a lot more sense to employ a utility standard rather than more duty/rule-based ethics for this resolution.

            This is the case even if you think acting to promote ‘public interest’ is not normatively valuable.

          • jnebel

            I thought you were going to give an example of a non-normative “ought” resolution.

          • Bob Overing

            The example illustrates that there are topics where a) descriptive frameworks make sense or b) maximizing utility, in some sense, is implied.

            You could argue about particular resolutions, but the principle stands that some resolutions lend themselves to a more consequentialist analysis.

          • jnebel

            OK. I was talking about the use of “ought” in LD resolutions.

            I agree that some uses of “ought” are implicitly *consequentialist* – e.g., “ought to be” sentences like Jan/Feb last year, for which a desirability definition often makes sense. But that’s not the same thing as maximizing utility. Desirability is a normative, or at least evaluative, concept.

            BTW, “serving the public interest” need not mean “maximizing utility.” Often X can serve Y without *maximizing* Y, but merely by increasing Y (e.g., the difference between “serves” and “best serves”).

          • Bob Overing

            Wrt desirability being normative: Right, so John’s defense of descriptive definitions is sufficient but unnecessary for us to win that there are resolutions where *consequentialist* analyses make more sense.

            Of course increasing/maximizing mean different things. This is why I carefully said “maximizing utility, *in some sense,* is implied” [emphasis added]. For any given resolution, the framework should reflect the nuance of that particular resolution…

          • jnebel

            Defining “ought” as “maximizing utility” does not reflect the nuances of any resolutions.

          • John Scoggin

            Christian’s argument is this:

            “Your advocacy, then, would if anything be that we *not* join the ICC, unless you’re antecedently an advocate of maximizing disutility.”

            The notion here is that it makes no sense for an individual to advocate for maximizes disutility. That implies that people have to argue things they believe in, that makes no sense in switch side debate. I think there are compelling strategic and theoretical reasons not to use the definition, but your case certainly does advocate that we join the ICC because it maximizes disutility.

            Even though I will continue to defend TJFs as a practice even against extreme examples this whole thought experiment seems kind of weird to me. Under traditional framework debate you can argue that the true moral theory is maximizing disutility, its just a stupid argument. I mean I’m sure you remember a few cases from back in the day that argued that justice = violence. Just because someone can make a poor argument under a particular view of debate does not mean that view is flawed in conception.

          • jnebel

            “Under traditional framework debate you can argue that the true moral theory is maximizing disutility, its just a stupid argument.” Of course that’s right, but once you reduce debates in moral theory to merely verbal disputes about how the participants are using the word “ought,” it is not much stupider than defining “ought” as “maximizes utility.” That is, in part, because it’s not even an argument: it’s a definition. And once you are multiplying the senses of the word “ought” to assign one such sense to every moral theory, it’s clear that you can just use the term however you like. You can try to limit the definitions to the ones you find plausible, but you’ve already left the realm of plausibility far behind when you made “ought” analytically equivalent to “maximizes utility.” The thought experiment is meant to be a reductio ad absurdum, because it shows that there is not much to be said in favor of your definition than some definition that is obviously wrong.

          • Bob Overing

            “once you are multiplying the senses of the word “ought” to assign one such sense to every moral theory”

            No one is advocating this. Some definitions lend themselves to some moral theories more than others. That is not to say that there is a definition for every moral theory.

          • jnebel

            So which moral theories have corresponding uses of “ought”? Just the ones that Sam Harris thinks are true? BTW, does the “ought”-relevant notion of utility refer to hedonic states or preference satisfaction? Total utility, average utility, or some other kind of aggregation? Is it a “person-affecting” notion (making people happy) or an “impersonal” notion (making happy people)? No one who has thought about this issue thinks that “ought” refers to maximizing utility. It just doesn’t respect the linguistic data. (I haven’t addressed the desirability definition yet. I do think there are many contexts in which “ought” does indicate desirability, but those are “ought to be” sentences rather than “ought to do” sentences. And desirability is not equivalent to maximizing utility: desirability leaves open our axiology, or theory of value, whereas utility specifies one such value. It corresponds to the difference between consequentialism and utilitarianism.)

            The reason my view doesn’t have the absurd result (e.g., on attorney-client privilege, or moral prohibition) is because, on my view, the linguistic facts are actually relevant. So it matters that “ought” just doesn’t mean “maximizes utility,” “is morally wrong,” or whatever.

          • Bob Overing

            Sure, I am using “maximizing utility” as shorthand for some kind of consequentialist analysis. Of course (as has been my position throughout these comments), there is always room for weighing what kind of reasons matter under any interpretation of ought. The definition could be broad (“moral obligation”), narrow (“consequentialism”), or extremely narrow (“act utilitarianism”), and there would still be room for debate about what impacts matter most.

            At the very least, you must concede that there is some definition (maybe it is “desirability”) which has implications for how framework is debated. John and I will continue to argue for common usage and various other benefits to the “maximizing utility”-type definition specifically, but I see no objection to the notion of a theoretically justified framework.

            Why do “linguistic facts” matter outside of fairness/education? You had to know I’d ask you that. This approach is also kind of odd because it seemed that this summer your position was merely that the broad definition would always win if argued by a competent T debater. Now, you say that there are arguments that can be made outside of normal T standards? Of course, John and I would concede that “linguistic facts” are relevant (so we would escape the disutility objection). We just also tend to think that other theoretical benefits (like debating the topic) could potentially outweigh.

            PS – Sam Harris might be the most incompetent philosopher on the planet, but his argument is still a reason that our definition is at least plausible.

          • jnebel

            Sam Harris’s definition is much more specific than consequentialism. It is specific to conscious states (e.g., hedonism) and everyone being better off (e.g., a person-affecting view). Also, he’s not a philosopher. And I don’t see how the thing you carded is an argument, or how it increases the plausibility of your claim.

            I think the linguistic data matters because students should debate the resolution. So we need to know what the resolution means. And, contrary to what some might say in LD, there are facts about what sentences (like the resolution) and their constituent expressions (like “ought”) mean, independent of what we want them to mean. When there are ambiguities, as there often are, we should resolve them in terms of things like fairness and education. But they have to be actual ambiguities — that is, different senses of the word as it is actually used — and “maximizing utility” is just not one of the senses of the word “ought.” Why should students debate the resolution? Probably because it is important for fairness and the goods or purposes of debate. But that doesn’t imply that the resolution means whatever it would be most fair and educational for it to mean. In fact, I think it is worse for fairness and education to reinterpret the resolution in a way that it clearly does not mean, even if the interpretation you give is (in some sense) more fair and educational than what the resolution clearly means.

            I don’t care much about consistency with my past views, but what I just said is consistent with the thing you cited. I think the broad definition should win if argued by a competent T debater, because the linguistic facts determine whether some interpretation is even an interpretation of the resolution. I think that’s what many of the more specific T standards are after. But you might remember that I also said that T-ought is not really T, and I still haven’t heard a conception of topicality on which that’s mistaken.

          • Bob Overing

            I didn’t say our definition IS Harris’s definition. The existence of such a definition lends credibility to similar definitions… What do you call someone who makes arguments about philosophical topics for a living?

            Where would you draw a bright-line for when there is ambiguity in defining a term and when there isn’t? How could you justify such a bright-line?

            “I think it is worse for fairness and education to reinterpret the resolution in a way that it clearly does not mean, even if the interpretation you give is (in some sense) more fair and educational than what the resolution clearly means”

            This is contradictory. Please justify.

            Also, multiple counter-examples for why we might want to deviate from the resolution if there is overwhelming reason to do so:
            a) Discussions that might be more important than the resolution. Example 1: If the aff made a racist comment, debating the resolution is no longer as important. Example 2: If a K aff is proven non-topical based on linguistic data, but it argues that its form of knowledge production is so unique and valuable that it merits discussion. (I am not saying these are good arguments but that they are justifiable).
            b) The resolution is bad. Example 1: If the resolution contains some overlooked grammatical error, and the debate community has discussions and decides it would be better to debate a corrected version. Example 2: If the resolution is potentially harmful, and the community decides it would be better to debate a different resolution.

            Okay, let’s talk about “ought” as T then. A) Even if it’s not T, there are no compelling reasons to debate it in a way that is not the way we would debate T. B) John’s argument is pretty defensible here. If a resolution requires one to provide, for instance, a moral defense of some action, then the aff case must defend 1) some action (what you think of as an advocacy and where T for you stops) and 2) a moral defense. If it lacks either of those parts, it’s not topical. As John demonstrated, you have some notion of T which is not the commonly accepted one. The fact that many generic T files put out by policy camps have T-should in them is indicative of our view.

          • jnebel

            So what is your definition of “ought”?

            I don’t have a brightline for ambiguity. But if some definition is just not a candidate according to experts on the meaning of the relevant word, then the mere wish to debate under that definition doesn’t suffice for ambiguity. There may, for example, be contexts in which “bank” is ambiguous between the place where you stash your money and the thing at the edge of a river, but there are no contexts in which it is ambiguous between one of those and a chair.

            What you think is a contradiction can be resolved by separating these two ideas:
            (1) It is better if students debate the resolution than if they debate some other proposition.
            (2) Proposition A would be better for students to debate than proposition B.
            Consider the analogy of a topic committee. The topic committee might discuss (2), with the hope that the resolution that ends up being chosen will be the best proposition to debate. But when the topic committee’s hopes are frustrated, they still accept (1). They don’t think debaters should just go for some non-resolutional proposition that is better to debate. The analogy applies straightforwardly to T when the so-called best interpretation is just not a resolutional proposition.

            Regarding your counterexamples, my view isn’t that debaters should always debate the resolution no matter what — e.g., if they know that debating the resolution would cause the building to collapse. My view is that if Proposition A and Proposition B are both purportedly interpretations of the resolution, and Proposition A is (in some sense) more fair and educational than Proposition B, we should still go with Proposition B if B, unlike A, is what the resolution means. (To clarify: By “should,” I mean what we usually mean in this kind of context, not “maximizes utility.” But, as a competent user of the English language, you probably realized that.) Your examples are not counterexamples to that view, because the things discussed other than the resolution are not even purported interpretations of the resolution.

            On T, I may have missed the comment by John you’re referring to. The conception of T that I saw from John implies that a plan is not topical if it fails to achieve the evaluative standard used by the judge, which is clearly false. Same goes for your definition, since whether the aff is topical depends on whether the action is morally defensible. Now you might weaken the definition so that it doesn’t require the moral defense to succeed, but only for it to exist or be proposed. But even that’s false: you wouldn’t want to say that an aff is not topical because it has no advantages or contention offense.

            Is my conception of T commonly accepted? All I can say is that it is the conception I’ve taught for the past five years, and I never heard any reports of people finding it idiosyncratic. (But I can see why I might not hear such reports even if they existed.) I arrived at this conception by thinking about why T should be a voting issue, what counts as a violation, and why having the incorrect “Value Premise” or losing the contention debate does not bear on the topicality of the aff. I think the simplest answer is that the violation and its associated ballot-affecting impacts stem from the advocacy (not from the advantages, stated definitions, or Value Premise). That was not really the mainstream conception when I debated, though, and maybe it’s still not now.

            Can you give examples of T-should interpretations that are run in policy debate? Not that I think this is dispositive, but I would be interested to see how the conceptions align.

            You say that even if you’re wrong about T, there would be no compelling reasons to debate “ought” any differently. But it may be a reason to think that considerations that bear on T issues do not bear on “ought” in the same way, or vice versa. It may, for example, be a reason why consistency with the linguistic data trumps pragmatic concerns on “ought,” even if it doesn’t trump such concerns on T.

          • John Scoggin

            Honestly I think Bob is being gracious by continuing to respond to you. You have never:

            1. Provided a definition of ought
            2. Explained what is required for someone to be an expert on the word ought or explained why that is relevant for interpreting a debate resolution.
            3. Defined Topicality.

            In fact when I provided THE definition of topicality you said you didn’t understand what it means, when I tried to hep and clarify it you exploited a small error I made in the explanation to not talk about it at all. You have a made up notion of T in your head that you have not explicitly defined no matter how many years you have taught it to people.

            T concerns whether or not the affirmative case affirms the resolution as worded. The definition of what ought means clearly is relevant to what it means to affirm the resolution as worded. How is there even an argument about that?

            So at least answer the most important questions: what is your definition of morality? Where did you get it from? What are the main reasons to prefer it?

          • jnebel

            Hey man, slow down. I was never asked what “ought” means, but now that you ask, I basically think it means (in deliberative contexts) “has most reason to,” “is normatively required,” “is rationally required,” or “should.” Because I accept the open question argument, I don’t think we can give a non-normative analysis of these concepts. But if you understand some of these concepts, or related ones (like “counting favor of” or “justifies”), that should be good enough.

            I’ve listed some people who are plausibly experts on the word “ought,” including linguists, philosophers of language, and moral semanticists who study “ought” in a variety of contexts and along with other modal verbs (like “might,” “must,” and “should). These people would overwhelmingly agree that “ought” does not have a special meaning that it only acquires in debate resolutions, and which shifts depending on the topic area of the resolution (e.g., criminal justice vs. IR).

            I don’t see how my definition of topicality is any less precise than the definition you cited. Bob seems to have understood me well. On my view, what’s topical or not is the affirmative advocacy–in most cases, an action–and its topicality is a function of whether that action is, or is an example of (if you’re plan-focused), the resolutional action. The resolutional action is the action that usually follows “ought” or some other normative concept or predicate (e.g., being required by justice, or being morally permissible). This view relates to the semantics of “ought” in the following way. If you think “ought” is a propositional operator (as mosts linguists do), then topicality is about the relation between the proposition defended by the aff and the proposition within the scope of the “ought” operator; it’s not a matter of what the operator does to the proposition. If you think “ought” is a relation between agents and actions, then topicality is a matter of whether the agent-action pair specified by the aff is the one required by the topic; it’s not a matter of the relation (e.g., whether it’s a normative, moral, or legal relation).

            I don’t see what it takes to violate an interpretation on your view. On my view, it’s just a question of the aff’s advocacy, which can violate an interpretation by not constituting the action mentioned in the resolution. On your view, would there be a violation if I have the wrong Value Premise? How about if the aff gives a bad definition, even if the action they’re defending is exactly what the resolution says ought to be done? Am I not topical if I don’t give any contention offense or advantages, so I’m not giving what Bob calls a “moral defense” of the plan? What exactly does it take for a plan to “affirm” the resolution? Is affirmation a normative or non-normative concept? If it’s not defined by whether this affirmation succeeds, is it just a matter of the attempt, or what? If the aff gives lots of arguments or advantages that don’t support the resolution, but the aff advocacy is still topical, does the aff lose?

            Moreover, further specifications of the “stock issue” definition lend support to my view. For example, from John Prager’s introduction to T (which is the citation for the definition you gave from Wikipedia), “The Negative maintains that what the Affirmative plan proposes is not what the resolution specifies: that the plan falls short of being an example of the resolution,” and “Their plan must put the resolution into effect; the plan must draw its advantages from the specifics of the resolution.” Those are all about whether the aff’s plan (i.e., action or advocacy) qualifies as (an example of) the resolution. The meaning of “ought” or “should” does not affect that question, because the question can be answered just by looking at the content within the scope of the “ought” or “should” operator. And the plan doesn’t include the word “should” or any specification of it.

            I don’t have a definition of morality, nor do I need one because the term doesn’t figure in my definition of “ought.” But for the semantics of modal verbs, Angelika Kratzer developed the account that is most widely accepted by linguists and philosophers of language. For the discussion of normativity and reasons, including a definition of “ought,” Derek Parfit gives this account in Part 1 of On What Matters. For some stuff at the intersection of these two questions (modals and metaethics), Matthew Chrisman has worked these into an account of “ought.”

          • Bob Overing

            Re: ought in various contexts. I think that a Baptist preacher, a criminal justice scholar, and Matthew Chrisman would each use ought to mean very different things.

            Re: ought being special. Yes, ought is a different part of speech and serves a different function. I’m not sure why this means we would debate it differently. History is on our side on this question (T-should, T-ought have been common arguments for decades).

            Re: Israel-Iran case. Seems like that’s grounds for a theory argument about defending a definition ambiguously. I don’t know why this aff would be non-topical on our view, however, because it defends an action and a defense of that action within the scope of the resolution.

            Now onto your questions:

            On your view, would there be a violation if I have the wrong Value Premise?

            If the resolution asks the aff to defend some action morally and (s)he defends it financially or in some other sense, then yes.

            How about if the aff gives a bad definition, even if the action they’re defending is exactly what the resolution says ought to be done?

            I would think that the definition might be grounds for a theory argument (it might restrict neg ground unfairly), but if the aff case affirms, then it affirms regardless of some extraneous definitions.

            Am I not topical if I don’t give any contention offense or advantages, so I’m not giving what Bob calls a “moral defense” of the plan?

            A plan text without advantages does not affirm.

            What exactly does it take for a plan to “affirm” the resolution?

            I believe I provided this above. A defense of the action and the way it relates to the evaluative term.

            Is affirmation a normative or non-normative concept?

            I’m not sure what you mean or why this would be relevant.

            If it’s not defined by whether this affirmation succeeds, is it just a matter of the attempt, or what?


            If the aff gives lots of arguments or advantages that don’t support the resolution, but the aff advocacy is still topical, does the aff lose?


            So if the aff just gives a plan text with no advantages, the aff would fail to be topical? What if they wait for the NC and go for turns?

            With reasons to affirm, it’s topical. Without reasons to affirm, it’s not topical.

          • jnebel

            RE different people using “ought” in different senses: How about masochists? Do they use “ought” to mean “increases pain”? Do the atheist and the Baptist use “ought” in different senses when they say we ought or ought not to believe in God? Why should we understand the people you mention as using different senses of the word “ought,” rather than as simply *disagreeing* about what we ought to do (in the ordinary, normative sense of “ought,” which you clearly understand)? One basic rule of linguistic interpretation is not to multiply senses beyond necessity (this is called “modified Occam’s razor” or “Occam’s eraser”), and your view violates this rule heavily.

            We should debate it differently because, as I explained, its meaning does not affect at all what action the aff has to defend. But that doesn’t matter if you are right about what T is all about.

            The aff would be non-topical because one of their contentions violates the correct definition of “ought.” If you say this aff is topical because it has some aspects that violate and some that don’t, why wouldn’t a plan be topical if it has some aspects that violate and some that don’t?

            RE Value Premise: What if they defend it morally but have a slightly false moral theory? For example, suppose the true moral theory and best interpretation of “ought” is hedonistic utilitarianism, but the aff’s conception was preference-satisfaction utilitarianism. Does the aff lose on T-“ought is maximizing pleasure”?

            RE the aff losing T on arguments, advantages, or definitions not being “topical”: I don’t understand why this should be a voting issue. We are stipulating that none of the arguments, advantages, or definitions restrict negative ground, because they do not affect the aff advocacy (and let’s assume the neg gets access to anything that’s not the aff advocacy). If we were to adopt this conception of T, I don’t think it should be a voter.

            RE your last sentence, what if there are some reasons to affirm and some reasons that don’t affirm? This relates to what I asked a few paragraphs above, but just clarifying that the question applies to these remarks too.

          • Bob Overing

            On the other thread.

          • Bob Overing

            “consistency with the linguistic data trumps pragmatic concerns on “ought,” even if it doesn’t trump such concerns on T.”

            What possible justification could there be for thinking this? What is so special about ought that doesn’t apply to other words in the resolution?

            My definition of T does not require winning a moral defense. It just requires that the aff provides one to be topical (if ought means something about morality). T is about whether or not the aff affirms the resolution. Without a reason the aff is moral, the aff does not affirm the resolution. You wouldn’t vote on an aff that is just a plan text. It has the potential to be topical but does not affirm the resolution without a connection to the evaluative term.

          • jnebel

            So if the aff just gives a plan text with no advantages, the aff would fail to be topical? What if they wait for the NC and go for turns?

            The justification is that “ought” is either a propositional operator or a relation between agents and actions, and this operator or relation does not affect whether the proposition or action defended by the aff is (or is an example of) the proposition or action that the resolution supports. It is special because changing the definition of “ought” won’t change the meaning of the proposition within its scope or of the action with the relevant relation.

            Here is an example: “Israel ought to strike Iran within the next six months.” This is a good example because it is ambiguous between an epistemic ought (e.g., “The train ought to be here by now”) and a deontic ought (e.g., the kind in most LD resolutions and the kind you use to state advice). It’s unclear whether the resolution is stating a prediction or a normative requirement. Because there is ambiguity, I agree that we should resolve it by figuring out which would be the more fair or educational interpretation. Now suppose the aff stands up and states a plan, which is a way in which Israel would strike Iran. And they have two contentions. One contention is about how it would be a good idea for to Israel strike Iran. The other contention is about how it is extremely likely that Israel strikes Iran. The first contention is a reason to affirm under the deontic-modal interpretation. The second works under the epistemic-modal interpretation. The aff hasn’t given a definition of “ought.” Now, if the neg stands up and says we should use the deontic-modal reading, because normative debates are educational, I would treat the second contention like an argument with a completely irrelevant impact. But it’s not a reason why the aff should lose. They haven’t defended an advocacy that the negative shouldn’t have had to prepare for. They just made irrelevant arguments for this advocacy, because the predictive/epistemic claims are not about whether the advocacy ought to be done in the resolutional sense. And I think that is the common-sense judgment about this case.

          • John Scoggin

            Bob is strong on this point, but you are forgetting that you still need to have a T debate. Why would some random made up moral theory beat an established one like harms minimization that is prevalent and is even cited in the SEP? Answer: It wouldn’t. The T debate will prefer established/predictable and fair moral frameworks to win and random ones like antiutil to lose.

            I literally cannot think of a single argument why ought = antiutil is preferable to the logical counterinterp ought = util. So I mean I guess if you are trying to lose to topicality you can put that in your aff, but most people like to win.

    • John Scoggin

      This will apply to Christian as well but I wanted to respond to your point specifically. No one has ever given me a good reason why what philosophers argue about is a good way to source our definitions for a debate round. Even the most charitable definition of ought for your side is ‘moral obligation.’ The problem is that commonly understood definitions of what a moral obligation generally do not appeal to abstract philosophy.

      Two examples:

      1. Wikipedia:

      “The term moral obligation has a number of meanings in moral philosophy, in religion, and in layman’s terms. Generally speaking, when someone says of an act that it is a “moral obligation,” they refer to a belief that the act is one prescribed by their set of values.”

      2. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

      “The term “morality” can be used either (1) descriptively to refer to some codes of conduct put forward by a society or, (a) some other group, such as a religion, or (b) accepted by an individual for her own behavior or (2) normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.”

      Wikipedia says that more often than not when someone is speaking of a moral obligation it relates to a particular set of values. Even the philosophers list the descriptive sense of morality first in their definition. The SEP even specifically list harms minimization as a specific type of morality that a society could use:

      “It is possible for a society to regard morality as being concerned primarily with minimizing the harms, e.g., pain and disability, that all human beings can suffer.”

      The idea that a statement with the word ought (that certainly definitionally does not invoke the broad meaning of morality) or even the specific definition of ‘moral obligation’ or ‘morality’ invokes the broad sense of morality is just factually incorrect. It in fact explicitly ignores the fact that there is a huge scholarly field that deals with the descriptive definition of morality:

      “This descriptive use of “morality”is the one used by anthropologists when they report on the morality of the societies that they study.”

      The above discussion should make clear why the example you give is as absurd as the one that Christian gave about toothpicks. A lot of times when people invoke a concept of morality they are talking about a notion of utility. So in principle I agree that a plausible interpretation of the word is generally something that you want, but I have to disagree with the reasons that have been stated in this thread. There are huge predictability concerns with a definition that no one could reasonably anticipate to prep. Only concerns that have an impact related to fairness or education matter in terms of how we pick terms. Consider the example where the we somehow voted for a resolution that was nonsensical due to a minor grammatical error. Everyone signs on to the update, we discuss it, and pick an particular word that needs to be changed. Tournaments are slow to pick this up and leave the original resolution on their invitation. I would absolutely consider endorsing a literally incorrect interpretation of the real resolution to shift to a better/similar resolution that was predictable. Honestly that seems like the only reasonable course of action.

      Bottom line is there are legitimate interpretations of words in the resolution that can limit out frameworks on the level of the definition. There are compelling theoretical reasons to do so. I don’t think there is much hope of resolving the content of the individual theory arguments regarding the individual interpretations but it seems pretty clear to me that something like ‘maximizing util’ or perhaps ‘harms minimization’ are totally plausible and not at all uncommon. Christian argued at one point that philosophers think about what morality means more than other people. Philosophers spend their time thinking about the second sense of morality, but even the SEP lists the descriptive sense first. All the research I did seems to indicate that the descriptive sense is more commonly used.

      • Jacob Nails

        I don’t think the descriptive definition of morality is a plausible grounds for ought=util.

        First, I think it’s obvious that the descriptive sense of morality is not the definition dictionaries have in mind when they list “Ought means moral obligation.” This is borne out by the fact that dictionaries which don’t have the explicit rhetoric of “moral obligation” use synonyms like “duty” rather than “cultural norms.”

        Second, even if this is a common definition of “ought,” it certainly does not imply util. It implies that morality is by definition whatever the social mores of a culture are. Those norms may in fact be util for certain cultures, but that would be an empirical claim, not an analytic truth. If SEP were making a definitional claim about “morality”=util, it wouldn’t would read:

        “It is possible for a society to regard morality as being concerned primarily with minimizing the harms.”

        This would be a necessary truth; there would be no possibility that morality could be concerned with anything else since morality and util would be identical by definition. The only way to read this statement is as a falsifiable empirical claim about what the moral norms in fact are.

        • Bob Overing

          Obviously lots of definitions have empirical content. E.g. what a building is defined as is determined by what a building actually is. This is non-responsive.

        • John Scoggin

          If the first definition of morality and moral obligation is descriptive why would the dictionary be specify any further? Duty can be moral or legal, if it invokes morality the same argument I made applies.

          You seem to think my argument is that ought always means util, my argument is that when ought is used it often means util. The SEP doesn’t say morality always means util, it says morality is often about what a cultures norms are and that often that norm is minimizing harms. Because it is a plausible and common meaning of the word it’s legitimate to use that as your definition. The context of this argument is others arguing that ought/morality/moral obligation never or rarely means util, I’m saying that’s not true. Because it’s plausible it avoids the theory concerns Jake and Christian have brought up, the counter examples they provide are not analogous because they don’t have similar empirical support.

          There are a number of reasons why using this particular definition is good for education/fairness but I’m not optimistic that I’m going to convince a bunch of philosophers that isn’t the best form of debate. I am certainly willing to engage in those arguments but thus far the ‘plausibility’ arguments seems to be what they want to discuss.

      • jnebel

        I don’t think “ought” means “moral obligation.”

        • John Scoggin

          Well your questions have been answered.

          1) It is more F/E because of common usage among other things.

          2) “Constraining the affirmative advocacy” is not how I think of topicality. This is how I think of topicality:

          “Topicality is a stock issue in policy debate which pertains to whether or not the plan affirms the resolution as worded.”

          Ought is a word in the resolution and its definition relates to whether or not the aff case affirms the resolution.

          • jnebel

            RE 2: A plan is one kind of advocacy. The plan does not include evaluative or normative notions like “should,” “ought,” or its definitions. If you redefine “ought” to make some kind of impact relevant or irrelevant, that only affects which *arguments* (or advantages/disadvantages) are relevant, not whether the action supported by those arguments is topical. So even on the definition you cite, T-ought is not topicality. It doesn’t affect whether or not the plan is an instance, example, or means of doing the resolutional action.

            RE 1 (but related to the point above): Why should we use a more predictable definition? One plausible answer is that the predictability of the affirmative advocacy is largely a function of the predictability of the definition. And it is unfair and bad to expect the neg to object to an advocacy that is unpredictable. Now, even if you view topicality as an issue that constraints arguments and impacts in addition to advocacies or plans, it’s easy to see that it will be no more unfair or bad for “ought” to be defined as “maximizing disutility” rather than “maximizing utility.” Exactly the same arguments and impacts will be relevant–they’re just impact-turned. If something is excluded, included, or unpredictable under anti-utilitarianism, then it must be excluded, included, or unpredictable under utilitarianism.

          • John Scoggin

            on 2) You say: “It doesn’t affect whether or not the plan is an instance, example, or means of doing the resolutional action.” That is not the definition of what topicality is! I cite the proper definition of topicality and it explicitly says “whether or not the plan affirms the resolution as worded.” The definition of ought clearly is relevant to whether or not a plan affirms the resolution.

            on 1) Bob and I have both conceded that it is possible, albeit misguided, to say ought = disutility. The problem is that it is just a bad argument. I agree that the only difference between the two definitions in terms of the debate round is it essentially makes aff arguments neg arguments and neg arguments aff arguments. The negative would just stand up and say T, ought = utility same ground is allowed but my definition is better because it makes what we expected to be aff ground aff ground and what we expected to be neg ground neg ground. How we prep is dictated by what we think the resolution likely means and my definition is clearly superior in that regard. Don’t see how the negative ever loses that debate.

          • jnebel

            What do you mean when you say that a plan “affirms the resolution”?

            Why did we expect aff ground to be pro-utility rather than anti-utility?

          • John Scoggin

            1. According to the interps of the words in the resolution and the evaluative paradigm being used the judge would side with the affirmative in the debate.

            2. Because ought = antiutility gets stomped by ought = utility in a T debate.

          • jnebel

            Your definition of topicality would make the aff not topical for losing the contention debate (“the evaluative paradigm being used [by] the judge would side with the affirmative in the debate”).

            The claim that your definition would win in a T debate is not a reason why it should win in a T debate. (You said, “The negative would just stand up and say T, ought = utility same ground is allowed but my definition is better because it makes what we expected to be aff ground aff ground and what we expected to be neg ground neg ground.” I asked why we have that expectation. The answer can’t just be “because it would lose T.” I want to know the *reasons why it should* lose T.)

          • John Scoggin

            “Topicality is a stock issue in policy debate which pertains to whether or not the plan affirms the resolution as worded.”

            This is the definition of T, not a definition of T, not my definition of T, this is what T is. I was trying to be helpful by giving further explanation, and obviously I mean the arguments themselves have to function that way rather than the result of the debate arguments when I say the judge would side with the aff.

            “I asked why we have that expectation.”

            I’ve cited Wikipedia, the SEP, and several dictionaries. You made a definition up. I don’t understand how you could possibly think your definition is more predictable. Your definition is exactly the opposite of what a debater who looked up the word ought would seek to debate, that is probably a shitty definition. I think I should also point out here that you have never at any point offered an offensive reason why the antiutil definition is good, if we are 6 comments deep and there is no offense that is another pretty intuitive reason your definition would lose a T debate.

          • Bob Overing

            Also the “in the debate community…” argument is relevant here.

          • jnebel

            Making up a definition seems no worse to me than just applying one from policy debate, especially from a source that doesn’t say anything mutually exclusive with mine. It’s not like your definition says, “Oh, and by the way, topicality is not just about whether the plan is an example of the resolutional action (which is what the cited article says), but also about whether this plan is defended under the correct moral or ought/should-based framework.” And it’s not like no one else in the LD community shares my definition.

            I think you’re missing the point of the anti-utilitarianism example. It’s not that I think people should run T: “ought means maximizing disutility.” The point is that the best reasons why “maximizing utility” is a better definition than “maximizing disutility” count *even more strongly* in favor of an actually plausible definition of “ought.”

          • John Scoggin

            Given that topicality is an argument who’s existence in LD is due to the understanding of topicality in policy debate that seems like a logical source from which to provide a definition. Certainly much better than making one up that leads to the very counterintuitive notion that a debate concerning the meaning of the word is not a topicality debate. You seem to argue that the article cited from the wikipedia page doesn’t support my view of topicality, that is wrong.

            First, the author describes what you should do to prep for T debates:

            “Both Affirmative and Negative teams will want to devote a section of their file boxes to definitions of key terms of the resolution. Dictionary definitions are fine, to begin with collect several definitions of each term.”

            Ought is a term.

            Second, the wording of the resolution clearly determines what are and are not topical advantages:

            “the plan must draw its advantages from the specifics of the resolution”

            Debate about the meaning of a word in the resolution is a topicality debate. Its that simple. The meaning of that word determines what a plan that is eligible to be voted on looks like.

            “The point is that the best reasons why “maximizing utility” is a better definition than “maximizing disutility” count *even more strongly* in favor of an actually plausible definition of “ought.””

            I don’t really know exactly what standards you think are in play here. I have appealed to common usage and predictability because I believe that your ‘plausibility’ argument at best appeals to those two standards. I also have provided several definitions of ‘moral obligation’ ‘morality’ and ‘ought’ which all say that they are more likely to be used in the descriptive sense than the normative one in practice. Having a narrower definition (especially one that invokes consequentialism) I think is good because it is the only way to ensure topic debate. Not having a philosophy out incentivizes contention level debate. I could elaborate on this in much more depth but you seem like you just want to talk about the plausibility stuff.

          • jnebel

            I saw your post on definitions of morality, but I must have missed your definition of “ought” and your reason why a descriptive definition of that word is more likely to be used. Could you cross-post it on this part of the thread, so I get a notification?

            RE the quotes from the policy guy: None of those is dispositive. A plan can “draw its advantages from the specifics of the resolution” without linking those advantages to utility maximization (or whatever descriptive thing you specify as the definition of “ought”). The guy’s suggestion that debaters cut definitions of key words in the resolution doesn’t speak to my view about T-ought for obvious reasons, which I will leave to your imagination to spell out.

            It is also not important. I don’t think I said that the source you cited counts against your view. I just said that it didn’t count against mine. If you just grant that I have a coherent view of T, which is not ruled out by the all-powerful wisdom of a policy coach cited on Wikipedia, you can then argue against my view on its merits.

            But in any case, my view does have some pedigree in policy debate. There were articles in the long, long ago about the difference between topicality and justification. Topicality is just about whether the plan is an example of the resolution. Justification is whether the plan sufficiently supports, or justifies, the resolution. Neither the meaning of “ought” nor the true moral theory affect what the plan is, or whether it is an example of the resolution; the plan stays constant under reinterpretations of “ought.” So the meaning of “ought” is not a matter of topicality. It seems more like a matter of justification. I don’t remember where that difference was discussed, but I’m sure Bob can help us out here. (I’m not suggesting that the debate over justification was primarily about this issue. But this way of carving things up does seem consistent with my view.) On the importance of accurate interpretations, there are a bunch of citations to policy articles in a paper by some NPDA guy; it’s “Back to Its Roots: Why Topicality Standards Should Assess Definitional Accuracy Rather than Debate Utility.”

          • Bob Overing

            I’m not super interested in discussing the distinction between topicality and justification. Suppose one’s interpretation of ought should be judged according to “justification” standards. What do you think those might be?

            Your only explanation for why we should treat a debate about “ought” differently than we would other words is that “its meaning does not affect at all what action the aff has to defend.” This is not very compelling. Why do we only care about interpretations that are fair/educational when they have to do with action? Why do we care about linguistic data more for words that don’t affect the aff action than for words that do?

            There is no meaningful distinction between words in the resolution such that we would debate some with justifications of type A and some with justifications of type B. Occam’s razor.

          • jnebel

            Hey, I would still like to hear about your definition of “ought,” why Harris’s definition supports yours, and some examples of T-should in policy.

            RE T vs justification: I don’t think justification is primarily a theoretical issue. It’s a normative one, which should be settled by normative reasoning about what is a good reason, or justification, for doing the resolutional action.

            RE action: I think what it means to violate T is to have defended the wrong action. In policy, that’s just a matter of whether the plan is an example of the resolution. If you’ve defended the right action, you’re topical. Actions and advocacies affect, and are affected by, the division of ground; if neg ground is anything other than the aff advocacy, then running a non-topical aff is an unjustified infringement on the neg’s ground. The point of predictable definitions is to ensure predictable links to offensive arguments; it has nothing to do with their impacts. So whatever purpose there is to defining “ought,” it’s not the same as the purpose of T, so it’s not crazy to have different standards for how we determine those definitions.

            RE examples: If you understand the disagreement between atheists and theists, then you realize that they are not using the word “ought” in different senses. What does it mean when the atheist says “We ought not to believe in God”? Does it mean “believing in God does not believe in God” (analogous to your analytic utilitarian)? If the masochist is using “ought” to mean “increases pain,” then why did you say earlier that there is not a sense of “ought” corresponding to each moral theory, and therefore not to anti-utilitarianism?

            Yes, contextualism about “ought” and other modals is very much a live option. But it doesn’t support defining “ought” as something completely different based on the speaker’s opinion about what we ought to do. In order to have communication, you need to understand speakers as using words in roughly the same ways. To use the terms of the authors you’re probably referring to, none of the “ordering sources” for “ought” (as some contextualists discuss) is utility maximization. The ordering source in LD resolutions will usually be a normative ranking. In other contexts, it won’t be normative; it will be a ranking of likelihood or something like that, but it won’t be utility maximization.

          • Bob Overing

            (It’s not *my* definition of ought. It’s just *a* definition of ought that I find plausible and theoretically defensible.)

            The definition I’ve been talking about has been Harris’s or something similar. His would be something like “maximizing the well-being of conscious beings.” I think this is defensible. Regardless, I haven’t been persuaded against the weaker claim that some definitions of ought might have some effect on framework debates. E.g. desirability. You say desirability makes sense for “ought to be” resolutions, but I don’t know why that’s a different context than just “ought.” “S ought do X” is the same as saying “it ought to be that S does X.” Even if someone doesn’t have a comprehensive moral framework in mind when (s)he says “ought,” I think there are instances where people mean something more specific. They use “ought” to mean what one has pragmatic, prudential, financial, or moral (etc) reason to do. Christian gives the open question objection, but that was inconclusive.

            I don’t have a T-should block, but if you search “topicality file” or something on google, you can find stuff. E.g. http://dallasurbandebate.wikispaces.com/file/view/DUDA.Topicality.Varsity.doc

            RE Justification: Justification seems to be related to topicality. That is, different types of resolutions would require different types of justification. Thus, the type of justification required is constrained by theoretical factors because it’s an issue of an interpretation of the resolution just like topicality.

            I also haven’t read a defense of the ‘justification’ view. Even if justification is about normative reasons, the definition of “ought” itself should never be unfair or uneducational. If the aff defined “ought” as “used to indicate a maximization of aff ballots,” what recourse would the neg have, on your view? The neg should be able to read T or a T-like argument that appeals to fairness/education. That’s commonsense.

            You say that defining “ought” and defining the aff action have different functions. First, that’s dependent on how narrowly you think of functions. Both instances are acts of defining. I think T standards are applicable to all acts of defining, obviously. Second, you still haven’t given standards for evaluating the “ought” definition as opposed to others.

            RE examples: I didn’t say that a theist uses the term ought to mean “belief in God,” but I think it’s pretty clear that the two persons using “ought” in totally different contexts are appealing to very different reasons. It’s hard to find some sources that talk about “ought” in these senses because the people who really care about “ought” are not the people who are using it in the ways I’m defending.

            RE “ordering sources”: If the “ordering source” is a part of the definition or how we would interpret it, then why wouldn’t it be subject to the same standards as T?

          • John Scoggin

            I’m not going to be able to post for a while, but basically I don’t grant that you have a coherent vision of T, I think mine is well sourced and I don’t really have strong reason to think I should change it. If you care to write up some stuff about what exactly your view is and why its better I’d obviously consider reading it, but I certainly don’t think I’d ever to defer to this odd conception of T debate you have without some compelling reason.

  • Bob Overing

    There aren’t. That’s a strong reason “you could do it too” is wrong.

  • ipgunn

    Generally observing Christian and Bob’s discussion, it seems that under Bob’s conception there is no real way for him to “lose” this debate. In response to any arguments that could possibly be marshaled against his position, he will just say that these should be made in-round against TJFs.

    As Christian acknowledges, this is of course true, but it seems that the point of this head to head debate was to reach a conclusion (or at least attempt to convince others of a conclusion) outside the round (i.e. on this forum). If one person says X type of argumentation should be used by debaters in rounds, and the other person says it shouldn’t, it seems a response that says “those arguments should be made in-round as a response to X type of argumentation rather than used as a reason why not to use X type of argumentation in rounds” is not actually responsive, especially considering the purpose of this original debate.

    • Bob Overing

      That’s not quite right. Christian’s arguments are about how the practice of defining ought according to what is fair/educational might be appropriated. He says that definitions that imply a more consequentialist calculus are entirely implausible. My argument is that such definitions are not implausible. One might think that they’re not very good, but evidently, there’s debate to be had on that question. For this reason, the conclusion “outside the round” cannot be to completely reject this kind of argumentation (i.e., I am also making an argument that applies outside the round).

      It’s not about “in-round” vs. “out-of-round.” It’s more “in the T debate” vs. “above the T debate.”

      • ipgunn

        Right, so this debate is happening “above the T debate.” Yet, several of your responses to the “above the T debate arguments” are simply “your responses to my ‘above the T debate’ arguments are really just arguments ‘in the T debate'”:

        “I see no reason why this debate should take place outside of the context of a normal T debate,”

        “I see no reason that we should appeal to “independent” reasons that you’ve just asserted rather than the current tools we have for valuating topicality.”

        “On your view, when a debater is responding to, say, T-CJS, (s)he can initiate some higher level debate about the “correctness” of the particular definition. That’s absurd – Isn’t accuracy/precision/correctness/plausibility already a T standard?”

        Christian’s argument, if I understand it adequately, is that definitional plausibility is some kind of minimum threshold for T arguments which, if not met for certain definitions, would mean that these definitions are not acceptable arguments in debate (to phrase it as the original question did). Among other things, you say that this debate would properly be held within the T debate, which is itself not responsive to the argument that we ought not have T debate of this kind if this minimum standard is not met (although you do also posit that the threshold is met).

        • Bob Overing

          If we should hold the debate within a T debate rather than above it, that’s responsive to the “minimum standard” claim (which posits that there should be a debate ‘above’ T).

          • ipgunn

            This goes back to my original point. That there should be a debate “above T” is a fundamental assumption of this debate (hence the original question) because this is inherently set up to be a debate “above T.” But there is no way under your conceptualization to hold such a debate if your response to the other side is to say their responses should be made within a T debate rather than in this forum to preclude things within the T debate. It’s impossible to even have this debate then, and certainly impossible for you to lose it.

          • Bob Overing

            Sorry, I should have been more clear. This is what I mean:

            Arguments “Above T” = Some criteria or justifications for or against the theoretically-justified framework view that are external to arguments that could be made in a topicality debate (regardless of whether that T debate occurs on NSDupdate or in a round).

            I believe that every one of Christian’s objections is NOT a rejection of theoretically justified frameworks but rather, is a defense of a particular T interp (namely, ought = “supported by all-things-considered reasons”).

            This is the main reason I won the head-to-head debate above. I didn’t have to defend a particular T interp for ought but rather that ought is subject to T standards.

          • ipgunn

            What are criteria or justifications against TJFs that are external to arguments which could be made in a topicality debate?

          • Bob Overing


          • ipgunn

            But you’ve argued repeatedly on this thread that plausibility is NOT external to the T debate.

            “Isn’t accuracy/precision/correctness/plausibility already a T standard?”

            I’m looking for some criteria or justifications that could possibly be used to reject the acceptability of TJFs pre-round (e.g. in this forum). What standards would you have appealed to if you and Sam were assigned the opposite sides in this debate, that would avoid the criticisms you have made against Christian?

          • Bob Overing

            Exactly! There are no criteria to reject TJFs outside of T arguments!

            It is simply a fact that the way we define ought (through theoretical argument) has implications for framework. You can argue against a particular definition of ought, but not the practice as a whole.

          • ipgunn

            Okay, but I’m confused as to why you disputed this originally. My original point was: “it seems that under Bob’s conception there is no real way for him to “lose” this debate”

            Essentially, this was not a debate between the two of you offering justifications whether a tactic was acceptable. Under your conception, you were just giving an explanation as to why a fact exists.

          • Bob Overing

            Well, you characterized my arguments as an attempt to avoid engagement. I agree that I cannot lose this debate. This is not because of a rhetorical strategy but because of a fact about how debate works.

            The part of this argument I *could* lose is that something like ‘maximizing utility’ is a viable definition of ought.

  • Bob Overing

    Question for opponents: how do you justify your definition of ought if not on theoretical grounds? When you say “ought is a moral obligation,” what criteria do you appeal to that are not fairness/education-based reasons?

    • Emily Massey

      I don’t think anyone here is denying that fairness and education matter; it’s just that no amount of fairness or education can justify debating a different topic. The resolution is a rule in the tournament invitation just like the time limits, and so the judge is tasked with deciding debates about the resolution. You could call this a jurisdiction claim.

      • Bob Overing

        Right! Sure, you can justify voting on T based on jurisdiction, but how you define the topic is determined by fairness and education, correct?

        Literally my initial argument in this head-to-head amounts to 1) ought is a word, 2) words are defined according to what’s fair/educational.

        We can argue about how debaters will use 1) and 2) and whether that is justified, but there is no argument against my baseline claim. Am I wrong?

        • Emily Massey

          I pretty much agree with the baseline claim except that I think jurisdiction is an extra-fairness/education constraint, like time limits and other constitutive rules found on the ballot or in the tournament invitation.

      • John Scoggin

        So if two kids came into a round and were like Emily we have found the BOAT resolution (and assume it in fact had the maximum amount of fairness and education attainable in the multiverse) and we’re both prepped and we are going to have a debate on this. You would be like “No! Some Hutt spent 5 seconds writing ‘we will use the Nov/Dec topic’ in the annals of JOT so I refuse to judge that debate on jurisdictional grounds!”

        • Emily Massey

          Haha. No, I would still judge it. I’ll vote on any argument. I just think it would be a good objection for someone to make in front of me if they didn’t want to debate the other topic.

          • John Scoggin

            What argument for jurisdiction exists other than ‘it is’ that doesn’t appeal to fairness or education?

          • Emily Massey

            Constitutive of your role as a judge. Would you stand on your head if a debater won an argument that you ought to? No, because your role as a judge is simply to decide a debate about the resolution within the prescribed time limits, based on who did the better debating.

          • John Scoggin

            So why would you judge the other debate? Wouldn’t you have an obligation to flip a coin or presume or something?

          • Emily Massey

            Because I like to let debaters do what they want. There are also other cases where I’ll vote on arguments I don’t think the judge actually has jurisdiction to vote on, such as pre-fiat arguments. My thought there is that if the other debater hasn’t been able to beat these arguments, they probably didn’t do the better debating. And I don’t want to penalize a debater who happened to miss some (imaginary) line in my paradigm and built their strategy around a pre-fiat K.

            The views I’ve been expressing on this thread are just what I think is right, but I wouldn’t (a) pretend there’s no possibility I’m wrong or (b) impose them on the kids I judge.

          • John Scoggin

            “no amount of fairness or education can justify debating a different topic.”

            “There are also other cases where I’ll vote on arguments I don’t think the judge actually has jurisdiction to vote on, such as pre-fiat arguments. My thought there is that if the other debater hasn’t been able to beat these arguments, they probably didn’t do the better debating.”

            You personally act, and I think it is correct, on norms related to fairness and education over jurisdiction. The point of my example was to prove that initial statement wrong and I think it is. This is extremely important because most people believe and act as if education and fairness come first. That means that by necessity any definition of ought is judged on those grounds.

          • Emily Massey

            Well, no, I don’t think this is placing fairness and education above jurisdiction. It’s a pragmatic adjustment to less-than-ideal cases where debaters fail to make the true responses to arguments. But it’s still ultimately from jurisdiction considerations (see the point about how to determine a better debater in pre-fiat cases). In fact, I think fairness actually matters only in terms of jurisdiction, i.e., because the judge’s job is to determine the better debater. This is the only way I can see to justify why it’s the judge’s job to vote based on fairness.

          • John Scoggin

            I think you have a different conception of jurisdiction than I do. I think the most applicable definition in this circumstance is ‘authority.’ If you don’t think you have the authority to vote on arguments not directly relating to the resolution why do you bother writing anything on the ballot at all? If you think the tournament invitation stating the resolution is binding then it would be a reasonable practice for tab rooms to overrule the ballots of judges that vote on non resolutional Ks etc. If jurisdiction is a fundamental concern arguments exterior to your authority as a judge to evaluate should have no bearing on what you as a judge consider makes the better debater.

            I disagree that judges are limited in their authority to arguments that purely relate to the resolution. For example I just judged at Apple Valley which uses the NFL ballot. I still would have voted for plans and counterplans, I voted a few times on specific instances proving the resolution true or false. That is how I judge debates and I think most people agree with that.

        • Salim Damerdji

          It’d still devolve into presumption triggers

  • Leah Danielle Shapiro

    So aside from whether ought is an issue of topicality, I think we’re overlooking a pretty obvious objection (in my opinion) to TJFs, which is that debating about the fairness of a moral theory leads to pretty awful debates.

    The only type of framework I’ve ever debated justified by theoretical reasons is util, and the standards have been basically the same (so much ground and we can even weigh!) First of all, the debates over these seem very superficial. “My framework gives the most ground because we can always look at the consequences of an action..” “no mine gives the most ground because the topic lit is all concerned with autonomy violations”. It also seems almost impossible to compare these; we inevitably end up making competing assertions that are unjustified (because these just seem pretty hard to prove) and hoping the judge agrees with us.

    Aside from this, and what I think is more important, is these debates are pretty boring. Do you honestly think it’s more interesting to discuss whether contractarianism is predictable, rather than whether it’s true? There are so many different ways a philosophical framework debate can play out, and the different forms and nuances of each debate add a new aspect to it, and that’s something that I just don’t see with the TJF debates. It’s the same standards, making the same arguments but it’s also just completely irrelevant. It seems obvious there’s some
    educational value in debate, but it seems more obvious that there’s a fun value
    in debate also (if debate was super boring, fewer people would probably
    compete), and you can argue that it’s fun to debate TJFs but I think most
    people would agree that debating TJFs is comparatively less fun than debating actual philosophical frameworks, mainly because there’s literally zero out of round
    applications for TJFs and they’re incredibly repetitive.

    • UTIL.DB8R

      The Voter is fun. Drop the debater since they make the round no fun.

    • Bob Overing

      The idea is to avoid a debate about the definition altogether, rather than just move it to the theoretical realm. The topic is good. We all could do better to think about it a little more and framework/theory a lot less.

      PS: I personally would find a nuanced T debate on ‘ought’ (where debaters prepped, made new arguments, etc) much more interesting than most of the current framework debates. We all think that philosophy is good and interesting, but hearing Katsafanas/Gauthier or Velleman/Korsgaard endlessly is not good philosophical debate. Good debate beats bad debate regardless of the substance.

      Read Ross Brown’s comment here for more:

      • Leah Danielle Shapiro

        I’m a little confused. You say, “the idea is to avoid a debate about the definition altogether, rather than just move it to the theoretical realm” when it seems as if your whole position advocating for TJFs requires moving it to theoretical realm and debating about the definition?)

        It seems hard to debate about the topic unless we establish a framework, so I don’t think the question is whether topical debate is better than framework debate. I think the question is whether philosophical framework debate is better than theoretical framework debate, which for the reasons I explained above, I think it is.

        • Bob Overing

          I think one of the strongest justifications for this practice (along with being simply how T is/should be debated) is that it can encourage more substantive discussion of the topic.

          Theoretical justifications would also establish a framework, enabling that topic debate.

          Theoretically justified frameworks at the very least can create a kind of framework debate which is newer/fresher and probably less recycled. They also have the added benefit of encouraging topic debate.

          Look, I like good framework debates as much as the next person. I just rarely see them, and it seems like this is good reason to try something new!

    • tlonam

      I just wanted to piggy back off Leah’s thought here because I think TJFs present a really odd dilemma for evaluating the round that would make debate substantially worse.

      Lets say debater A justifies utility through the argument that 1. personal identity doesn’t exist and that 2. in the absence of personal identity, we should just cluster mental states and promote the aggregate welfare of those mental states.

      Lets say debater B justifies a standard of treating persons as ends in themselves totally theoretically, i.e. they read the standard text and simply explain the basic concept of what would count as a violation and then just a bunch of reasons why its fair.

      If debater B tries to link an extinction impact to debaters A framework, debater A would probably be able to say that doesn’t link because if these aggregate mental states don’t exist (i.e. extinction) that we wouldn’t care what would happen one way or another. Even if this isn’t exactly true given that framework, you can at least see how the framework warrant has the potential to give debaters the ability to nuance their standard text to explain the relevant consideration. I think all standards should be defined by the justifications that we give for them, i.e. not all consequentialism is the same, the actual demands of the framework are determined by the warrants we use to generate it. This kind of comparison and nuanced framework is what I think produces really great framework debate and exemplifies the critical thinking skills debate should aim to produce.

      Lets think about the opposite case,If Debater A tries to link some piece of offense into Debater B’s framework, how do we higher-order comparison? Lets say Debater A read an argument on this topic that we must truth-seek because it allows us to accurately punish the guilty which is a requirement of treating people as ends in themselves.

      If Debater B accepts the link to the standard and tries to weigh their offense, what resources can a purely TJF provide to allow them to weigh their offense? Maybe they can justify one or two particular constraints their framework imposes but it seems that a certain point, every justification for a framework is going to need a theory argument justifying it, i.e. every nuance that effects the type of offense can link to the standard would need to be individually warranted (an example being the util framework outlined above) which seems near impossible if you have a really nuanced framework and would take up so much time that it would make the whole point of a TJF besides the point.

      My point here is that TJFs allows us to skip the step of syllogistically justifying our frameworks, which would lead to terrible debates long term because it forcloses the possibility of us determining links to the standard based on the way that we warrant that standard in first place, and instead replaces that developed process with a world where debaters are incentivized to read a piece of offense and then just to read theoretical reasons it should link to the standard

      • Bob Overing

        This is a reason why more nuanced standards are good, not a reason why standards shouldn’t be theoretically justified.

        Also, it’s probably unfair for debaters to clarify their standard based on the justifications in later speeches. Debaters should write what links and what doesn’t link in the standard proper.

        • tlonam

          This is a reason why nuanced standards are good, and my problem with TJFs is that they effectively eliminate the possibility for nuance. My point above is that a syllogistically justified framework allows us to develop this nuance and gives us a way to clarify the way the standard function in a way that is just functionally impossible in a world with TJF because either

          a. TJFs warrant the broad moral claim, like consequentialism, but then any nuance to the standard wouldn’t be covered by the theoretical justifications and so would be eliminated b/c any smart opponent would simply claim that their impact linked to the general moral theory and that the nuances are irrelevant.

          or b. debaters are forced to theorectically justified every nuance of their standard in the first speech which is a. nearly impossible, i.e. it might be true that if we accept deontology that would imply an intention-foresight or act-omission distinction but warranting the unique educational and fairness value of each nuance would be really difficult to explain because those arguments flow from higher arguments in a syllogism that we don’t get to hear because of TJFs.

          on the last point, 1. even if it is unfair for debaters to clarify their standard in later speeches, its a critical component of their opponent’s strategy because it can allow you to delink offense from their standard by proving a disjunct between the way the standard is warranted and the way that the offense is linked to it

          2. its probably unfair for debaters to change the way offense links to the standard or the way they claim it links back to their standard but you can’t claim that clarifying it later is ALWAYS unfair because there are too many possible arguments to preempt, i.e. you might claim polls link to util b/c they provide a brightline for what counts as a good impact and so precede actual offense about death or sufffering, etc. My point isn’t that that is a good argument but that its minimally plausible and that you can’t preempt everything in the first speech, instead we can explain why that doesn’t make sense given the warranting of the standard which you can’t do given a TJF

          • Bob Overing

            On my view, the nuance would not be erased.

            The aff could say something like “ought indicates what we have ends-based reasons to prefer.” Then, the neg could argue what kinds of ends-based reasons matter most.

            The aff could say something like “ought indicates what we have rule-based reasons to prefer.” Then, the neg could argue what kinds of rule-based reasons matter most.

    • John Scoggin

      It is kind of discouraging to me that in your post you consider the choice to be either talking about the theory warrants for TJFs or talking about different frameworks. The point of these arguments is to attempt to have a contention level debate, something that a lot of people enjoy.

      • Leah Danielle Shapiro

        Well, the reason I give the choice between justifying a framework philosophically or theoretically is because that’s what this discussion is about (how we should justify frameworks), or at least how I interpreted it.

        I also don’t really understand why justifying a framework theoretically leads to topical debate. For example, if debater A reads a util framework (using theory or phil), and debater B concedes util, then there’s no difference in terms of topical debate.

        But if debater A reads util and debater B wants to contest util (which is what usually happens), debater B will give an alternate framework. If debater A justifies util theoretically, then debater B (in order to be competitive) will have to justify their framework theoretically. If debater A justifies util substantively, then debater B (generally) justifies their framework substantively too. It doesn’t seem that TJFs lead to more topical debate. It just shifts the framework from phil to theory.

        • Bob Overing

          Presumably, the aff would read a fair ethical framework so that engaging the topic has better strategic value than reading T.

          I recognize that this strategic calculus is difficult to imagine for debaters who don’t do much prep on the topic, but if there were a greater norm in favor of theoretically-justified frameworks, then maybe that would change.

        • John Scoggin

          You raise a good point. I think the important difference comes from what Bob says below. If you start the framework debate theoretically rather than substantively there is a high incentive to choose a fair framework because if you don’t there is a high risk of losing the debate on T. Analytic justification of framework really has the opposite incentive, the more one sided a framework you choose the better. Obviously there are constraints on framework based on strength of warrant, but all things being equal its a race to the least fair framework. I’m sure you have seen plenty of cases that are 4+ minutes of framework, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to do that unless you are going to win under your framework.

  • Guest

    So aside from whether ought is an issue of topicality, I think we’re overlooking a pretty obvious objection (in my opinion) to TJFs, which is that debating about the fairness of a moral theory leads to pretty awful debates.

    The only type of framework I’ve ever debated justified by theoretical reasons is util, and the standards have been basically the same (so much ground and we can even weigh!) First of all, the debates over these seem very superficial. “My framework gives the most ground because we can always look at the consequences of an action..” “no mine gives the most ground because the topic lit is all concerned with autonomy violations”. It also seems almost impossible to compare these; we inevitably end up making competing assertions that are unjustified (because these just seem pretty hard to prove) and hoping the judge agrees with us.

    Aside from this, and what I think is more important, is these debates are pretty boring. Do you honestly think it’s more interesting to discuss whether contractarianism is predictable, rather than whether it’s true? There are so many different ways a philosophical framework debate can play out, and the different forms/nuances of each debate add a new aspect to it, and that’s something that I just don’t see with the TJF debates. It’s the same standards, making the same arguments but it’s also just completely irrelevant. It seems obvious there’s some
    educational value in debate, but it seems more obvious that there’s a fun value
    in debate also (if debate was super boring, fewer people would probably
    compete), and you can argue that it’s fun to debate TJFs but I think most
    people would agree that debating TJFs is comparatively less fun than debating actual philosophical frameworks, mainly because there’s literally zero out of round
    applications for TJFs and they’re incredibly repetitive.

  • Bob Overing

    You can argue for reasonability in a T debate.

  • Jacob Nails

    This isn’t limited to TJFs. What about Theoretically Justified Impacts?

    Bob gives the example of “privatization of civil services serves the public interest.” One could define “public interest” in a way that necessitates utilitarian calculation, but why not go further? Just define public interest as “maximizing hegemony,” or define it in economic terms as “increasing GDP.”

    Or what about theoretically justified links? The first definition that comes up when one Googles “public interest” says the following: “A public utility is regulated in the public interest because private individuals rely on such a company for vital services.” Why not use a definition like this one which defines pubic interest as “the function of public utilities” on the grounds that impact comparison debates better promote fairness/education?

    You might be prepared to accept this conclusion (I’m not). However, I don’t think there’s any good way to limit the intrusion of theory into only the moral components of substantive debate.

    • Bob Overing

      Those definitions might be poor, but why would you disallow them? More importantly, how would you decide between “maximizing hegemony” and “increasing GDP” without appealing to fairness/education?

      You’re telling me that if a debater ran an aff about public utilities, the neg ran T-public interest, and the 1AR read the definition you gave, you would say that’s not a valid T argument? Why?!

      Clearly, what is T affects what links can be made. One can’t run a disad to an aff that does not fall within the aff’s definition of the topic.

  • John Scoggin

    I mean there is probably discussion to be had on whether or not people like TJFs but in terms of a H2H this was not close. I voted for Bob.

    Before you vote I think you should make sure you look at the question:

    Question: Should theoretically justified frameworks be an acceptable argument in debate?

    Because that is the question really the only question you have to answer is can ought be interpreted in a way that implies a certain moral framework, or did Sam justify why the consequences of such are interpretation are so bad that we should suspend the idea that fairness is a good way to judge definitions in this case. I see an effective defense of neither.

    The most critical part of Bob’s response is this:

    “1) any moral framework is an interpretation of the word ought or a similar evaluative term such as morally permissible in the resolution, and 2) any interpretation of a word in the resolution is subject to debate only on theoretical grounds.”

    Sam’s only response to that is this:

    “Bob might be tempted to say that his argument is merely a topical interpretation of the word ‘ought,’ but that misses the point of my criticism. Bob argues that his view of fairness should be applicable to all arguments in the round.”

    Bob replies by saying:

    “My argument is not that fairness is the ultimate standard by which every argument is evaluated – it’s only the standard for definitions.”

    That seems pretty game over to me. If your framework is implied from a fair definition that you forward the only way to answer that is to find a different definition. That is by necessity a theory debate.

    The example Sam gives also falls apart under closer examination. Here it is:

    “If I had to justify why all of my arguments were fair proactively, every single argument I made in the 1AR would have to have an additional argument for why it were fair. And, if theory trumps substance, the arguments I made in my rebuttal would be judged as true according to how fair they were, not according to whether they were actually responsive to my opponent’s position.”

    1. You don’t have to justify why your arguments are fair proactively, but if you show they are part of your side’s ground they can’t be excluded.

    2. The reason your example is bad is not because it follows an incorrect form but because it makes a ridiculous argument, why would it be fair to presume empirically verifiable facts should be ignored?

    I also think the idea that given that morality is implied in almost every resolution, barring a TJF debaters can make the same phil arguments in every debate on every topic. Not a lot of education is gained by having the same debate every round, its good to talk about the topic now and then.

  • Danny DeBois

    To me, it seems like the problem with associating “TJFs” with topicality arguments is that T generally seems to care more about the accurate meaning of words in the resolution, rather than what’s fair/educational in the abstract. For example, on the last topic, it would seem counterintuitive to accept a definition of “voting” as “buying health insurance,” even if the aff won reasons why a debate about Obamacare is more fair/educational/whatever. But defining “voting” as “buying health insurance” and excluding intuitive objections because “division of ground outweighs other standards” seems very similar to defining “ought” as “maximizing utility” and excluding substantive responses because they don’t link to a theory voter. If T requires some degree of accuracy in the definition (and it seems like it should–otherwise I don’t see the purpose in having a definition in the interp), then it doesn’t make sense to use TJFs to exclude substantive framework responses, since those question the accuracy of the definition.
    (Granted, on a topic that uses a term like “desirable,” I think topicality justifications for a util framework could be applicable. But I don’t think many people would believe “ought” really MEANS util, even if that definition is fair/educational.)

    • John Scoggin

      I don’t really blame you for holding this view because a million people have probably told you from ninth grade that ought only means morality in a broad sense, but it can mean a lot of other things too.

      Definitions of these words vary from source to source. But just from MW and dictionary.com:


      used to express obligation: ought to pay our debts, advisability: ought to take care of yourself, natural expectation: ought to be here by now, or logical consequence: the result ought to be infinity


      proper to be advised or recommended; desirable or wise, as a course of action: Is it advisable for meto write to him?

      Ought can literally mean desirability. Not that hard to argue that means maximizing utility.

      When there are multiple divergent definitions of words the proper thing to do is have a theory debate about which should be used.

      • Danny DeBois

        I don’t really think ought can mean maximizing utility from the definitions you gave. First of all, desirable is a definition of advisability, which is in turn one of many definitions of ought. Even in the definition of advisability, desirability is just one definition, along with “wise” and “recommended.” The advisability definition is also talking about some course of action, which also seems to support a general normative framework. But even if ought means desirability, there’s still a debate to be had about if desirability means utility–I’m sure a deontologist would say it’s desirable to treat people as ends in themselves. It seems like the way of resolving these debates wouldn’t be with T, but with substantive arguments that actually make a statement about what IS desirable/wise/obligatory/etc.
        But anyways, yes, “a million people have told me from ninth grade that ought only means morality in a broad sense.” Only two have told me ought means utility. I think that says something.

        • James McElwain

          FYI, desirability has no place in Kantian language. Desire is always associated with pathological interest and cannot be considered as a “groundwork” for morality. No deontologist who has ever read Kant would ever claim that morality has any necessary connection to desirability. Kant’s bit about the shopkeeper makes this point explicit.

          Kant would probably also suggest that advisability or recommendation are not in the domain of the moral either: “A law, however, takes arbitrariness away from actions, and this distinguishes it from any recommendation (where all that one requires is to know the most suitable means to an end).” (Ak. 390).

          Defining ought as desirability might beg the question of whether the resolution should be evaluated as a moral or policy question, but it definitely doesn’t imply a debate about whether desirability implies deontology.

          • Emily Massey

            I dunno, according to Stephen Engstrom, “Kant accepts the traditional practice of identifying the will with the higher faculty of desire, so long as the distinction between the higher (rational) and lower (sensible) faculties of desire is properly drawn.” (p. 25 of The Form of Practical Knowledge)

          • James McElwain

            Maybe I wasn’t being as precise as I should be, and I don’t think secondary literature will clear up the confusion. We have to look to the original German. For Kant, faculty of desire is a term of art and unwieldy compound neologism Begehrungsvermögen. C. Korsgaard can help us out here:

            Begehren is more like the philosopher’s sense of ‘want’: it includes any impulse to act for an end, whether its source is in inclination or reason (morality).

            In debate, ought has to be defined fully as ‘used to express desirability’–the key is that syntactically desirability (or advisability) has to remain as a noun. The justification for the resolutional action is that it is desirable, according ot this definition.

            However, the Kantian translation of “Ich begehre,” would be, according to Korsgaard, “I act (want) for this end.” To suggest that the justification for that action (the source, whether inclination or reason) lies in desirability is a tautology–I willed because of the quality of willing. In other words, it makes no sense for a Kantian to say “it is desirable (begehrenswert) to act.” It’s literally like saying “it is the quality of acting to act.” This is confirmed by the fact that begehrenswert is not a corresponding term of art–the literal meaning in German is sexually attractive.

            As such, I was merely suggesting that desirability (i.e. the noun), in the context of Kant, has to be understood as inclination, as Korsgaard suggests, or interest, which are not moral things for Kant, and why a Kantian would also never say we ought to do x because of an inclination (a “desire” with an arbitrary principle).

          • Jacob Nails

            Danny’s original claim was that “a deontologist would say it’s desirable to treat people as ends in themselves.” He never claimed that the fact that it’s desirable is what gives it moral force, just that Kantians could make claims about desirability.

            “Morality has [no] necessary connection to desirability” might be true, but that just means that claims about desirability aren’t moral claims, not that they aren’t semantically meaningful claims at all (which is what your initial quip about Kantian language seems to suggest).

          • James McElwain

            Sure, and I think that Kant would agree that an arbitrary principle can still be a guide to action. But what does it mean in the context of a topicality debate to suggest “it is my inclination to treat people and ends in themselves”? It seems counterintuitive to me that a Kantian would suggest that our decision in round should be based on our inclination as particular agents rather than the form of the law as a condition for freedom.

            Honestly, I don’t think conceding ought = desirability means deontology is off the table, I just think it means you have to reconceptualize how stock positions like deont can be run outside of a generic topic link. It’s not a coincidence that Kant was concerned with critique,

          • Debater

            It is a complete misreading of Kant to say that he found no place for desire in his theory. The second formulation of the moral law, commonly referred to as the Formula for/of Humanity, explicitly addresses this question. You are right that the average desire is arbitrary, but Kant’s point is not that that should mean we give up on desire altogether. Rather, he looks to the origins of motivating force, or Triebfeder in the original German, and concludes that desires can be non-arbitrary only if we accept its grounding in a valuation of humanity as an end. Additionally, later Kantians such as Rawls and Korsgaard explain very in-depth how the idea of desirability is intimately tied with Kantian thought.

          • James McElwain

            You’re right, there’s conceptual slippage in my posts between Neigung and Begierde, but that doesn’t address the substantive relation to topicality I’m trying to get at. Saying something is desirable in a Kantian framework just begs the question as to what the source of the motivation is. So at best, a debater could say, the resolutional action is desirable, but only when qualified, when it has the right ground. They could not, however, say that the action is not desirable because it doesn’t have the right ground, or is not an exercise of practical reason. By virtue of being action, it has the qualities of desire.

          • Debater

            The problem is that that only focuses on Kant’s answer to the question of the right, how we ought to act, and not the question of the good, or what we ought to value. The Formula for Humanity addresses what we ought to desire, what we ought to recognize as constitutive of our desiring faculties and thus a necessary desire. His Metaphysics of Morals and Religion within the Limits of Reason alone also provide arguments about what we ought to desire. This also ignores the fact that Rawls and Korsgaard have developed explicitly Kantian arguments for what things are good or bad to desire, or at least which desires are bad. For example, it is wrong to desire the death of another.

          • James McElwain

            Or, more briefly, as phrased in terms of the original question “it is desirable to treat people as means” makes literally zero sense in the context of what you cite. That’s like saying, it is the quality of the impulse to act for an end to treat people as means.” It is not a necessary quality of the will to treat people as means, which is why Kant has to argue that we “ought” to do so, however according to duty and not desirability.

        • Bob Overing

          It says a lot about status quo bias.

          You really think that ought can ONLY mean morality in a broad sense?

          I don’t understand your resistance. There are multiple definitions for what “ought” can mean. A few years ago, most camps taught that there were three. Our argument doesn’t preclude you for arguing for the one you like most…

    • Bob Overing

      The accuracy argument is compatible my view. Accuracy is just a T standard with a strong internal link to predictability. A debater *could* argue that voting means “buying health insurance.” They should lose that T debate not because of something external to T standards but on the merits of their definition according to fairness/education. If not for fairness/education, why would you think accuracy matters?

      Debaters should make accuracy arguments, but there are other standards (e.g. ground) that matter too. This is especially important when what is “accurate” is unclear (perhaps because there are a myriad of suitable definitions like the ones John provided).

      Something else to consider:

      Our view is not new. This is how many if not most debate theorists think about topicality. If you haven’t read the Kupferberg (1987) article, you should. Debate is its own context. Some definitions might be right for one context (e.g. academic philosophy) but inappropriate for another (e.g. competitive debate). Here’s Kupferberg:

      “It is widely held in linguistics and shared by the debate community, that a single word can have multiple meanings depending on the context in which it is used. The emergence of the “field contextual” standard for definitions recognizes this belief. However, I feel that most pleas for “contextual’ definitions are misplaced. Importantly, words differ in their meanings because they are used for different purposes. ‘Cold Turkey’ for a Jerry’s Sub Shop worker clearly conveys a different message than it might for a drug addict. The ‘field context” standard suggests that we should prefer definitions taken from the field identified within the resolutional subject area. For example, during last year, an agricultural definition of ‘long-term’ was preferred over a legal interpretation.

      My contention is that participants in this activity have forgotten that they are in the context of inter-scholastic, competitive debate–though we often pretend otherwise. What might be appropriate within the subject matter field may not serve the salient interests of the debate context. A definition that produces an uneducational or unfair resolution is neither ‘reasonable’ nor ‘best.” An expert in agricultural policies does operate with the same constraints as those placed on a debater. There are, for example, no time limits for speeches, constraints on research resources or competitive incentives to define someone out of the room.

      Often, field contextual definitions are too broad or too narrow for debate purposes. Definitions derived from the agricultural sector necessarily incorporated financial and bureaucratic factors which are less relevant in considering a ‘should’ proposition. Often subject experts’ definitions reflected administrative or political motives to expand or limit the relevant jurisdiction of certain actors. Moreover, field context is an insufficient criteria for choosing between competing definitions. A particularly broad field might have several subsets that invite restrictive and even exclusive definitions. (e.g., What is considered ‘long-term’ for the swine farmer might be significantly different than for the grain farmer.) Why would debaters accept definitions that are inappropriate for debate? If we admit that debate is a unique context, then additional considerations enter into our definitional analysis.”


  • Christian Tarsney

    Bob, it seems to me that your 1) is obviously false, unless you mean something very different than I think you do. If utilitarians, deontologists, etc are just defining “ought” differently, then they’re not disagreeing with each other about anything. For instance, if “A ought to x,” when spoken by a utilitarian, is just another way of saying “A’s doing x would maximize utility,” then when the utilitarian says “You ought to push the fat man off the bridge to stop the trolley,” the deontologist should just make the mental translation, nod, and say “Yes, that’s correct.”

    • John Scoggin

      This is like the perfect example for the opposite of what you are saying. Clearly there are times when people say “A ought to x,” and mean “A’s doing x would maximize utility,” Generally when something is a possible meaning of a word we have a topicality debate about it.

    • Bob Overing

      Why does it follow from 1) that utilitarians/deontologists aren’t disagreeing? Clearly, they’re disagreeing about what ought means. In your example, the deontologist would recognize that the utilitarian is using ought to mean something (s)he does not agree with, and so the debate you’d expect to ensue would…

      • Christian Tarsney

        Generally, differences of meaning aren’t disagreements. If I use the word “football” to mean American football and you use it to mean soccer, that doesn’t imply any difference in our respective pictures of the world–we agree exactly, for instance, about what sport Landon Donovan plays, we just attach different labels to it.

        It might be, in some cases, that we use words differently because of some underlying disagreement about common usage or whatever. But that clearly isn’t what utilitarians and deontologists disagree about.

        With respect to John’s comment, I’m sure there are some such times, but not very many among philosophers post-G.E Moore. There are extremely good reasons to think that “maximizes utility” is *not* a possible meaning of “ought.” Show me a utilitarian in the last 50 years who thinks that that is the meaning of “ought” (i.e. that utilitarianism is an analytic truth), and we can see how reasonable their arguments are.

        • John Scoggin

          “With respect to John’s comment, I’m sure there are some such times, but not very many among philosophers post-G.E Moore.”

          It is no surprise that if you use the meaning of the word chosen by philosophers that would be more conducive to philosophy debate. Ought can also mean advisability/desirability (see my comment below to Danny) which more obviously means “maximizing utility.” When you say “I’m sure there are some such times…” the argument is over, its a possible meaning and the way you debate about which possible meaning of a definition we use in a debate round is by having a topicality debate.

          • Christian Tarsney

            1. “X is a possible meaning of Y” is ambiguous. If you just mean “Someone could use Y to mean X,” then anything is a possible meaning of anything. I could spend the next week using “ought” to mean “maximizes purple toothpicks,” but (I hope) that wouldn’t be enough to make it a candidate TJF.

            If you mean that X is a possibly correct or reasonable analysis of what speakers of the language, in general, mean by Y, then the fact that some people use Y to mean X doesn’t establish that. (This is the sense in which we can disagree, and be wrong, about meanings because we disagree about common usage etc.) And I take it this is the sense of “possible meaning” that limits the scope within which we can debate what interpretations are most fair, educational, etc.

            2. Philosophers are the people who spend (by far) the most time thinking about the meaning of “ought.” If they all, or nearly all, agree that “maximizes utility” is not a plausible analysis, they might be onto something.

            3. The point about advisability/desirability is a little bit interesting. Of course, even if “ought” =def “desirable” and “desirable” =def “maximizes utility” are individually plausible, they may not be jointly plausible. Open question arguments, or the argument I suggested about disagreement, seem to imply that we can’t have both, without ruling out either one individually.

            There’s a bit more that could be said here, I think, but it should be clear that both “advisability” and “desirability” are ambiguous enough that using them as intermediaries doesn’t establish very much. Among other things, notice the difference between the impersonal desirability of a state of affairs and the agent-relative desirability of an action (the most desirable course of action being the one I have most reason to take). The former sense of “desirability” might just maybe be analytically equivalent to “utility-maximizing” (Mill seems to have thought so, but that was pre-Moore), while the latter is a slightly unnatural rendering of a very plausible analysis of “ought.” But they’re clearly just two very different senses of “desirable,” with different logical forms, etc.

            4. I was trying to be generous when I said that I’m sure some people use “ought” to mean “maximizes utility.” Just to establish a basis for discussion, can you point me to anyone in any recent academic literature who actually does use “ought” this way?

          • Bob Overing

            1. Yes, anything is a possible meaning of anything. The purposes of the T debate is to constrain what those possible meanings are. Insofar as we think that debaters should be able to argue everything and anything, one could say “ought” means “maximizing purple toothpicks.” Of course, that definition would lose a T debate, but why should we restrict debaters from arguing it?

            You say we should use a set of “possible meanings” to limit the scope of definitions. Yes, of course this is an argument that debaters can and should make. If it really is the case that “ought” could never be defined to mean anything more precise than “used to indicate a moral obligation,” then debaters would have a pretty strong predictability claim in favor of that broad definition. I see no reason why this debate should take place outside of the context of a normal T debate, and if so, what is your justification for the limitation to “possible meanings” outside of fairness/education? See my post responding to Danny’s comment and Kupferberg’s “Limits” article for more on this.

            2/4. You have yet to provide someone who says that “ought” cannot mean something like “what is generally desirable.” However, I have examples to the contrary. My debaters use this passage from Sam Harris’s “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values”: “If this notion of “ought” means anything we can possibly care about, it must translate into a concern about the actual or potential experience of conscious beings (either in this life or in some other). For instance, to say that we ought to treat children with kindness seems identical to saying that everyone will tend to be better off if we do.” In Ralph Wedgwood’s “The Meaning of ‘Ought,’” he cites a definition of ought as “general desirability.” Sure, it might come from writings pre-Moore, but I’m not really sure why that’s relevant. I also think that many people use ought in their ordinary language to mean something distinct from a general moral prescription. E.g. search Google News for ought. I don’t think the recent article on “Sox ought to keep eye on free-agent relievers” intends to make a moral claim.

            Importantly, when we’re defining words in the debate round, we’re not writing a philosophy book. We’re concerned with what works for the debate, not what works for experts. Field context is just one among many T standards (common usage comes to mind), but you seem to think it’s the only one.

            3. Yes, there are more and less ambiguous definitions of ought. This probably favors our argument because there is no universally accepted definition. You speak to the different ways we could think about “desirability.” Once again, how do you propose we argue over these definitions apart from appeals to fairness/education?

          • Christian Tarsney

            1. Roughly, I think that plausibility as an interpretation of actual usage (either expert or non-expert) is a side constraint on T interps. I don’t want to get too deep into this, but to see why it’s plausible: Suppose I happen to think that the rehab/retribution topic was a lot more fair and more educational than the current topic. So I define “truth-seeking” as “rehabilitation,” “attorney-client privilege” as “retribution,” “take precedence over” as “valued above,” and great, now we’re debating this awesome topic from last year. I’ll even disclose on the wiki that this will be my interp, to make it super predictable, etc. It seems to me that no comparative advantage in terms of fairness or education could make this a good interpretation. We should reject it not merely because it’s unfair or uneducational but because it’s *incorrect* (or perhaps more precisely, because it’s outside the range of plausible correctness).

            You’re right, of course, that everything I’m saying could be made an argument in round. But if there’s a sufficient in-round response to TJFs in every instance (namely, that they require interps of “ought” which are not possibly or plausibly correct, and that this is overriding either for reasons of fairness and education or for independent reasons), wouldn’t that be a pretty good reason for debaters not to run them? Any out-of-round argument can be made as an in-round argument, but that doesn’t mean it’s not also true out of round. (To be clear, I’m not making any claim about what judges’ pre-round paradigmatic attitudes toward TJFs should be. I’m just claiming that they’re bad arguments to which there are true responses.)

            2/4. Again, “desirability” is fine on its own. My point is that you can’t have both “ought” =def “desirability” and “desirability” =def “maximizes utility.” When Wedgwood talks about an “‘ought’ of general desirability,” it’s clear that he has in mind a notion of “desirability” which is not analytically equivalent to “utility-maximizing.” He certainly isn’t suggesting that utilitarianism might be an analytic truth. (And, it’s worth noting, the point he’s making about these sorts of oughts is that they aren’t indexed to agents, meaning they’re presumably inapplicable to any resolution where an agent is the subject of the “ought.”)

            Sam Harris, I think you’re right, may actually believe that utilitarianism is analytic. But Sam Harris is, to put it mildly, not noted for his careful thinking on these subjects. His argument usually seems to be: “It’s a conceptual falsehood that we ought to bring about the worst possible misery for everyone. Therefore, it’s a conceptual truth that we ought to maximize aggregate wellbeing.” You don’t need to be a fancy-pants professor of metaethics to notice that something’s gone wrong here…

            Incidentally, I don’t think that what I’m saying depends on anything about philosophers’ vs. non-philosophers’ uses of “ought,” or about moral vs. non-moral oughts. What philosophers are doing, hopefully, when they talk about oughts is trying to bring out concepts that are at the core of ordinary use(s), and as the Wedgwood article illustrates, that includes an interest in non-moral oughts. My is that whether you’re talking about expert or non-expert use, in moral or non-moral contexts, it’s never plausible that “ought” is analytically equivalent to “maximizes utility.” I don’t think that “ought” always means “moral obligation,” but rather something like “supported by all-things-considered reasons” (although there are other plausible interps, and context makes a difference).

            3. My point about the ambiguity of “desirable” is that your argument seems to rely on an equivocation. The sense of “desirable” in which it’s plausible that “A ought to do x” means “It’s desirable for A to do x” is not the same as the sense in which it’s plausible that “x is desirable” means “x is utility-maximizing.” (And even if there’s a univocal sense in which they’re both individually plausible, that still wouldn’t make them jointly plausible, which you and John both seem to be assuming.)

          • Bob Overing

            Providing more examples doesn’t change the argument. Why do we care about having plausible interpretations? “Correctness?” Why do we care about correctness? You’re just making theory arguments for why expert/common usage is good, and those should impact to fairness/education. These are reasons a certain definition is better, not why ought should not be constrained by fairness/education. What defines the “range of plausible correctness?” I see no reason that we should appeal to “independent” reasons that you’ve just asserted rather than the current tools we have for evaluating topicality.

            On your view, when a debater is responding to, say, T-CJS, (s)he can initiate some higher level debate about the “correctness” of the particular definition. That’s absurd – Isn’t accuracy/precision/correctness/plausibility already a T standard?

            You say that they’re bad arguments. If my interpretation is “ought is defined as used to indicate moral correctness,” which is the most predictable and educational, you would say that’s a bad argument? John and I are just arguing that definitions must be theoretically justified. You have virtually conceded this. (For those reading, this H2H was simply about whether frameworks can be theoretically justified or not perhaps some definitions are not good, but that’s not a reason the general principle is wrong).

            As far as more utilitarian definitions are concerned, there is some debate to be had. I think this indicates that a definition that lends itself to a more utilitarian interpretation is plausible. Perhaps Sam Harris’s definition is not very predictable, but its overall fairness/educational value is something a debater could win.

          • Christian Tarsney

            As I say, I think there are reasons other than fairness and education why we should debate the resolution (which has to mean, debate the resolution under a plausibly correct interpretation, since otherwise the resolution could mean anything). The topic switch example is one where an interpretation is not obviously unfair or uneducational, but is one we obviously should not adopt–at least, it seems obvious to me.

            But that isn’t a question I find very interesting, so let’s suppose you’re right that it’s all about fairness and education. The question then becomes: is “maximizes utility” ever the most fair/educational interpretation of “ought”? And it seems like right now the only thing separating “maximizes utility” from “maximizes purple toothpicks” is one non-academic book written by a philosophically careless neuroscientist. Unless there’s a Sam Harris of virtue ethics I don’t know about, other TJFs will be in an even worse position. And if any definition of “ought” that would make some moral framework an analytic truth is (approximately) as unustifiable as “maximizes purple toothpicks,” then no framework can be theoretically justified.

          • Bob Overing

            Are you going to tell us what you mean by ‘other reasons’ or just make us guess? I think that the aff proposing to debate something non-topical is obviously unfair and uneducational. I’m not sure what to say if you think otherwise.

            Why do you insist on attacking a straw-person? The appeal to Sam Harris’s authority would never be the most important or the only justification for accepting such a definition of ought. I only provided that definition to prove that it is, in some sense, “plausible.”

            Of course, there could be other reasons to accept such a definition: ground, limits, topic literature, predictability, field context, common usage, real world applicability…

            I’m completely incredulous right now. How can you disagree that there could be at least some justification for such a definition?

          • Christian Tarsney

            I’m intentionally avoiding the debate about what criteria besides fairness and education might govern the choice of interpretations because, as I say, I don’t really care that much. Hence the “let’s suppose that you’re right.” Maybe debating the resolution should be seen as a tacit agreement, or a constitutive feature of the activity…or maybe not, I don’t know. Again, let’s suppose that you’re right.

            Just as a point of clarification: Haven’t you and John been arguing this whole time that what’s topical is wholly determined by considerations of fairness and education? If so, then saying that “the aff proposing to debate something non-topical is obviously unfair and uneducational” seems like a tautology. Is this supposed to explain what’s wrong with interpreting the current topic as rehab/retribution?

            If you’re claiming that Sam Harris proves “ought” =def “maximizes util” is plausible, and I’m denying that it does, then I’m not attacking a straw-person, right? Also, wouldn’t it be sort of odd if my straw version of you was a woman?

            The theory standards you list seem to be mostly dealt with by what’s been said already. “Ought” =def “maximizes util” is clearly doing very badly in terms of common usage, field context, and hence I would assume real world applicability and predictability. Definitions of “ought” that are consistent with the full spectrum of moral frameworks will always give access to strictly more ground and topic literature. So that leaves limits…by which standard, I mean, yeah, “maximizes util” does pretty well, but “maximizes purple toothpicks” does even better, so we should probably take limits with a grain of salt.

          • Bob Overing

            The explanation would be based on arguments such as predictability and research burdens.

            Doesn’t the Sam Harris definition prove that this kind of ought is (in some sense) plausible? That’s why I’m confused by your claim that you are still denying that it is plausible. Your response was that this book is the only thing that separates the definition from toothpicks. My response was that there are many other standards that would justify such an interpretation that don’t support toothpicks. It seems to me that you are now contesting whether or not this definition could ever be fair.

            1- Ground. It divides ground fairly evenly.

            2- Topic lit. There are topics where most of the authors assume a kind of utilitarian calculus (remember terms are interpreted in their particular context…)

            3- Real world applicability. In certain contexts, real world actors would not use “ought” to mean a broad moral claim.

            I don’t know where you’ve made a common usage claim. I did, for instance, when I cited a news article about the Red Sox using the word ought.

            I don’t see the point of this portion of our argument, however. I have conceded that Harris’s definition may not be the best one. I am only arguing that it can be argued. Don’t you agree?

          • Christian Tarsney

            So, I’ll put it this way: I think Sam Harris is making an understandable mistake in thinking that “ought” or “should” might be analytically equivalent to “maximizes utility.” But it’s very definitely and demonstrably a mistake, and thus in the end not plausible. We can talk more about why that is if you like. For a pretty cogent explanation of how open question and related concerns derail Harris specifically, check out Russell Blackford’s review of The Moral Landscape (http://jetpress.org/v21/blackford3.htm ; by far the kindest review Harris received from anyone with philosophical training), specifically the paragraph that begins “At one point, Harris toys with…” but also the surrounding material.

            Again, bear in mind that’s what at issue here is the analysis of ordinary, non-philosophical (including moral and non-moral) uses of “ought.” The Red Sox “ought” may well call for a different analysis than “You ought not tell lies” (although I think “all-things-considered reasons” does a pretty good job of capturing both…but I’m not expert on this stuff, so I say that very tentatively). But in neither case does the ought mean “maximizes utility.”

            (The Red Sox case is actually a pretty good illustration: Does “Sox ought to keep eye on free-agent relievers” have anything at all to do with whether this would maximize global aggregate utility? Is the author suggesting that it would be *better for the world* if the Red Sox picked up a talented reliever, instead of some other team? Suppose I were to argue against the headline like so: “Either the Red Sox or the Dodgers will win the next World Series. If the Red Sox strengthen their bullpen, it’s more likely that they win and less likely the Dodgers win. But since the Dodgers play for a bigger city, they have more fans, and hence more people will be happy if they win the World Series than if the Red Sox win. Therefore, the Red Sox ought not keep an eye on free-agent relievers.” I’ve completely misunderstood what was being said, haven’t I?)

            So at any rate, the philosophical objections to “ought” =def “maximizes utility” do speak to common usage, real-world, etc.

            You’re right that the other fairness issues are peripheral. But just as a general thought, it seems like arguments for your interp of “ought” have to be comparative to the other debater’s interp of “ought,” not their normative framework. So if the other debater interprets “ought” as “moral obligation,” “all-things-considered reason,” or whatever, that gives access to all the utilitarian ground and topic lit, and divides ground evenly as long as there’s a roughly similar diversity of frameworks/positions each side can defend.

          • Bob Overing

            Blackford’s analysis on the question is cogent, and I’m inclined to accept it. I still think, however, that there are senses in which ought might plausibly lend itself more to a measure of expedience than a measure of duty or moral rightness. Even if Sam Harris’s definition is implausible, there are certainly other definitions that lean in the direction that he would like. Your rejection of this line of argument is unclear to me.

            As far as ought meaning “all-things-considered reasons,” it would presumably include utilitarian reasons, but of course, it has the disadvantage of also including the potential for debates that are completely irrelevant to the topic literature or real world applicability. There are some topics where it makes no sense to defend a particular framework, yet debaters attempt to do it anyway.

          • Christian Tarsney

            What other senses of ought do you have in mind? It seems to me like any sense of ought that would make some comprehensive moral theory an analytic truth (i.e. that could serve as an interp for a TJF) will be subject to exactly analogous objections.

            Wrt uses of “ought” in news articles, I think you’re assuming that cases where the reason we ought to do something is *because* it would produce social utility must be cases in which ought *means* “maximizes utility.” The former I’m sure is very common, but is not at all the same as the latter.

            Under an “all-things-considered reasons” interp, it’s left to the debaters to argue about what reasons exist, how they apply to the action of the resolution, and their comparative strength. Isn’t the relevance of a framework to the topic/real world resolved by the framework/impact debates?

            On the educational value of topic debate vs. framework debate vs. theory debate, that’s not something I’m eager to wade into. A world where debaters never debated anything but framework would be less than ideal. We don’t seem to be at any risk of that. And I’m not convinced that debaters can/will concede TJFs so much more easily than substantively justified frameworks that the benefit in terms of topic debate will outweigh the loss of framework debate. It also seems to me that this argument takes for granted an overly stark division between framework and topic debate–much of the framework debate that TJFs would preclude *is also* topic debate, as well as providing access to important aspects of the contention-level topic debate.

          • Bob Overing

            “A world where debaters never debated anything but framework would be less than ideal. We don’t seem to be at any risk of that.”

            I can name at least 5 elite debaters in the past two years who, in my opinion, never substantively engaged the topic. So not only do I think it’s a risk, I think it’s happening now. Your interpretation cannot solve this because it allows frameworks that do not engage the topic… Why would it be “resolved by the framework/impact debates?”

            I think that there are people whom if asked what it means that ‘X ought do Y’ would say it means X’s doing Y would be generally beneficial. I don’t have a linguistic survey, but it’s not hard to imagine that this is a common understanding.

          • Paras Kumar

            Was this purposefully ironic? Who are you referring to? That’s a serious claim to make.

            When I think of debaters in the last couple of years who were “elite” but couldn’t really debate substance at the level their “eliteness” suggests they ought to be able to, the biggest one that stands out to me is you, Bob.

            I’m not judging you or calling you out (we both know I ran theory a good amount too and that I respect you), but I agree with Christian that it’s not fair to say a benefit of TJF’s is more topical debate when you clearly ran TJF’s all the time and rarely engaged in the topic. The clearest example of your reluctance to engage in substance is finals of ToC.

          • Bob Overing

            Haha you’re not calling me out? So what’s the point of your comment?

            Whether or not I personally debated a particular way is not a reason why my current argument is wrong.

            (Aside: in my opinion, every theory argument I read, if accepted, would produce better topic education. I rarely read spikes and generally made arguments that were relevant to a contemporary application of the topic on both sides. FYI in finals of the TOC, you debate to win, not to promote a particular set of values. It makes sense that the ONE debater who dared to talk about the topic against me won the most prestigious tournament.)

          • Paras Kumar

            The bill and melinda gates plan was good topic ed? The native americans plan was good topic ed? I remember talking to Ashan the day of out rounds of ToC and him telling me that yall’s game plan, in the words of jscogg, was “THEORY THEORY THEORY.” You are telling me that you wanted Regan to debate you in sems for 13 minutes on substance? Cuz if so, then reading a native americans plan was DEFINITELY the most conducive way to facilitate that. Psych.

            Also, it’s laughable to claim that Noah was the only debater who “dared” to talk about the topic against you. They can speak for themselves, but I think Jacob, or Regan, or Drew, or Sarah, or Kyle (among others–my memories, a bit, shall we say, hazy) would have all shitted themselves in happiness if they walked into a debate with you where theory wasn’t allowed.

            We can agree to disagree on this and you can call me crazy, but you debated to win. And winning for you happened to come most easily on theory debates, so you ran a fuckton of theory. Ain’t nothing wrong with that–a win’s a win (finals of TOC or not), and your record speaks for itself (it’s definitely a lot more impressive than mine).

            And again, I’m not calling you out! If I was calling you out, it would be something like: Bob you sucked at debate and we both know it. That’s not what I’m saying because I don’t think that! I think you were by and far the best theory debater of your year. It wasn’t even close and was actually really impressive.

            My point is merely that debaters will still debate to win in a world of TJF’s, so if they don’t want to debate the topic, they won’t (and you are the empirical example of that). That means your topic education benefit to TJF’s is at best marginal, and at worst nonexistent.

          • Bob Overing

            It is not my fault that debaters refused to drop their stock philosophy negs against me. Only twice in over 100 rounds my senior year did the neg concede framework. That’s pretty telling.

            I’m seeing the strategy more now, and I have to think that it’s because people can win that it’s sometimes better to debate the topic than it is to recycle Gauthier cards.

          • John Scoggin

            Paras I like you and generally think you are a nice guy, but frankly you have no idea what you are talking about. In general I think that you are wrong about most of the points in your post but I can verify with 100% certainty that you are blatantly lying about what I supposedly said about strategy. I think you should really consider deleting or editing your post, its uncalled for an untrue.

          • Paras Kumar

            John–love and respect is mutual. I don’t think I need to edit or delete anything though.

            Why would I lie about this? I have no dog in this fight. I’m just tryna keep it real and said what I believe. I also have been very civilized and friendly in my interaction with Bob on this thread because I have no problem with him or his career as a debater. I would hate for this to come off as a personal attack because I think Bob deserves every success he had! He was fucking phenomenal, but that doesn’t change the truth value of what I said. I’m just making a point that a world of TJFs still has debaters who will avoid substance, and Bob was the example I used to illustrate that point.

            BTW, that conversation happened between Ashan and I. It was certainly more detailed and nuanced than “THEORY THEORY THEORY”, but Ashan also definitely implied and said more than once that was your general mindset. Is Ashan right? It seems like not, and you know better than I do, so I’ll take your word for it.

            I’d show you on Facebook chat the convo bt Ashan and I but I deleted fb ages ago. Maybe Ashan still has it saved? My profile is deleted though so idk what fb does with those chats. It might still be in his chat history.

          • John Scoggin

            Honestly I have no idea what your motivations are this whole line seems very off to me. You said:

            “in the words of jscogg, was “THEORY THEORY THEORY.”

            In the words of implies I said it, that’s what I meant when you said you lied.

            You are also seem to claim you know how we approached strategy and being the person who was paid to guide our teams strategy I can tell you that you are wrong. When Alex Zimmerman and I stayed up all night before outs of the Glenbrooks writing a cool plan that included new framework and substance and no one made a single substantive answer to it all day we thought to ourselves maybe we need to do something to force people to debate substance. Bob was instrumental in developing theory arguments to protect our style of debate, but I can tell you with absolute certainty what motivated us. Some Facebook conversation you had with Ashan that you can’t find doesn’t mean much to me. It also should not be much of a surprise to you that Bob ran a lot of theory when people’s primary strategies against him included purposely buried spikes, NIBs, triggers, etc.

            For some reason people like don’t believe that we want to have a substantive debate. I remember at the MBA round robin a debater came up to Michael Harris and asked him not to run theory. Michael and I talked and decided it was fine as long as the opponent agreed to have a util debate. Michael lost on util triggers presumption. There is a difference between theory being your strategy and needing theory based on how other people choose to debate you.

            Also in the examples you cite (Jacob, or Regan, or Drew, or Sarah, or Kyle) literally the only rounds that I can recall with those people involved them running theory on us (finals of stanford, semis of TOC).

            And that’s what I meant when I said you don’t know what you are talking about.

          • Bob Overing

            John and I would probably know what I debated better than anyone else. Against those 5 debaters my senior year, there was theory in 8 of 15 rounds. They initiated it 4 times, and I initiated it 4 times. When I initiated theory, it was to check NIBS (twice) or ensure counterplan ground (twice).

            Suddenly, the facts don’t fit your narrative.

          • interestinglysaid

            Ouch, jscog! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!

          • interestinglysaid

            wow, I think I just saw a punch.

          • Christian Tarsney

            If (i) my framework represents the true comprehensive account of ought judgments, moral obligations, or whatever and (ii) there are topical impacts to it, it seems like that establishes its topical/real-world relevancy. If by “frameworks that don’t engage the topic” you mean frameworks that trigger permissibility etc I think that’s a separate issue.

            People can be and often are mistaken about their meanings, so while I’d be interested to know what typical English-speakers say when you ask them what they mean by “ought” (and I’m not at all sure what response you’d get), I don’t think it would provide much evidence of what they really do mean.

          • Bob Overing

            I refuse to accept that just because a framework is won in a debate round that it has real-world relevancy. Some views of morality are blatantly inapplicable to certain topics. Just because one provides support for them does not mean they are relevant. More than that, it still may not be predictable or discussed in the literature, and those would be reasons to reject it.

            It is convenient for you that you think people are often mistaken about their meanings. I tend to think that people know what they mean when they say things. I am sure that at least some people mean something like maximizing utility (see John’s comment below for more on this).

            Even if you believe that deontologists/utilitarians are arguing about more than definitions and even if you do not believe ought connotes a comprehensive moral framework, there are people who believe the opposite. In a debate round, all you can do is prove that your view is more fair/educational. You may very well be right that your broad view of ought is correct, but nothing you have said is sufficient to reject the practice we endorse.

          • Christian Tarsney

            Just on the point about mistakes of meaning. That this is a common occurrence isn’t really controversial. Coming up with plausible definitions even of words we use with total competence is often extraordinarily difficult, and first attempts are usually wrong. See the Socratic dialogues for illustrations of how this plays out: Socrates takes someone reasonably smart, asks them to define piety/justice/knowledge/whatever, and it turns out that each proposed definition clearly fails to capture what the interlocutor (or anyone else) means by the term in question.

            In the case of someone who says that by “ought” they mean “maximizes utility,” if there are such people, you can start by asking them about standard intuitive counterexamples to utilitarianism. (“So you’re saying we ought to chop people up for organs?”) There’s an enormous amount empirical data on how people respond to these cases, and they indicate that virtually everyone will instantaneously abandon “ought” = “maximizes utility.” But for the vanishingly small number of people you pull off the street who are actually utilitarians, the next test is how they respond to open question-type sentences like “Why ought I do what maximizes utility?”, or assertions like “You ought to do what maximizes utility.” I’m fairly confident that any English-speaker will hear these sentences as significant (not as questions that indicate linguistic incompetence, like “Are bachelors unmarried?”), and if that’s true then *no one* actually takes “ought” to mean the same thing as “maximizes utility.”

          • Bob Overing

            Just because people would abandon a strict utilitarian ethic when pushed doesn’t mean that it’s not what they mean in a normal conversational sense when using “morality” or “ought.” If you ask if they defend a right to freedom, people would probably say yes, but if you probe them with certain cases/examples, they may back off that claim. Even if people wrongly use the word ought or don’t think deeply about what it means, there’s still a common usage argument to be made.

            If you asked “Why ought I maximize utility?” I doubt you would get an answer that is not tautological or question-begging. E.g. people would say “because it’s the right thing to do.” Why is it the right thing to do? “Because it’s what’s best for the most people.” Most people don’t have deeper warranting like you do in a philosophy paper when they use terms like ought! The inability to give a deeper answer is probably an indication that they do see ought and “maximize utility” as, in a sense, equivalent.

            PS – I take it you’ve conceded that topic lit / field context and topic education can be justifications for this interpretation, and that you are now only defending against the common usage claim.

          • Christian Tarsney

            “The inability to give a deeper answer is probably an indication that they do see ought and “maximize utility” as, in a sense, equivalent.”

            I’m not sure I see this. If you ask people “Why ought you keep your promises?” they might well say “Because it’s the right thing to do!”, and if you ask “Why is it the right thing to do?”, they might well say “Because you promised!” Is this evidence that “ought” means “promise-keeping”?

            Where did I make this concession about topic lit/field context? I thought we were in agreement that there was zero field context for “ought” = “maximizes utility” and that your evidence for its predictability, plausibility, etc was *only* your hypothesis about common usage outside of academic literature.

          • Bob Overing

            I said, “[your definition] has the disadvantage of also including the potential for debates that are completely irrelevant to the topic literature or real world applicability. There are some topics where it makes no sense to defend a particular framework, yet debaters attempt to do it anyway.”

            You said your (i), I responded, and then you only continued the discussion about (ii).

            Re: open question-type sentences, I suppose without survey data it’s difficult to determine whether people are responding circularly because they believe the two terms are equivalent or because they lack external reasons. My intuition tells me it is often the former, and I think that popular dictionary definitions such as desirability/prudence capture this meaning.

          • Christian Tarsney

            “You said your (i), I responded, and then you only continued the discussion about (ii).”

            This wasn’t meant to signify agreement.

            “Re: open question-type sentences, I suppose without survey data it’s difficult to determine whether people are responding circularly because they believe the two terms are equivalent or because they lack external reasons. My intuition tells me it is often the former, and I think that popular dictionary definitions such as desirability/prudence capture this meaning.”

            I don’t have much to add to what Jake’s said about “desirability” definition of ought, except to reiterate that someone for whom “ought” means “desirability” *and* “desirability” means “maximizes utility” would not hear “Why ought I maximize utility?” as an open question, but rather as equivalent to “Does maximizing utility maximize utility?” Since no one does hear the former question as equivalent to the latter, this seems like fairly conclusive evidence that this is not the correct description of their meanings. I still don’t see any reason why this line of argument is mistaken. But since it’s been on the table for a while now, I don’t know if we’re going to get any closer to agreement.

          • Bob Overing

            I was simply pointing out what had been dropped. It’s probably relevant as a strong tiebreaker if argument (ii) is not falsifiable because of a lack of linguistic survey data.

            “no one does hear the former question as equivalent to the latter”

            Once again, you can’t prove this. I think there are people who think the question “why ought I maximize utility” is redundant. When asked further questions, people might fail to give a good answer. You have failed to give a good reason why we would prefer the ‘lacks further reasoning’ explanation to the ‘sees the concepts as equivalent’ explanation.

          • John Scoggin

            I think you have some fundamental misunderstandings as to what is a good theory argument. Just saying “there is more ground” is not generally a great argument. I could give you access to all sorts of meaningless low quality ground and that wouldn’t do much to improve the quality of the debate. The definition of ought is particularly valuable because there is an abundance of literature, specific to the topic, that analyzes the practical/real-world implications of certain policies that the negative can functionally remove from the round by making 7 minutes of philosophical arguments. They can do this on pretty much every topic available.

          • Bob Overing

            I have a feeling Christian is not going to be persuaded by the fact that debaters never have to talk about the topic under his definition.

          • Christian Tarsney

            “I think you have some fundamental misunderstandings as to what is a good theory argument.”

            Entirely possible, and yet strangely undisturbing.

            I take it that a ground argument says either “my interp gives more/better ground to both debaters” or “my interpretation evens out the quantitative/qualitative distribution of ground.” I’ve explained why I think neither of those is a reason to prefer “maximizes util” to a more plausible definition of “ought.”

            And yes, even before your pleasant and helpful correction, I understood that no one thinks limits are an unlimited good. My point is that limits by itself doesn’t look like a very strong reason to prefer an interp, as against all the reasons why “maximizes utility” doesn’t make sense.

          • John Scoggin

            Well limiting is not an unlimited good, but proper limits would be an unlimited good. I won’t lie that was fun to type.

          • John Scoggin

            “So that leaves limits…by which standard, I mean, yeah, “maximizes util” does pretty well, but “maximizes purple toothpicks” does even better, so we should probably take limits with a grain of salt.”

            What? Do you think limits means whatever limits things the most is best?

          • John Scoggin

            “I’m intentionally avoiding the debate about what criteria besides fairness and education might govern the choice of interpretations because, as I say, I don’t really care that much.”

            Ok that is what the H2H was about but I suppose we can talk about something else.

            To really have a discussion concerning the issue on our terms I need to ask a question. If in fact it was more fair and educational to interpret this topic as the previous one you mention why wouldn’t we do that?

          • Christian Tarsney

            “I suppose we can talk about something else…haha just kidding of course we can’t.”

            Fortunately, I already answered this question when Bob asked it. Debating the resolution might be seen as a tacit agreement, or as a constitutive feature of the activity…but as I told Bob, either of those could be wrong and I’m not interested in defending either of them to the hilt. You’ll ask “Why do those things matter?” and I’ll point out that you could ask the same thing about fairness and education, and if you keep asking you get stuck in a regress, and then you’ll say “Fairness and education matter because ‘matters’ means ‘is fair and educational'”…it just sounds like a pretty boring argument to have.

            Remember, my initial point was just that Bob’s 1) is false (i.e. that framework debates are not, in general, debates about the interpretation of “ought”). I take it we’re now in agreement that that’s correct, and that framework debates are at most very rarely debates about the interpretation of “ought” (since this is not what utilitarians, deontologists, etc standardly disagree about). Then the further question is whether interps like “ought” =def “maximizes util” can still be made plausible in the face of what seem like fairly compelling objections. If they can’t, I’ll leave it to you to decide what that means in terms of fairness and education.

    • Debater

      I think that the Rawlsian concept-conception schema might solve this problem and explain what I think Bob means. Essentially, we use the notion of “ought” or “good” schematically to solve the practical problem of what to do. We are confronted with choices, and that forces us to have to answer that problem. Different ethical theories disagree with the content of that solution, the conception of the good or the right. So, ought can “mean” maximizing utility or respecting individuals as ends while at the same time explaining how different groups can disagree. That being said, I think you are right about the lack of philosophers post-Moore who argue for util analytically, assuming you don’t follow in Quine’s tradition and deny that there are analytic truths at all.

      • Bob Overing

        Sure. I think that there is a case to be made for why ought can entail some concept of the good OR some conception of the good based on the relevant context.

        • Debater

          The argument is more that ought entails both. We have a concept of ought that is just a placeholder for the solution to the problem of what to do and we have the conception of ought which gives the content to that conception.

      • Christian Tarsney

        The concept of justice, for Rawls, is plausibly something
        like an explication of meaning, but conceptions of justice are not. The
        preferred conception of justice is not even a necessary truth for Rawls, let alone analytic. If it were, it would be subject to open question objections etc.

        I don’t see the relevance of the point about Quine. If you’re
        a confirmation holist, then of course that’s another reason why moral truths aren’t analytic, but no one’s making that argument.

        • Debater

          I’m not saying that the conception of justice is an analytic truth, only that it might explain what people mean when they say “ought means maximizing utility”. I just wanted to point out that you can make that statement colloquially and still think that moral disagreement makes sense. Korsgaard and Rawls propose a specific method of determining which answer to the question is the best answer, but that isn’t relevant at the moment.

  • Bob Overing

    Thanks to John Scoggin, Adam Bistagne, other Loyola people, and Ryan Lawrence for helping to inspire and craft a lot of these ideas.

  • Martin Sigalow

    Wow that’s a pretty attractive picture of Bob you got there #GDS

  • Guest

    “My position is merely that theoretically justified frameworks, i.e. ones that use parameters as additional or preclusive justifications for the standard, are bad. That does not mean that a debater may not argue that a framework is unfair. Merely, they cannot use theory as a reason to prefer their framework.”

    To be clear, I don’t plan on running theoretically justified ethical frameworks myself. But Sam’s concession that it’s okay to run theory against ethical frameworks undermines his particular rationale for rejecting them. If it’s okay to run theory against an ethical framework, why couldn’t the aff run parameters arguments as pre-empts to theory in the AC? They’d still be saying “prefer my framework theoretically,” and it seems absurd to deny them the right to pre-empt shells that you think are legitimate neg ground. But then again, if debaters have to start pre-empting parameters shells, “Affirmatives will spend less time developing a clear framework syllogism and more time writing theory frontlines.” Either you think shells saying a framework is unfair shouldn’t be run, or you think they should — and nothing changes. There will be less syllogisms and more theory frontlines.

    • AJT999

      I posted this; I just tried deleting it to comment as “Adam Tomasi”, but now it says “Guest.”

    • Martin Sigalow

      This clearly rests on a confusion. Sam doesn’t have a problem with putting defensive preempts to answer offensive negative theory arguments. Sam has an issue with those arguments being sufficient to warrant a framework outright. You can decide to preempt negative theory against your framework, but if the neg does not run theory, you cannot extend those arguments as sufficient to win the framework debate.

      In a sense having to write theory frontlines to defend against theory arguments against your ethical theory does shift time away from developing a framework, but the magnitude of this is much less. Sam’s argument is that people have an incentive to prep tons of theory frontlines and neglect substance if they can always go for theory as a reason to prefer their framework. There is lots of utility to prep theory justifications and go for them in every debate than it is to consistently have to defend substantive justifications for a framework. The utility of theory preempts just as answers to neg theory initiated in the 1NC is much less; if they read don’t read theory on your standard specifically, then you have to defend the syllogism in its entirety. Even if they do run theory on your standard, without an RVI you could win your framework is fair and beat back theory but then lose on the merits of your standard warrants being terrible.

      Discussions good!

      • Sam Mathews

        Thanks for clarifying this, Martin <3

      • John Scoggin

        Bob argues:

        “1) any moral framework is an interpretation of the word ought or a similar evaluative term such as morally permissible in the resolution, and 2) any interpretation of a word in the resolution is subject to debate only on theoretical grounds.”

        It is fundamental that discussion regarding definitions are concerned with fairness and education. If I win that my definition of ought is the most fair or educational and that only my framework follows from that definition that means my framework comes first period. You can make arguments as to why we should use some other definition of ought that allows for more phil debate for f/e but that concedes the fact that the theory question comes first.

        In terms of discussion, because morality is a central component of most resolutions and comes first if you don’t allow TJFs debaters don’t have to talk about the topic. That’s not good discussion.

        • Martin Sigalow

          The only part of my post that this seems to respond to is “Discussions good!” I was answering an objection of Tomasi’s, not throwing myself into this “T=substance” quagmire. I do like discussions though.

      • Emily Massey

        I don’t understand the distinction here between (1) an argument that your framework is more fair and (2) an argument that other frameworks are unfair. If your framework is more fair than other frameworks, that implies that the other frameworks are unfair. They fail to give each side an equal chance to win. So I have the same question as in Tomasi’s initial comment — how can you permit people to run theory as a reason to reject other frameworks without permitting them to put those arguments in the AC and then extend them in the 1AR to take out the neg framework?

        As a side-note, I don’t actually think running theory to take out a framework makes sense, for Christian’s reason and because I don’t see how running a framework under which you have qualitatively better ground is ever unfair, given that it’s reciprocal (seems like this is just good strategy). I just don’t see how the position above is consistent.

        • Bob Overing

          You don’t think that a framework that creates a sufficient win-condition for one debater but not the other is unfair?

          • tlonam

            I think Emily’s point is that a framework, say contractarianism or maybe practical reason, that usually has better ground for one side or other isn’t structurally unfair, because the standard allows for turns and gives both sides an equal burden to win the round, but the ground that exists on a given topic is biased towards one side. Rejecting these standards as unfair is (what I believe) she finds objectionable because they do allow for both sides to generate offense. Its just strategic to choose them because there is better ground for one side than another.

          • Bob Overing

            This line of argument generates two implausible conclusions:

            1) NIBS and other obviously unfair practices would be legitimate, on her view, because they’re just “good strategy.”

            2) A definition that the aff uses to exclude offense would not be structurally unfair, according to you, as long as “ground exists” on both sides.

          • tlonam

            I think the 1) is just obviously untrue, I think a constraint Emily placed on her argument (and that I agree with) is that frameworks that don’t allow equal sides to win, say skepticism, would always be unfair because they are NIBs. A framework, like deontology (lets not quibble over whether or not deont is intrinsically a NIB) that sets up the burden for each side, i.e. to prove some violation of practical reason, gives both sides equal ground structurally; the idea of a turn that generates offense makes sense under the standard in a way that it doesn’t under skepticism. The difference is that skep is actually a NIB, in that the burden itself is necessary but insufficient, and so it is unfair, but that deont isn’t unfair because the standard isn’t actually a NIB, it just happens the turns are better on some topics than others, which makes it strategic – but not unfair.

          • Bob Overing

            You say that deontology makes it easier for one side to win, so it’s just strategic. Why isn’t skepticism likewise just strategic, on your view? What do you think makes something strategic vs. unfair?

          • tlonam

            What makes skep unfair is that it intrinsically alters the burdens in the round, i.e. one debater has to prove morality exists and then that morality requires us to affirm, while the neg only has either morality doesn’t exist or that if morality exists, it negates.

            Deontology, on the other hand, gives both debaters an equal burden, to prove the strongest violation of practical reason. In a vacuum (before we consider this in the context of any given topic that is), this is totally fair because both sides have the same burden.

            My point is that even if there is bad deontological ground for one side on a given topic, that doesn’t make the framework unfair because you can link turns to the framework; It might just be more difficult on some topics than others. I don’t think thats relevantly unfair because the aff chose a framework that meets the general requirement of delineating the burdens for each side fairly, its just an empirical accident (i.e. whatever the topic happens to be) that it happens to affirm better than negate on whatever the topic is.

          • Bob Overing

            That articulation is much better.

            Of course, if we think that defining frameworks is a matter of topicality and that competing interpretations is true, we would be obliged to find the framework where the advantage caused by “empirical accident” is minimized.

            [That’s my #2 above]

          • Paras Kumar

            How many fwk’s per topic would that leave us with? 2? 3? 4? I think how you and john resolve this is key because you don’t wanna narrow the “acceptable (i.e. fair/educational)” fwks down to literally 1.

            Looking back, which fwks do you think would have fit your model of debate your senior year ToC topic? Util? Deont? Contractualism? Emotivism? Contractarianism?

            Also, would it be acceptable to use one slightly less than optimal fwk? So if you decided that util and deont were fair and that’s it your senior year topic, but util was slightly more fair, would competing interps mandate we use util every single time since there’s a fairness advantage?

            Just tryna understand what debates would look like in ya’lls ideal world where TJFs are the norm.

          • Bob Overing

            John might have a different answer than I do, but I tend to think that good T debaters could probably win that ought means “used to indicate moral correctness” or something similar.

            This seems like a question of limits more than anything. That is, a definition that says “just X moral framework” is probably over-limiting. Maybe one that says “just X meta-ethic” is better (Ryan Lawrence concluded something like this).

            Also, don’t forget that debaters can read reasonability arguments.

          • Emily Massey

            No, that in itself isn’t enough to make it unfair. The other debater could run a framework that works in the same way, so it’s reciprocal. Maybe there are problems with specific arguments, such as skep-contracts, but that isn’t just because they create a sufficient win-condition for one debater and not the other; it’s because of something specific to the topic, like that only the neg gets skep ground or something. Even in these cases, artificial sufficiency could potentially solve.

            Anyway, TJFs more often have to make claims about quality of ground, since there aren’t that many frameworks that are structurally non-turnable. And this so-called “substantive abuse” isn’t real abuse at all, because it’s reciprocal (you can run a framework which leans towards your side, too). Also, isn’t it funny that the logical implication seems to be that whoever wins the round, by making arguments that their opponent found too difficult to answer, has been unfair? If both sides have the structural ability to win under a framework, making good arguments that are hard to answer can’t be a violation of fairness.

            More broadly, we need to shed this widely accepted dogma that frameworks must allow equal ground for both sides. A framework is just part of the syllogism of a case, right? It’s ultimately arbitrary where the framework ends and the contention begins — you could theoretically pick any part of the link story. So it shouldn’t matter where the bulk of your turn ground resides. For instance, if I run a constitutionality framework that’s justified through constitutivism, even if you have no good turns linking to the Constitution, you could run turns linking directly to constitutivism. Since it was arbitrary for me to make the standard “consistency with the Constitution” rather than “consistency with the constitutive form of the U.S.,” this shouldn’t make a difference with regard to the fairness of what I’ve done, either.

          • Bob Overing

            I’ve never been persuaded by “you could do it too.”

            I think your second and third paragraphs speak to a problem that’s larger than just theory arguments. My proposed solution would be that we should not view frameworks as 100% exclusive of offense that does not link. Thus, there’s not the same kind of structural abuse that might occur, for instance, from NIBs in the status quo.

          • Emily Massey

            Wait, really? How is “you could do it too” not persuasive? Fairness means each side has to have an equal ability to win. It’s totally relative: you have to have the same opportunities as your opponent. So if you can do the same thing they’re doing, that practice is fair, almost by definition.

          • Bob Overing

            I have a host of reasons, but here’s probably the most important one: can you name one theory argument that “you could do it too”-type logic wouldn’t dispense of?

          • Emily Massey

            Sure, I named one above (skep contracts), but here are some others: all arguments linking to education, resolvability arguments, multiple args for skep bad, neg can’t defend both permissibility and prohibition. These are just a few off the top of my head but there are many more.

            Also, I don’t know why the fact that “you could do it too” answers a lot of theory arguments is a problem. Most theory arguments probably are false, so this doesn’t surprise me.

          • Bob Overing

            So the aff runs ‘skep contracts’ and the neg runs theory. Why can’t the 1AR say “you could do it too?”

            I don’t think anyone would want to vote on an interpretation that just linked to education. I’m not sure why resolvability links to fairness (on your definition – since it affects both sides equally). All the fairness arguments for skep bad could be answered by “you could do it too.” For permissibility, neg can say they’re just making substantive arguments about why permissibility negates; the aff can make the same claims.

            It’s a problem because it probably means nearly 100% of theory arguments are unworkable (except, I guess, those only linking to education, which I don’t find particularly persuasive anyway).

            Here’s another reason. The more complex the burden structure, the less likely that the round is reciprocal. E.g. one framework v. one framework might be fine, but one framework, one a priori, one skep trigger, etc. per side is far more likely to advantage one side. The debater who initiated those structures is doing so for an advantage, and we should always prefer the simpler setup to the more complex one.

          • Emily Massey

            Alright I need to go, so this will be my last response here, but: The point about skep contracts was that only the neg has skepticism ground, so the aff couldn’t run it. Resolvability matters since if the round is less resolveable, the judge is more likely to intervene, so their decision will be less likely to reflect who did the better debating and be more likely to be arbitrary. On an ought topic, it’s just inconsistent with the meanings of the words for permissibility to affirm–neg clearly wins that debate. And only the neg gets skep ground.

            But again, I don’t see why it’s bad for a lot of theory arguments to become unworkable. Since “you could do it too” is a pretty true argument, any theory shell it 100% takes out must have been a false one.

            Your last argument seems just to be a worry that strategy will get complicated if we let debaters do strategic things. Sure, but I don’t see why this is bad.

          • Bob Overing

            The aff can make “skepticism affirms” arguments.

            Resolvability doesn’t give one side an advantage, which is what you said is necessary for an unfairness claim. It also would be odd if sufficient for a theory argument. E.g. A) Interp: Debaters must only run empirics. C) Standard – Resolvability because numbers are easier to evaluate. In any event, if debaters are just limited to resolvability links to fairness on your view, it’s probably wrong.

            On permissibility, debaters have still made arguments for “permissibiliy affirms” on an ought topic. So it’s possible, which you and Terrence have defended as sufficient to prove fairness.

            You can’t just say “you could do it too” is pretty true in the face of implausible conclusions. Debaters could not read a prioris bad, plans bad, or skepticism bad. If your argument gets rid of some of the most common theory arguments (even though I may disagree with them for more substantive reasons), it’s probably wrong.

            Your last comment not responsive.

          • Emily Massey

            Ok, I lied when I said this would be my last comment, but just one more thing because I don’t want to be misinterpreted. I think qualitative ground claims make sense sometimes (like if an aff argued that there are no decent args that permissibility or skep affirm, so they’ll lose that debate every time), just not as a reason to prefer one framework. The reason is simple: with a framework, it’s reciprocal since both sides can run frameworks leaning towards one side that operate on the same level. In the permissibility and skepticism cases (for instance, but the particular example doesn’t matter), the aff doesn’t have something to run on the same level.