Dec 23, 2006

"the same": a tricky part of the January-February LD resolution

Defining the terms of the resolution is a requisite step toward success, both in argumentation and in your thinking about the resolution. As I see it, the phrase that presents the greatest difficulty is "the same."

Let's see how.

"Resolved: The actions of corporations ought to be held to the same moral standards as the actions of individuals."

1. Sameness = numerical identity.
According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
Numerical identity requires absolute, or total, qualitative identity, and can only hold between a thing and itself. Its name implies the controversial view that it is the only identity relation in accordance with which we can properly count (or number) things: x and y are to be properly counted as one just in case they are numerically identical (Geach 1973).
Numerical identity would be a difficult, if not impossible, position for the affirmative to uphold. For example, a prohibition on adultery would scarcely seem to apply to a corporation.

2. Sameness = qualitative identity, or correspondence
Back to the SEP:
Things with qualitative identity share properties, so things can be more or less qualitatively identical. Poodles and Great Danes are qualitatively identical because they share the property of being a dog, and such properties as go along with that, but two poodles will (very likely) have greater qualitative identity.
Regarding the resolution, each moral standard would have an equivalent. This seems to be a defensible position for the affirmative. Using the adultery example from above, a corporation would not engage in any conflicts of interest--remaining "faithful" to its shareholders. This presents some difficulties, though, when it comes to applying punishments.

Given the basic ways "the same" is defined, what should the negative do in response?

1. Set out a list of moral injunctions that individuals ought to be held to. They'd have to be fair expectations, widely acceptable, with defense of your choices.
2. Define "same" as quantitative identity (and, on defense, show how "qualitative identity" permits slippery definitions, "no bright line.")
3. Show the absurdity of applying one (or all) of those moral injunctions to the actions of a corporation, thus refuting the resolution.


Andrew Bailey said...

If I was still in high school doing LD, I would have loved to stumble across these posts of yours... =)

Jim Anderson said...

Hey--feel free to post your own, Mr. Professional Philosopher Guy.

Anonymous said...

What do you think about arguing that moral standards do not exist and therefore holding actions of corporations and individuals to "the same" moral standards is actually holding them both to no/zero moral standards? feasible?

Jim Anderson said...

Clever, but dangerous, anonymous. The word "ought" in the resolution could imply the existence of moral standards of some stripe, as the neg would certainly argue in response.

How I'd phrase it: "If moral standards do not exist, then there's nothing we 'ought' to do, and the resolution is negated."

Anonymous said...

For neg what do you think about saying that morality changes in each time and culture, therefore you can not uphold something that is consitently changing?

Jim Anderson said...

anonymous, that might work--but what value / criterion structure (if you'll have one) will you uphold? The Aff will argue that whatever value you choose suffers from the same problem, whether it's justice or democracy or what have you.

Anonymous said...

Remember that saying "no bright line" is not an arguement if it is not explained what you mean.

I like the idea of no moral standards, but the judge may not be ready for that arguement and may not understand it.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what value and criterion to use for morality doesn't stand. Any ideas?

Anonymous said...

ok, so the resolution doesn't specify:

WHO is doing the holding? is it the government? it the people? is it just any old person? or maybe it's everyone?

i mean, who is holding the actions of corporations to the same moral standard as the actions of individuals?

since it doesn't specify, should i just use what i think it is? or is there some obvious answer that i don't get? because it really make a difference. if it's just the crowd it can mean anything. but if it's the gov. that makes this more about laws and justice.

If anyone has any help they can give, please feel free to reply.

D. Fay said...

I'd say it's a bit of a stretch to say anything in LD is "obvious". I know I personally have been banging my head against this keyboard for days trying to organize my thoughts into some semblance of a cohesive argument, to no avail. In response to your post, though, here's a line of reasoning my coach and I have been discussing. Critique away, ladies and gents, because at this stage, constructive criticism is more than welcome. I'm just testing the waters with this one.

Morality is defined by Merriam Webster as "a doctrine or system of moral conduct", with "moral" being defined as "conforming to a standard of right behavior". Our resolution implies that there is a moral standard for individuals and corporations alike to be held to, but the definitions above, with phrases like "a doctrine" and "conforming to a standard" imply there is more than one. So how are we to decide which should be upheld for individuals or corporations in the first place, with the many conflicting standards out there? Which can be universally accepted and, more importantly, which of these can bind everyone to it, let their actions be "held" to it equally? The answer has already been provided by society. Law. Society, with the govnerment as its enforcer, has recognized that there are conflicts on many issues, like the morality of pre-marital sex or same-sex couples, which can seem absolutely right to one person and absoltutely wrong to the next, with no real gainsaying factor on either side. Society has seen this, and therefore it has codified those standards which are universally seen as immoral, such as murder and rape, in law. The others can almost be considered a moot point in this issue, because who can really hold somebody to every moral standard? Things that some people see as perfectly harmless, like drinking alcohol or caffine, can be violations of the moral codes of others.

I think I can already see a couple of flaws with that, but it might be a start. Any feedback would be more than welcome. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I like the comment that the resolution does not specify who is doing the holding. I like that idea. But what I like to know is it moral to produce products that harm the consumer... I mean honestly how can it be held to a moral standard (if they exist)if it is hurting someone

Anonymous said...

(I apologize if this is a repeat because im not sure my first posted) Any way I really like the argument that who is doing the holding and i think it could work. None the less i would like to know is it moral when held to moral standards (if they exist) to produce a product that causes harm. If anyone could reply that would sure help. 0(*,*)0

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous, your comment confuses me a bit. If moral standards exist, then it is certainly immoral to make something that harms someone (if the same moral standards apply to individuals and corporations).

However, the corporation (or individual) must be directly responsible for the harm. Building a rocket to go to the moon: probably not immoral. Using that rocket to launch a nuclear weapon toward Canada on a whim: probably immoral. If I bought the rocket under false, harmless pretenses, then turned around and used it for evil, there's no way the corporation could be blamed.

Or is there?... (cue scary music)

Does that help? Or are you arguing something different?

Anonymous said...

why would "the same" be so hard for the aff to hold?

why would moral standards have to have an equivalent. couldn't it be equivalent to itself and thus be applied to both corporations and individuals. I can say that i am using "the same" moral standards to weigh each entity, but its how i implement them that are different...right?

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous, you'd have to carefully distinguish the two concepts. Intuitively, if I tell someone, "The moral standard is to not steal," but then I say, "But I punish women and men differently," I have to justify why each deserves different treatment, and why the assignment of punishment is not in itself a moral standard.

Anonymous said...

right. but the resolution is focused solely on how we judge actions, not how we respond to them

a standard is only a tool used to evaluate something; it cannot determine an appropriate response

so analogically saying that "i punish women different from men" is irrelevant to achieving/negating the resolution

Jim Anderson said...

Finally I see the assumption that underlies your reading of the resolution: "a standard is only a tool used to evaluate something; it cannot determine an appropriate response." That's the kind of clarification I was looking for, and I think it's quite defensible.

Anonymous said...

why thank you, i feel honored :)

but still the question remains, can numerical identity still be put in the neg?

i did so seeing how incredible i found the definition of "same", but i don't know how to actually...use it

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous, at that point, I think the neg could show (with a definition of "numerical identity") that the actions of corporations can't be mapped onto (or are not coextensive with) the actions of individuals. A corporation can't commit adultery, can't covet, can't betray a friend, and a host of other moral standards humans break every day. If their actions are only analogous, why should they have identical standards?

ameda said...

ah...thats ingenious...thanks for the clarification

tiff said...

This is really interesting.

I thought that "corporations" is the most difficult part.

Cuz it may refers to "companies", "government", "juridical persons", or simply "a group of people."