Jan 15, 2007

value and criterion structures for the January-February LD topic: the actions of corporations

If you're going to run Aff or Neg on the "actions of corporations" resolution, what should your value and criterion be? Reader Soccerbud points out that most of the things I've written about the topic so far discuss the subject either implicitly, briefly, or obliquely. This post should change all that.

The following are value and criterion structures I've either heard in rounds or thought about. As always, fire away in the comments. Critique these or suggest others. (Updated 1/18/07).

Affirmative Value / Criterion Structures

V: Societal Welfare
C: Utilitarianism

The resolution concerns actions as the focus of moral concern. Thus, a consequentialist framework. Utilitarianism works for any moral agent, since it looks at results rather than focusing on the agent's inherent properties. It's not necessary to show that a corporation is morally on par with an individual, only that the actions of corporations are morally on par. Utility is broad enough to cover both.
Strategy for Success: Be sure to show how Util leads to SW. Watch out for the "50.01% can kill 49.99%" response, an oversimplification of Util. Learn about the nuances and varieties of Utilitarianism.

V:Societal Welfare
C: Morality

Simple: morality is good because it holds society together. (There may be social contract implications lurking beneath the surface of this structure.) If we uphold morality, we have to uphold it for all moral agents, including corporations.
Strategy for Success: Some argue that the resolution doesn't require any particular moral theory. Fine. Be ready to defend all sorts of moral systems, then, if you go with a generic criterion. Also, if you're going to claim a benefit--"societal welfare"--you'd better have a darn good argument why morality is either a necessary or sufficient condition. If the Neg can show that SW can be achieved in the absence of morality (especially when applied to corporations), your V/C is hosed.

V: Morality
C: The Categorical Imperative

According to Kant, moral actions are good in and of themselves. Furthermore, Kantian theory applies to all rational agents, which, it can be argued, corporations are. Thus, corporations and individuals both can adopt the Categorical Imperative as their moral guidepost.
Strategy for Success: Many people misunderstand Kant and the Categorical Imperative, so make sure you do the research first.

V: The Common Good.
C: Deliberative Democracy.

The resolution concerns the moral aim of society, and the balanced or opposed interests of individuals and corporations. If Delib D. is the moral means to the common good, and corporations threaten Delib D. when they are granted different moral standards, then we ought to hold them to the same standards as individuals.
Strategy for Success: Requires quality research and a quality debater. Not for beginners.

Negative Value / Criterion Structures

V: Freedom
C: Capitalism

Let corporations exist free of the fetters of morality. Take the stance of Milton Friedman: The profit motive yields good results. Capitalism makes the world a better place, since it respects and allows for individual and economic (and, some argue, thus political) freedom.
Strategy for Success: Watch out for those liberal judges who get a blister whenever libertarianism enters the room.

Update: Reader Nicole writes,
I think my biggest argument against this would be to take a hard-line Objectivist stance on it: that corporations are still held to individual standards because Capitalism is not a wild card to do what you will, there are still codes of conduct that you must abide by that are inherent in conducting in a fully Capitalist manner. Rand contends that in order for a corporation to fill its goals (profits) and to have the beneficial impacts (individual/economic/political freedom) actions must still be conducted in an ethical manner, because otherwise all you have are a bunch of people running around screwing
other people in the name of gain. Objectivism also contends (and I know this is a fairly common argument at the moment) that all rights of corporations go back to the rights of the individuals. Peikoff esplains it fairly well when he states:
'A corporation is a union of human beings in a voluntary, cooperative endeavor. It exemplifies the principle of free association, which is
an expression of the right to freedom. Any attributes which corporations have are attributes (or rights) which the individuals have - including the right to combine in a certain way, offer products under certain terms, and deal with others according to certain rules, instance, limited liability.

An individual can say to the store keeper, "I would like to have credit, but I put you on notice that if I can't pay, you can't attach my home - take it or leave it." The storekeeper is free to accept these terms, or not. A corporation is a cooperative productive endeavor which gives a similar warning explicitly. It has no mystical attributes, no attributes that don't go back the rights of individuals, including their right of free association.'
To me (being an Objectivist and a libertarian) it's always funny when Objectivism can be used to fight its modern interpretations--that capitalism is a blank slate for action.
To that I would add, this block only works when you're running an Aff compatible with Objectivist morality. If you're running "societal welfare" or another more communitarian standard, no dice.

V: Morality
C: Coherent Moral Standards

For moral standards to be upheld, they must be coherent, otherwise we have no grounds to uphold them--or, on the other side, to be held to them. By showing that corporations and individuals are ontologically different and that it is incoherent to apply individual moral standards to them, we thus show that the resolution threatens the concept of morality itself.
Strategy for Success: Whenever you defend a difference between corporations and individuals, make sure it is a morally significant difference.

V: Morality
C: Moral Agency

For moral standards to be upheld, they must applied to moral agents; in other words, moral agency grounds any notion of morality. By showing that corporations are not moral agents, we show that the resolution simply does not provide for a moral outcome.
Strategy for Success: This is similar to the previous strategy. It requires patient and careful argumentation that there are fundamental differences between corporations and individuals. Don't adopt an "only humans are moral agents" standpoint. It's too restrictive--for example, it's conceivable that Mr. Spock could be a moral agent, even though Vulcans aren't human. (Conceivable to a philosopher-nerd. But that's you, isn't it?)

V: Societal Welfare
C: Nihilism

Recounted here:
Nihilism, as the first of the loss of ideals, may be a state of hideous anarchy, but it is also the necessary transition to health. If, instead of relapsing into the idealistic source of evil, the eyes of mankind are strengthened to look boldly at the facts of existence, then will take place what [Nietzsche] calls the Transvaluation of all Values, and truth will be founded on the naked, imperishable reality.... When a man has faced this truth calmly and bravely and definitely, then the whole system of morality which has been imposed upon society by those who regarded life as subordinate to an eternal ideal outside of the flux and contrary to the stream of human desires and passions -- then the whole law of good and evil which was evolved by the weak to protect themselves against those who were fitted to live masterfully in the flux, crumbles away; that man has passed Beyond Good and Evil.
Strategy for Success: If you don't understand Nietzsche (way to be sure: you can't spell "Nietzsche" without peeking), and if your judge isn't hip, don't run nihilism. And, as a general rule, no Nietzsche before noon.

[Still a work in progress. Your comments are appreciated.]


brad said...

I am really having trouble with the V/C structures. Do you think that (as NEG) I could use Morality as a value and Equality as a criterion?
I would argue that there is a fundamental difference in the actions of corporations and individuals, and therefore the same moral standards do not apply. (equal morality for equals, different for different)I would also, hopefully, be able to define "same".

Also, another strategy for NEG. (This one assumes they make the mistake of not defining corporation. Maybe I'll get lucky.)
I define corporation as "A group of people combined into or acting as one body." (It is likely that they will have been arguing corporations as the business entity, even if they never defined it.) I could then argue that:
-if they said the only goal of corporations is profit, I counter with nonprofit corporations, the military, churches...
-if they argue corporations deceive the public, exploit the poor, I counter with "That is the exception. You cannot apply that to corporations in general, just like you can't call humans murderers, even though they exist."

Jim Anderson said...


Your first strategy seems sound. I would be careful about the criterion, though. Use "moral consistency" or "consistent moral standards" or "moral equality," which are more specific than just "equality." "Equal morality for equals" is defensible. Aristotelian, too.

As to your other strategy, I'm not sure it's necessary to have such a broad definition. (It's also bad to count on ill preparation--better to be overprepared on your side!) Instead, if they argue that "the only goal of corporations is profit," then you have a nice turn. Then you say, "So it's obviously unfair to hold them to a moral standard, since they are set up to be essentially a-moral.

If they argue that corporations deceive, ask "So what?" Why does it mean that we should apply a moral standard to them--or, more to the point, *the same* moral standard?

brad said...

For the Aff, do you think it is possible to argue that individuals are not held to moral standards? I would be sure to take time to emphasize difference between laws and moral standards, I would show that individuals and corporations are the same (Supreme court, rights, maybe a good definition if I find one...), and would be arguing that corporations should be held to the same moral standards, which is none.
This would mean that to counter this, the NEG would have to provide some universal moral standard. (Could I then ask them in cross-ex why this moral standard couldn't be applied to corporations IF if were so effective? Unless they came up with something good, they would be kind of undermining their case to counter mine)

I just keep coming up with all these weird ideas...

brad said...

Just a few more things:
Would it be possible to have a post and subsequent comment thread for key definitions (with the sources, and links if possible) and maybe even strategies for how to use them?
I am just something of a definition nut now, since I won a few times because I used their definitions against them or defined all the terms they didn't.

Also, my school might be getting some first-time debaters this semester. Are there any particular sites that you would recommend for research that wouldn't be too hard for them to understand/find/use ?(Stanford Encyclopedia of Philo. is probably out)

Jim Anderson said...

brad, weird ideas are good. (Your second one about key definitions I'm taking to heart.)

Your "no moral standards for both" position is interesting, but the way you word it is troublesome.

First, that humans *aren't* held to a moral standard is a question of fact, but the resolution is a question of value: they "ought" to be.

Second, the resolution says "ought." All the neg has to show is that "ought" implies a moral standard, and thus the Aff that argues for no moral standards is nonresolutional.

Third, the law does coincide with many moral standards. "Do not lie," says morality. "Do not commit perjury," says the law. If I saw your case on the Neg, I would argue that it is internally inconsistent.

Travis Boren said...

One affirmative I have seen is:
V: Equality
C: Egalitarianism

The person I saw run this won in finals at that specific meet. I think it was mainly due to the fact that he was a minority and he tricked his opponent into saying the majority was more important, and his opponent was white, so the judges may have thought he was racist. Still, it is good to consider.

One I ran on negative:
V: Rational Self-Interest
C: Ayn Rand's Objectivism

Does not seem to make sense. Also, I'm sure plenty of you have insults for objectivism, but hear me out. I define Rational Self-Interest and how it is a necessity for morality. Then I go on to say that moral standards actually violate morality because of the Objectivist deffinition of morality that I use. Lastly, I say focus on the world "held" and showing how the resolution also violates morality.

I lost that round because I faced someone who used Kant's Categorical Imperative and I hadn't done enough research on it, and that's why the judge made him the victor.

Also, quick question, does anyone know a resource I could use to find out what each latin root means? Specificly because I want to use the attack that "nihil means nothing and nihilism believes in nothing being able to be determined, which is illogical and irrational".

Jim Anderson said...


Interesting suggestions. As far as the last part goes--determining what a word means by its etymology--you should be able to find the root of a word in any good (print) dictionary, and even online, say, at dictionary.com. (Their def. for nihilism is a case in point.)

However, you risk sounding dumb if you apply etymological analysis without serious consultation. Words' meanings change over time, so a word that originally meant "mute" ends up meaning "stupid." (Dictionary.com says you can "thank the Germans" for that linguistic confusion.)

brad said...

How does this sound for a structure for the NEG:

V: Justice
Cr: Moral Equality

I would argue the (morally significant) differences between individuals and corporations. I would argue that in order to uphold justice, we must recognize these differences and therefore should not hold corporations and individuals to the same moral standards.

Jim Anderson said...

brad, I've seen a couple cases run (and fairly successfully) with that structure. A common Aff response is that even though the agent is different, the standards--which are often defined as "guides to right conduct"--are the same. The "holding to moral standards" is the assigning of guilt or blame rather than the process of punishment. The Neg must then either show that it's a distinction without a difference, and therefore still negation, or that upholding moral standards is about more than just assigning moral blame.

Anonymous said...

I have a question. I'm fairly new to LD, so I'm not quite sure of what I'm doing yet. I was going to run Morality & Kant's Categorical Imperative on Aff, and I saw you said about how Kant's theory applies to all rational agents. How would you prove that a corporation is a rational agent?

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous, I've written a bit about that here. However, to add to that, you would prove that a corporation is rational by applying the same criteria of rationality to a human and to a corporation. Consider the wiki-view of "rational agents:"

A rational agent takes actions which, given his or her knowledge of its environment, maximizes its chances of success.

The action a rational agent takes depends on:
* the agent's past experiences
* the agent's information of his environment
* the actions available to the agent
* the estimated benefits and the chances of success of the actions.

All of those seem readily applicable to the corporation.

arguingwriter said...

I had a question about your V/C structure for
C:Coherent Moral Standards.
You mention the concept of morality, but what is the concept of morality?

Jim Anderson said...

arguingwriter, it would be useful to offer the normative definition as described by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons."

Why this would be good, of course, would be up to the debater to explain.

Anonymous said...

V: Morality
C: The Categorical Imperative
how would you prove that corporations are rational agents?

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous, by carefully comparing the decision-structures of a corporation with the definition of rationality (such as the one posted a few comments up).

ameda said...

hmm...for v/c: coherent moral standards,

lets assume that I prove corporations to be ontologically different, how would that link to negating the resolution?..

...i can rebuttal that an action is an action no matter who the actors are.

how can i defend coherency then?

Jim Anderson said...


If you argue that "an action is an action regardless of who the actor is," then be prepared to discuss why the actions of robots ought to be held to the same moral standards as the actions of humans, or the actions of dolphins, or the actions of hurricanes. Otherwise, the word "actor" implicitly presumes some sort of ontological sameness on a moral level.

If I hit you in the head by throwing a rock at you, that could be immoral. If a hurricane hits you in the head by throwing a rock at you, could that be immoral as well?

Anonymous said...

how do we prove what is coherent and what isn't? Like, assuming that coherency means like...clear and logically linked how do we say what is logical or not? because like morality itself, there are no guidelines to prove it. would putting a burden upon the neg to show who determines what is coherent relevant to the topic?

Jim Anderson said...

anonymous, when something lacks coherence, it contains mutually contradictory propositions that do not "hold together."

It is incoherent to speak of a moral agent that cannot choose, for example, in any moral theory that depends on rational choice for the establishment of moral agency.

"Coherent moral standards," then, are moral standards that do not contradict each other, and are thus able to be obeyed or held to.

Travis Boren said...

When you are using Kant, try to make a link between deliberation and introspection. Introspection is what Kant uses as a main term behind the Categorical Imperative.

PL1149 said...

For the 50.01% can kill 49.99% response, you can just bring up Jeremy Bentham's Rule Utility, correct?

Jim Anderson said...

pl1149, if you can show how Rule Utility would lead to an outcome unlike the 50.01% offing the 49.99%, then sure.

Classic utility would have a counter, too, though; it could argue that by killing nearly half the population, the ill effects would vastly outweigh any potential pleasure for the killers, for two reasons: the victims would lose everything, and the perpetrators would have to live with massive guilt, a certain pleasure-destroyer. (I'm sure there are other better objections, too.)