Sep 15, 2008

a basic approach to the permissible killing resolution

If you're absolutely stuck, here's a way to begin.

1. Choose a system of morality. (This is probably your criterion, if your case is set up simply; make your value "life" or "justice" or whatever the point of that moral system really is.)

2. Determine why and how system of morality permits killing an innocent person to save others' innocent lives. (Or, if you're negating, why it doesn't.)

3. Explain why, in 2-3 main points. Use lively--and, if possible, real-world--examples to give your arguments color.

And when it comes to the other side...

4. Look closely at your opponent's moral system. Here are some questions to consider. (Adapted from Brad Hooker's article, "Ross Style Pluralism and Rule Consequentialism.")
a. Is it internally coherent?
b. Does it match with what we know about human nature, through psychology, economics, biology, etc?
c. Is it generalizable to all people everywhere? (If not, why not?)
d. Does it provide a clear standard for action?
e. Is it warranted (justified)?
f. Is it intuitive?


bert said...

Hey, nice profile picture. I like the stump. Does permissible killing apply to trees too?

Jim Anderson said...


Phorly said...

Do you think that it would be a good strategy to go conditional on the Aff? ie avoid an ethical theory and focus on the fact that the words "morally permissible" mean that the resolution would be true if at least one example of the resolution would be true? All the ethical theories that I see have way too many gaping holes in them to be of much use, in my opinion. Even Kant seems to be pretty easy to refute by pointing out the enormous inconsistencies throughout his theory.

I'm just wondering if there are any alternatives as aff or neg to avoid defending these huge ethical theories (I've read up on both consequentialism and deontology, and neither of them appeal to me at all.)

Jim Anderson said...

anonymous phorly
1. Conditionally affirming is a prima facie reason to negate, at least if the tournament is using NFL rules, which require that the resolution be affirmed as "generally true." One-flaw cases are unfair at the outset.

2. Still, all is not bleak for the Aff. Remember that there's a shared burden of proof. The affirmative has to prove it "morally permissible," but the negative still has to show why it is not morally permissible. There are three basic tactics here. One is to set up a different moral scheme, and say that it defeats whatever framework you're espousing. Since every moral scheme has its flaws, then, you can respond defensively--you just have to out-rebut.

Another is to argue that the moral conclusion doesn't follow from your premises. If you're running a Utilitarian aff, for example, the Neg might argue that the resolution is false because we have to consider all the consequences of killing an innocent, not just the immediate life-for-lives tradeoff.

The last, and riskiest, is to attack the resolution without propping up a positive view of morality, or by denying that morality exists or can be defined or is absolute. However, a savvy Aff can argue that if there is no morality (i.e., if someone is a nihilist or a moral relativist), it's as good as saying everything is morally permissible, and the resolution is true, even if vacuously so.

Anonymous said...

i need value for moral reletivism

Anonymous said...

Moral Relativism does not belong in LD debate and I don't think Jim should have "advocated it."

Jim Anderson said...

anonymous, I don't really advocate it, but affirmatives have to be ready for it. I've seen it run. Usually very badly.

A skeptic, I would have said...

A few questions:

Moral relativism --doesn't-- have a place in LD? May I ask why such a definite dismissal?

Does moral relativism involve amorality or the lack of a consensus concerning morality?

Anonymous said...

@Jim Anderson

I meant the term 'advocate' lightly hence the double quotes.


Moral relativism is where the negative argues that the affirmative is "imposing" values. For example, an affirmative argues for the preservation of natural rights. A moral relativist would say something on the lines of "What about people who don't believe in natural rights? How can the affirmative dictate what is moral?"

My definite dismissal of it comes from the fact that If moral relativism is accepted as a true idea in an LD round, no decision would be possible. How could a judge decidebetween two competing value systems with no overriding value to judge by?

It is just abusive and I would not hesitate to drop anyone running a neg purely off a relativist stance.

Anonymous said...


1st of all, thanks so much for this website... it's been really helpful in getting ideas for my case.

2nd of all:
I have a teammate who is new to debate and is trying to use Autonomy as his value (I believe for aff). I looked it up and, though I don't completely understand it, I don't see how it would work... it seems irrelevant.

I really don't want to see him crash and burn his 1st time, so I was wondering if anyone understood it and could explain to me the concept of Autonomy so I can figure out how to explain to him why it won't work.

Thanks so much!! =]

Courtney said...

Would it be possible to run moral relativism as a criterion on Aff? I was thinking of upholding that morality differs from situation to situation, but the one thread that makes these individual circumstances "moral" is that they choose the path upholding life.

Here's the draft of my explanation...I was adament that I was going to run it as a VC, but now I'm not so sure. I don't think I will, but I'd just like to hear opinions on if it would be possible.

"Moral relativism holds that there are no universal codes of morality, but rather that the value of human life is paramount to all other values. There no absolute rights and wrongs, only varying situations that serve as a guide to what actions will benefit the common good, and what actions will harm the common good."

I'm feeling extremely iffy about what to run on both Aff and Neg. I advanced at almost every novice LD tournament last year, but the resolutions were more concrete, and I didn't use a lot of philosophy.

Sexy Beast said...

Autonomy is in fact a very viable for LD debate. Besides being listed in the Baylor Brief LD handbook, which is universally accepted, it works hand in hand with Mills Harm Principle, is a much more compelling alternative to absolute freedom, and finally, with the harm principle as your criterion, establishes the limit for government power.

Autonomy literally means the right to self rule. Because it is the one thing we are guaranteed absolute ownership over, we ought to be allowed to do as we wish with our own body. In order to maintain a sense of order, then there must be a limit on autonomy. And that's were the Harm Principle kicks in: it establishes this limit. If a states power violates that criterion, then such an action is immoral because it violates autonomy. Consider the following resolution.

Resolved: Laws that protect citizens from themselves are justified. The negative could negate with a value of autonomy and a criterion of Mills Harm Principle, which states that

"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any individual, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, whether moral or necessary, is not sufficient reason for violating this principle."

Mill essentially states that a person can do whatever he chooses to his own body, so long as doing so doesn't harm others.

The negative will thus argue that since the affirmative violates the criterion by interfering with the autonomy of an individual who is harming no body but him/herself, then the resolution is not justified and therefore must be negated.

Hope this helps!

Sexy Beast said...

Oh, and Courtney:
I do like your thought process behind the moral relativism argument. This implementation of M.R. is much better than the negative kritik version, as it actually provides a logical argument.

However: A savy negative will say that "because my opponents criterion upholds that morals have no real ground and are arbitrary from person to person, then we see that we must negate. We must negate based upon the fact that if we use my opponents criterion, then no action is ever justified, because moral relativism tells us that what I may find justified, she may not. Therefore, because my opponent cannot prove that the resolution is Justified as a general rule, we must negate."

...That's pretty much how I would turn your criterion. And that's why M.R. probably isn't the best criterion, it would be better to go ahead and use utility, if your arguing that the resolution saves more lives. Which it does.

Again, hope this helps!

ambyy said...

what do you think of running a Jesus case or using him as an example (he was killed to save the lives of more innocen people - Christians)? How about a case stating that people came from animals so you would make your case around animal protection? I know the last one is a bit of a stretch but it seemed interesting.

Anonymous said...


While I agree that both of your case are "interesting" I don't think religion has any place in LD... if you brought up Jesus it would just become a religious debate, which obviously isn't relevant to the resolution.

As for the animals debate... I think it's just a bit "out there". What would you use as your V and C?? How could you uphold it since the resolution specifically mentions "person" and "people"??

Sexy Beast said...

I totally second wishing.

Sorry to be harsh, but both are big no-nos. NEVER bring up the bible in a LD round. I could be wrong, but I believe that because it is so arbitrary, religion is against the un-writen rules of LD.

Sandra said...

Since LD is a theoretical debate, shouldn't we instead not use real-life examples, because they would give the debate more biased arguments?