Oct 25, 2010

value and criterion pairs for the illegal drugs resolution

The NFL LD resolution for November / December 2010 offers many options for frameworks.
Resolved: The abuse of illegal drugs ought to be treated as a matter of public health, not of criminal justice.
The following list--a work in progress--should be taken as a set of suggestions. You might have better ideas, and you know what you know, and what you'll need to research. If you have any brilliant ideas or questions, feel free to share in the comments.

I've separated the pairs into three groups.

Trending Affirmative

V: Justice (defined as "to each their due," or a similar concept)
C: Retribution
Some varieties of retributivism match well with the Affirmative argument that drug abuse itself is not a crime, and hence punishing it is as such is immoral. For the dissenting view--that drug abuse could represent a violation of "equal liberty for all," and its punishment justified on retributivist grounds--see here.

V: Liberty or Autonomy
C: Mill's Harm Principle
Liberty is the basis of human rights and flourishing. Its close cousin, autonomy, precedes any sort of societal or law-and-order consideration, because it is the foundation of human rights and societal order. If the Aff can show that drug abuse is a separate moral matter from drug manufacture or trafficking, then people have a right to hurt themselves through drug abuse. (If they hurt others, we already have justification enough for punishment.)

Trending Negative

V: Health or Societal Welfare
C: Paternalism (via Utilitarianism)
One Aff strategy will be to declare that drug abuse is a "victimless crime." To a paternalist, this is irrelevant; the state has a responsibility to keep folks from harming themselves. (A utilitarian justification exists: one's suffering, or even lack of productivity, inevitably affects society.) The danger, of course, is a slippery slope to tyranny. A paternal state is seldom satisfied with the limits of its power.

V: Societal Welfare
C: Upholding Moral Standards
Morality is good because it holds society together. (There may be social contract implications lurking beneath the surface of this structure.) If the core value of a society, then we are justified in punishing those who commit offenses against morality.
Strategy for Success: This criterion respects differences across societies, since the resolution doesn't specify any particular society. However, it also leaves one open to the attack that morality is difficult to define and agree upon, even within a society.

Could Go Either Way

V: Societal Welfare
C: Utilitarianism
The utilitarian theory of criminal justice is based on the beneficial outcomes of punishment: preventing future crimes through deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation. However, in the wider context of utilitarianism, punishment is counterproductive if its costs outweigh the benefits. Any statistical argument about treatment outcomes or deterrence is most likely utilitarian in nature.

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 Utilitarianism. Learn about the nuances and varieties of the moral philosophy. They're worth exploring.

V: Human Rights / Justice
C: International Law / International Human Rights Norms
Since the resolution does not specify a particular society, we can't be 100% certain which rights must be protected. Best, then, to look to the prevailing standards of international law--the rights that people across societies, cultures, and even times have agreed are essential. Is this criterion open to attack? Certainly. But it also presents a clear, highly defensible set of rights (and jurisprudence as evidence). It's worth looking into the international perspective on drug offenses, and whether it supports a public health or a mixed approach.

V: Justice
C: Rawls' first principle of justice (or, more generally, the Rawlsian social contract)

V: Justice
C: Equal protection of the laws

V: Human Rights
C: Locke's Social Contract

V: The General Will
C: Rousseau's Social Contract

V: Justice (defined in terms of morality)
C: The Categorical Imperative
According to Kant, moral actions are good in and of themselves. Furthermore, Kantian theory applies to all rational agents--criminals and law enforcers alike. Those who punish criminals are bound by moral obligation to punish them to the fullest.
Strategy for Success: Many people misunderstand Kant and the Categorical Imperative, so make sure you do the research first.

V: Justice / Societal Welfare
C: The Rule of Law
The Aff could argue that criminalizing drug abuse leads to a War on Drugs, that dehumanizes drug abusers, empowers criminals, sets children against parents and parents against children. This diminishes respect for the law, which is the closest approximation to real justice in a given society. Further, diminishing the rule of law has wider social consequences. (Or, on the Negative, would decriminalizing drugs via a public health approach do the same? Do we risk a slippery slope to drug-fueled, soporific anarchy?)


Anonymous said...

Would saying that the abuse of drugs should be treated as public safety be saying that drugs should be legalized, because they should not be in the criminal justice system?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I understand this whole balanced neg approach you and others on this blog have been commenting about using. Since the resolution states: "Illegal drug use should be treated as a matter of public health and not criminal justice." Wouldn't the neg be: "Illegal drug use should be treated as a matter of criminal justice and NOT public health" Maybe I'm missing something but that seems to clearly show that neg can't argue for BOTH criminal justice and public health. Thanks for the help

LA Coach said...

Anonymous 2:
The Negative's burden is not to prove the reverse of the resolution, just that the resolution isn't valid or "correct" on its own terms. The affirmative must argue for a primarily (or exclusively) public health-based model. The Negative, in turn, can argue for any approach that doesn't focus on public health over criminal justice. They can argue for criminal justice specifically, argue that a balance between the two is best (demonstrating that public health shouldn't be preferred) or argue for an independent rejection of the resolution through a resolutional critique. All three would demonstrate that the resolution should be rejected and that the Negative side should receive the ballot.

Jim Anderson said...

First Anonymous, abuse of illegal drugs would be decriminalized. The resolution makes no claims about drug trafficking, manufacture, etc.

Second Anonymous, what LA Coach said. Also, a better way to rework the resolution, for the Negative, is to add the phrase "It is not true that..." at the beginning.

Anonymous said...

As a novice, I'm confused about some of these pairs. Could you please explain to me what an Aff Retribution Case would look like? Also what an Aff Categorical Imperative Case would look like? I wanted to do something about how the abuse of drugs is not a legal issue and people have the legal right to harm themselves, which sounds like the Autonomy/Mill pair, but 1. I can't think of enough to say for three contentions and 2. I don't know anything about Mill's Harm Principle. The first one is the main factor. I can think of more to say for a util. argument, but I'd really rather run something else because util. doesn't sound very fun/original. So basically, I don't know what to say for three contentions about Autonomy/Mill, and I don't understand Aff Retribution and Aff Categorical. Thanks!

Jim Anderson said...

1. You don't have to always go with three contentions. I know that may be debate heresy, but two strong contentions, in my mind, are better than three mediocre ones.

2. The Aff retribution case, essentially, is based on the idea that we punish crimes, and only crimes, because they deserve punishment. (The Kantian spin, for the Categorical Imperative, is that we have to be able to universalize the maxim that the guilty--and *only* the guilty--should be punished.) If drug abuse is inherently not a crime, then it is inherently wrong to punish it in the criminal justice system. Alongside that, of course, is an argument *for* a public health approach: educating citizens / offering treatment so they will make better choices of their own volition (a key component of Kantian ethics).

3. The "harm principle" argument is that drug abuse (again, the abuse itself, and not related crimes, which are punished on their own merits) is a victimless crime, and therefore it is illegitimate for the state to punish drug abusers through the criminal justice system. See here for a quick summary of the principle.

I'm not sure what to say beyond that, since I'm not in the business of writing cases (nor do I have the time to). If you email me contention ideas, I can provide feedback.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I did!

Anonymous said...

First, you are all very helpful to novice debaters such as myself!

I know for my Aff case I want to use human rights as my value. However, I am struggling with finding a Criterion.

Can you please explain to me how you could run the Value of Human Rights with the Criterion of Locke's Social Contract? Thanks!

Jim Anderson said...


Well, you'd focus on the rights that Locke thought important (first among them "natural rights"--life liberty, and property (or "estate"), and on why those rights are essential, and where they come from, and how societies are supposed to protect those rights. When it comes to warranting your criterion, you need to explain why Locke's perspective is both relevant and fits with the resolution.

Which of those rights are potentially violated by punishing people (or coercing them into treatment) for the abuse of illegal drugs? Answering that question would be one of the keys to your case.

Anonymous said...

Just found this: I think taking thsi would be cool for this student.


Its about morality...

PA Debater said...


1. Your blog has always helped me out, and I'd like to thank you for always giving my team and I a jump start on on the topic

2. I'd like to center my affirmative around moral responsibilities, specifically the ones a government has to its entire constituency and to specific individuals. However, I think I might be getting moral responsibility and moral obligations mixed up. Although there is sufficient evidence explaining each, I can't seem to understand what the difference between moral responsibilities and obligations.. Additionally, I can't seem to wrap my head around the concept of moral responsibilities.

Any help would be awesome!

Jim Anderson said...

PA Debater,

In common parlance, the terms are interchangeable (since people use "responsibility" to mean "obligation;" see the third definition here.)

In philosophy, the phrase "moral responsibility" usually refers to a stance take toward an act already taken, or a failure to have acted when one was obligated. See the SEP for an example of that kind of definition.

So it would depend on the literature you're reading as to whether the phrases are synonyms. My guess: they probably are.

Anonymous said...

With the value of Autonomy and criterion of Mill's Harm principle what could some possible contetions be? I think that Autonomy is a new and unique way to view this topic and I think it has a lot of potential.

Jim Anderson said...

There's some nuance distinguishing autonomy and liberty; Mill's traditional argument is probably more in line with the latter--liberty connotes freedom from restraint--than the former. Autonomy is more than just self-rule in a sense of "I can do what I want." It connotes "I know what's right and I do it freely."

So I've modified my writing above to reflect the distinction. Autonomy might swing Negative (if the Neg tries to show that drug abusers have abnegated their autonomy).

Anonymous said...

What are some contentions for John Locke's social contract for affirmative?

Anonymous said...

For the negative how would one form a case by say that the drug accicts have abnegated their autonomy?

Anonymous said...

what would be like an example of a contention for the retribution aff case? im really confused. how would you punish someone w/o the criminal justice system if thats what retributivsm basically is?

Anonymous said...

I'm rather confused by the idea of the Harm Principle. I read the wikipedia page that you have a link to, but I still don't fully understand. Is it basically saying that the only time someone can be punished is when there is a victim or a potential victim? If this is true, what would happen if the Neg. argued that the drug user themself was the victim?

Anonymous said...

Would the value of societal welfare work weel in conjunction with the criterion of the Harm Principle?

Jim Anderson said...

First Anonymous, the case would probably revolve around concepts like the proper limits of government power (with a nod to the War on Drugs, perhaps), and law as the instrument of the common good (and how a public health approach exclusively achieves this).

Second Anonymous, you'd argue that they've ceded their autonomy to a substance, an addiction, and that the state is justified in restricting their liberty. If they can't be a "law unto themselves" (the essence of autonomy), then they are either tools of apathy or anarchy, and a danger to the health of the community in either instance. Forcing them into treatment is essential to restoring their autonomy.

Third Anonymous, the affirmative retribution argument is to show, on the one hand, that criminal justice is an inappropriate response (punishing a non-crime, which is unjust under the primary principle of retribution). The only just way to prevent drug abuse, then, is to take a public health approach.

Fourth Anonymous, as Mill states, "Over his own mind and body, the individual is sovereign." The person who wishes to harm only himself is beyond the reach of the law. Thus, the state has no authority to punish drug abusers, since it would be a way of coercing someone who has willed a behavior that harms no one else.

A libertarian following Mill's argument will point out that giving the state that much power inevitably leads to tyranny.

(Regarding Mill's "sovereign" claim, a feminist / communitarian kritik might be a nice Neg response.)

Jim Anderson said...

Fifth Anonymous, well, since Mill himself was a utilitarian, justifying liberty in instrumental terms (since it is essential for human flourishing), I think you could definitely link the two.

Maxx said...

I'm confused as to how drug abuse could represent a violation of "equal liberty for all."

Maxx said...

Also, could you possibly list the titles of some of Kant's essays that discuss the importance of education/treatment? I would appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

Where can you find good warrants? I can't find anything.

oceanix said...

Negative Utility is a fine criterion for the aff, especially when partnered with justice. It's a form of utility that states that the most just action is that which prevents the most suffering. Addicts are clearly suffering, so we must prevent addiction. It would be unjust to do otherwise.

Jim Anderson said...

Maxx, if society has agreed that it is against the law to abuse drugs, that means that law-abiding citizens willingly do not take the liberty to abuse them. When someone does it anyway, they have taken advantage of the law, and of others' willed denial of liberty--and so society is warranted in punishing them.

Kant, to my knowledge, has no writings directly regarding drug abuse. In 18th century Prussia, the drugs of choice would have been tobacco and alcohol--and neither was illegal (nor seen as unhealthy, at least not in moderate quantities).

Kant's thinking on autonomy and the rational will is perfectly appropriate for this resolution, however. It's probably best to focus on summaries of Kant's work--his writing, in translation, is quite dense and difficult.

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr. Anderson,

Before I begin I would like to thank you for posting the suggestions in this blog; they have proven quite helpful in constructing my arguments. I have a question regarding possible value/criterion pairs for my affirmative argument. Throughout my constructive, I have primarily used contentions focusing on the economic benefits of treating the abuse of illegal drugs as a matter of public health. However, I am currently having difficulty finding an appropriate value and criterion for this style of argument. I would be grateful for any recommendations that you would care to offer regarding suitable value/criterion pairs for this primarily economics-based constructive.

Thank you again for your help.

Jakob said...

Could you run a whole neg case on the fact that jail is a much more effective deterrant than rehab? Maybe use Public Health for a value and (?)Deterrance for a criterion?

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous, economic arguments are a narrower form of societal welfare / utilitarianism, usually. One makes the argument that the only objective, definitive measurement of societal health, from the government's perspective, is economic stability and prosperity--and that these are foundational to all other social goods (imagine it as a "Maslow's Hierarchy of Governmental Responsibilities," with liberty as the ultimate goal, but first we gotta have stability and prosperity).

So, either a utilitarian or contractualist (governments are bound by their social contract) framework could be effective for you.

Jakob, that would also be a utilitarian-based argument. It may even be true that jail deters more people from abusing drugs than the natural consequences (loss of jobs, friends, family, etc.) of drug abuse.

However, the Aff is going to come back with a utilitarian argument that the costs of enforcement and imprisonment--and the fact that the threat of punishment keeps abuse underground, even leading to death, in the case of overdosing addicts (or their friends) who fear arrest if they seek help--are much greater than the value of the deterrent. So you'd better have solid stats for the larger picture, not just the matter of deterrence alone.

Anonymous said...

First of all, thanks for V/C pairs. This resolution is pretty confusing, and your blog definitely helps.

So would it be effective to rebut the harm principle criterion with the argument that claiming abuse is a victimless crime, while selling and manufacturing are legitimate crimes, is hypocritical? If the affirmative promoted autonomy, yet supported punishment for things like drug possession, would that be a contradiction? And could this point be used to force affirmative to support complete legalization? Or is that outside the scope of the resolution?

Jim Anderson said...

I like the strategy of trying to find a "fork"--a few choices that the Aff is forced into, and none of them good. Answering your last question first, though, I think the fork can be avoided. The resolution (absent any kritik) presents illegal drugs as a given. With that in mind, the Aff can't argue (in my view) for full legalization within the scope of the resolution. However, the Aff can argue that it's a good first step toward a more just world.

In other words, they can't / don't have to argue for legalization, but neither do they have to argue against it.

Anonymous said...

I'm writing my first one by myself. Is there any advice you can give me on anything? I really need help(:

SarahBear53 said...

I used Mill's version of Liberty and his Harm Principle for negative and it worked Beautifully.
The idea for me using harm prinicple was from the part of his book, 'On Liberty' that says that the only reason that power can be put directly over an individual, without his consent, is to reduce harm to society. Since illegal drugs harm the family unit, the most basic part of society, then the Harm Principle works for negative.

Anonymous said...

okay so i am a novice for Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg Ms. and i need a good value and criterian. could i use saftey as a value? if so what would be a criterion. and can i use the same for the neg and aff?

VA debater said...

Mr. Anderson -

I really want to use a CV VC pair of justice & the social contract for my neg case. I understand what the social contract is, but I can't seem to connect it back to the original resolution about the abuse of illegal drugs. I saw it as a value criterion pair on your post, & just wanted a little clarification to start my case. Thank you for any additional feedback.

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous, safety is a decent value, although it might lose out to justice in a value clash. (A society that values safety above all will likely turn out tyrannical; see below.)

For the Neg, a communitarian perspective might be an interesting way to promote safety, since it gives the government more responsibility to promote the greater good / positive rights, as opposed to the mere negative rights of classical liberalism / Mill's stance.

VA debater, on the Aff side, the social contract ties the government's hands when it comes to abuse of power, so you could use contentions about slippery slopes to a War on Drugs, the surveillance state / 1984, and victimless crimes, among others, when arguing that public health, as opposed to the coercive nature of criminal justice, is a just response to drug abuse.

On the other hand, for the Neg, the argument might run that society also reserves the right to punish criminals as the law defines them--and drug abuse is / ought to be a crime.

Anonymous said...

So, with regards the point about retribution, how would one go about defining abuse and showining it is not an inherent crime? I'm confused as to how to approach this.

Matze said...

Hello Mr. Anderson,

I really like the retributive framework for the aff but I don't know how to incorporate public health into it. I understand that I can prove criminal justice is the wrong approach to drug abuse. However, do I also need to prove that the public health approach fits in with retributive framework? If so, how would I do that?

Thanks for your help

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous, by arguing that ingesting a substance and harming only oneself is not a crime. Or, instrumentally, arguing that punishment for drug abuse, since drug abuse is self-inflicted, must also be self-inflicted (voluntarily quitting drugs, seeking treatment, etc.), or, at most, a matter of family pressure, public shaming or censure, and moral education.

Similarly, when it comes to punishment, retribution via government is necessary to (and justified by the necessity to) keep citizens from seeking personal vengeance / vigilantism, but one seldom seeks vengeance on oneself, so there's no need for the state to intervene in the case of a "victimless crime."

Matze, good question. I think there are a couple ways you can use retributive logic in a broader Aff case.

One is to use Kantian arguments--we can't punish drug abusers as a deterrent, because that would be to use them as mere means to an end, and to unjustifiably violate their dignity; rather, we should treat them via public health, which respects their dignity, and helps them fully utilize their rational autonomous will, a central tenet of Kantian ethics.

Another is to use Aristotelian-ish teleology to argue, functionally, that the purpose of government (the agent of action in the resolution) is to promote general welfare. Thus, within that framework, the purpose of public health is curing ailments (like drug abuse), while the purpose of criminal justice is retribution. Using the latter to punish drug abuse would then be not only unjust, but a category error.

Yet another would be to have justice as a value, with principles of retribution as a side constraint--a "floor" of negative rights, with a "ceiling" of positive rights.

Or use retribution as one half of a dual criterion.

If anyone else has a better answer, go for it.

Anonymous said...

how can you argue that the use of illegal drugs is not illegal in the retribution aff case?

Jim Anderson said...

As I did just above, arguing that while the manufacture or distribution of those drugs could be a crime, the abuse itself isn't a crime.

Anonymous said...

Would a criterion of "Maximization of Economic Prosperity" work with a value of Societal Welfare? The theory is that you can't have SW without economic prosperity, however, economic prosperity can be measured more quantitively (which choice creates more workers, which ends up costing the government less, etc.)

Jim Anderson said...

It certainly can, although, as you are probably already anticipating, it faces the argument that prosperity isn't sufficient for welfare--or that you can have average prosperity while only a few really benefit (i.e., the situation where 1% of the people control 90% of the wealth).

Anonymous said...

Hi, and thank you so much for helping novices like myself; I was just wondering, if my value premise were minimizing harm, what's a potential value criterion? I'm essentially running an anti-racism/criminal justice is biased toward the poor/victimless crime sort of case.

Jim Anderson said...

Well, it seems to me that "minimizing harm" is actually a criterion (a form of negative utilitarianism), with a value of justice or or individual rights or societal welfare.

Incidentally, it's generally said that an institution is biased against something it treats unfairly.

Anonymous said...

for the aff side, if i want to use societal welfare as my core value and dont want to use what you gave as can go either way, what would be 2 more good criterion?

Jim Anderson said...

Feminism or communitarianism.

Anonymous said...

Why feminism the right for women???

Anonymous said...

Okay, please explain how the aff solves, public health is very vague, how would I argue that it is better than using the criminal justice system if there is no real mechanism... I mean what model would I use... like rehab... but that doesn't work since it is part of the criminal justice system. So what would the aff try to prove works?

Jim Anderson said...

First Anonymous, check out Gilligan's ethics of care as a starting point.

Second Anonymous, rehab doesn't have to be part of the criminal justice system. Also, public health can employ needle-sharing / harm reduction programs, educational outreach, community-based treatment and interventions, and more.

Anonymous said...

how would you argue autonomy as neg, im supposed to research it but it makes no sense because the public health is public health not coercive public health

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous, the Neg might argue that drug abusers have ceded their autonomy to a substance; therefore, to help them recover their ability to "self-govern," we have to first--forcibly--get them clean.