Pettit, or non-domination, is a philosophical framework read in debate. It asserts that the condition of being subject to the arbitrary will of another agent is unjust, even if the other agent does not actually violate one’s rights. Pettit is a comparatively intuitive and straightforward framework, making it viable in both traditional and circuit debate.
Similar to Kant’s political philosophy, Pettit begins with a typical derivation of freedom as the root of ethics. Freedom is commonly defined as the ability to set and pursue ends – in other words, to decide to act and to then take the action. One justification for freedom is that taking any action or making any decision requires the freedom necessary to do so, making it an implicit good.
Pettit then deviates somewhat from Kantian political theory. Traditionally, philosophy views freedom as a non-interference model, i.e., that one agent’s freedom is violated if another agent limits their capacity to set and pursue ends. This framework, however, focuses on freedom as non-domination. The relationship that allows for interference to be possible is itself unjust. For instance, given a situation in which an enslaver has control over a slave but decides not to exercise their control, non-interference posits that the slave’s freedom is not violated because they retain their ability to set and pursue ends. In contrast, non-domination would argue that the slave is unfree because merely being subject to interference from the enslaver is enough to constitute a violation of freedom.
Applications in Debate
Like many other frameworks, Pettit in debate is more simplified (as well as more radical) than Pettit in true philosophical literature. It is often said in philosophy that only “arbitrary” domination is unjust. Few philosophers would realistically argue that the power a parent holds over a child, for example, would be a moral abomination. However, this distinction is difficult to justify in debate rounds, so some debaters choose to omit the tenet of arbitrariness from their framework and instead label all dominating relationships as unethical. In a similar vein, Pettit is partially consequentialist on a truth level, but debaters often defend it as a purely deontological theory to avoid utilitarian turns.
The contention of the case usually relates to an unequal power dynamic. For instance, for the resolution “A just government ought to recognize an unconditional right of workers to strike,” Pettit on the affirmative argues that striking intrinsically reverses the dominating power structure that workers are subject to in employment, making recognizing it as a right the only moral orientation.
The framework has notable interactions with other positions read in debate. Its deviation from the traditional non-interference model of freedom makes it a viable hijack against Kant, libertarianism, and other freedom-based frameworks. Pettit also interacts well with kritiks because of its orientation against social relationships that dominate agents. This allows for the debater reading Pettit to make a convincing claim that their advocacy resolves the root cause of the kritik.