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Philosophy is a style of debate focusing around proving the resolution a moral or immoral action. The affirmative proves the resolution morally desirable, and the negative, who defends the status quo, proves the resolution morally undesirable. To achieve this, philosophy cases first establish a framework that describes what makes an action moral, and then they apply that framework to judge the resolutional action moral or immoral.

Philosophy ("phil") is perhaps the most traditional of all styles of Lincoln-Douglas debate. The founding intent of LD was to be a values debate, and the fact that traditional LD follows this framework-contention style of debate is perhaps a testament to that fact. Despite that, the popularity of phil debate is Circuit LD is less than its popularity in traditional LD, since other arguments like policy and kritiks haven taken its place. That being said, phil cases, when ran correctly, can be among the most strategic positions.

Phil debate is largely strategic for three reasons. Firstly, many philosophical positions are strategic against utilitarianism, one of the most common frameworks read in LD. Proficient phil debaters can become very adept at answering util, making it very difficult for their opponents to get recourse. Secondly, many debaters don't understand the nuances of phil debate and as a result, struggle to properly defend their framework against objections. Thirdly, philosophical frameworks provide an alternative way to answering kritiks, and as a result, many K debaters, used to answering policy, are less prepared to defend their positions against phil.

Construction of Frameworks


Framework: A philosophical construct that shows what kinds of actions are moral or immoral.

Contention: Arguments that support why the resolution itself is moral or immoral by appealing back to the framework's conception of morality.

Value: What we should value in the debate round. This is almost always morality, for moral frameworks, or justice, for political frameworks, and is rarely debated.

Value Criterion / Standard: What we should do to be moral.

Syllogism: A chain of arguments, , where being true implies also being true.

Structure of Frameworks

All moral frameworks should attempt to answer the following three questions.

  1. What does the subject look like?
  2. What is the relationship between the subject and the world?
  3. What is the "right-making feature," or in other words, what should the subject do?

Frameworks operate through a syllogism, which means that the three above questions are related and depend on each other. For instance, if we have the wrong conception of what the subject looks like, our previous understanding of the relationship between the subject and the world would be incorrect. That would also affect what we think the subject should (or should not) do.

Understanding the answers to these questions for the particular framework that you are running is vital. These will be the primary interactions that you should attempt to make between your framework and your opponent's. If you can successfully win that your conception of the subject is the correct one, or that your opponent has the incorrect understanding of the relationship between their subject and the world, or that they have the wrong right-making feature, you will almost certainly take out your opponent's standard.

Take the example of utilitarianism. The framework would argue that moral agents are defined by their ability to experience pain or pleasure. Agents relate to the world in that they can inflict pain or pleasure upon other people. Agents, therefore, have a responsibility to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. If you are answering utilitarianism, you could argue that agents are defined by something other than their ability to experience pain or pleasure. Or, you might argue that even if agents are defined by that ability, that doesn't mean they have a moral obligation to maximize pleasure or minimize pain for others.

Common Frameworks

Utilitarianism is likely the most common framework read in LD. Used as the framework for policy positions, utilitarian frameworks center around maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain.

Kant is probably the most popular framework besides for util read in LD. Kant's philosophy centers around recognizing all agents as rational, which implies treating people equally and respecting their freedom.

Hobbes is another popular political philosophy used in LD. Hobbes' philosophy involves recognizing the state as the ultimate source of power and respecting its wishes.

Virtue Ethics is a philosophy centered around turning moral agents into better people by improving their character. Unlike other frameworks which judge actions or right as wrong based on some rule, virtue ethics aims to turn agents into inherently better people.

Pettit, or non-domination, is another political philosophy that provides an alternative account of freedom and attempts to uphold said account. Non-domination is to be free from the arbitrary-interference of another agent to impede upon one's ends, in contrast to non-interference, which is is to be free only if one's ends are not being actively impeded upon.

Contractarianism is a framework that argues agents should respect contracts, or agreements, that they have made with each other. It argues that other frameworks are not binding since people find their own sources of good, and the only achievable goal is to honor contracts so that everyone can achieve what they best want.

Existentialism is a framework largely centered around discovery and meaning-creation. Existentialists would allow people to express and explore their own identities to find meaning in life, without pushing people into boxes.

Levinas is a framework that is focused around respecting the Other. The Other, which represents a person that is not oneself, is infinitely unknowable and deserves respect, and should not be totalized.

Moral Skepticism is not a philosophical framework, as it advocates for the opposite of what other frameworks say! Skepticism argues that it is impossible to be moral, and the quest for moral truth is meaningless.

Determinism, also not a philosophical framework, argues that all actions since the beginning of the universe have been predetermined, which means agents are not morally culpable for the decisions that they make.

Plato establishes that an ideal, perfect, and abstract form exists of any object, and charges us with discovering and attempting to find these forms in our lives.

Rawls is a political philosopher who coined the veil of ignorance, the concept that we should take any action by imagining we live behind the veil of ignorance, in that we know nothing about our personal identity or lives so that personal biases don't influence our thoughts on a particular action.

Hegel establishes the concept of an ethical community, or a community of agents, and charges us recognizing others within these ethical communities.

Pragmatism is an American philosophy that is centered around truth-creation and finding truth. It argues that we learn truth from the experiences we are subjected to, and advocates a philosophy of exploration to further help is attain truth.

Intuitionism is a philosophy that argues moral actions are those that stem from our intuitions.

Particularism is a position that argues that blanket-statement moral statements are invalid without accounting for the particularity of various scenarios. This almost always negates by proving the resolution is too broad of a statement.

Other Concepts

Presumption determines which way the judge should vote in the absence of any offense in the round.

Permissibility determines whether an action should be taken when an action is neither moral nor immoral.

Hijacks are a type of argument used to prove that the arguments used to justify one framework actually justify a different framework.

Induction is a method used to enable one to draw a conclusion based on some supporting observed pattern. This concept is often used in consequentialist frameworks and is important to understand to respond to and make objections to said frameworks.

Act-Omission Distinction is the debate over whether there is a difference between choosing to act or abstaining from acting.

Intent-Foresight Distinction is the debate over whether foreseeing the consequence of one's action means one intends for that consequence to occur.