Permissibility and Presumption

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Important Note

Permissibility and presumption are not the same concept. They should not be grouped together in the form of "presumption and permissibility affirm/negate" because the arguments that justify presumption are distinct from the arguments that justify permissibility. If your opponent does group the justifications for presumption and permissibility together, you should take advantage of that by articulating which of the warrants actually apply to presumption or permissibility when arguing that one affirms or negates.



Presumption determines which way the judge should vote in the absence of offense in the debate round. If neither debater has any offense, the judge would have no way of making a decision. Instead, the judge votes on presumption. If the judge votes on presumption, they would affirm if presumption is said to affirm, or they would negate if presumption is said to negate. Naturally, the affirmative should argue that presumption affirms, and the negative should argue that presumption negates.

There are typically two ways to justify whether presumption affirms or negates: theoretically or substantively. Theoretical justifications will argue that presumption should affirm or negate for reasons based in fairness or education. Substantive justifications will argue that presumption should affirm or negate based on philosophical or textual reasons. It is considered that the theoretical reasons are stronger justifying why presumption affirms, whereas the substantive reasons are stronger at justifying that presumption negates.

Presumption Affirms


[1] We assume that statements (i.e. the resolution) are true unless we are given a proactive reason to deny them. For instance, you would assume that my name is unless you head a reason to doubt me.

[2] The negative's burden is to negate the affirmative. If the negative hasn't met their burden, you should affirm.


Theoretical reasons will argue that since affirming is harder than negating, the judge should vote aff on presumption to compensate for the difference in difficulty. That affirming is harder can be justified through analytical arguments or by empirical side-bias studies that show the negative debaters win more rounds.

Presumption Negates


[1] We only take an action if we are given a proactive reason to do so; otherwise, we would stick with the status quo, which means the affirmative needs offense.

[2] There are an infinite number of ways a statement could be false but only one way for a statement to be true, which means it is more probable the resolution is false.


Theoretical reasons will argue negating is harder than affirming. However, this is typically harder to win because most empirical side-bias studies show that the negative wins a higher percentage of rounds.



Permissibility is a common argument in philosophy debates. The central claim of permissibility arguments is that there is a moral 'middle ground' between an action being obligatory and prohibited. Permissibility occurs when a moral agent can choose whether or not to do an action and retain their moral status regardless of their choice. Essentially, permissibility is what you can do as opposed to what you must or cannot. If the framework being used to evaluate the round is unable to deem an action (i.e. the resolution) moral or immoral, it is said that permissibility is triggered, since the actor in the resolution could justifiably choose to take the action or not take the action and not be in the moral wrong.

Debaters often argue that permissibility either affirms or negates. If permissibility affirms, that means that agents should take action if the framework is unable to generate moral obligations or prohibitions. If permissibility negates, that means agents should not take action if the framework is unable to generate moral obligations or prohibitions.

It is often much easier to win that permissibility negates, substantively, if the resolution is an "ought" statement, since proving the truth of the resolution would require proving that the actor ought to take the action. It is also harder to justify theoretical warrants for permissibility coherently because arguments that rely on side-bias probably justify why presumption either affirms or negates. Instead, you would have to articulate why the fact that one side gets access to permissibility triggers more easily means they should not get access to permissibility itself flowing to that side, but this could be difficult and confusing. As such, it is common for the negative to run strategies that trigger permissibility since it is much easier for them to win.

Permissibility Affirms


[1] Ought is defined as having sufficient reason because all instances of ought are just indexed to sufficient reason in particular contexts (i.e. moral, legal, logical, etc). That affirms since if every reason is equally invalid, that means any reason is a sufficient reason to justify an action.

[2] Negation by contradiction – Both and cannot be true simultaneously, which means proving is false proves true, meaning lack of sufficient reason for justifies .

[3] Freezes action – requiring pro-active justification for all our actions would make it impossible to make morally neutral claims like ‘I ought to drink water’ which means we always assume we can take an action absent a proactive reason not to.

Permissibility Negates


[1] Semantics – Ought is defined as expressing obligation which means absent a proactive obligation you vote neg since there’s a trichotomy between prohibition, obligation, and permissibility and proving one disproves the other two.

[2] Safety – It’s ethically safer to presume the status quo since we know what the status quo is but we can’t know whether the aff will be good or not if ethics are incoherent.

[3] Logic – Propositions require positive justification before being accepted, otherwise one would be forced to accept the validity of logically contradictory propositions regarding subjects one knows nothing about, i.e if one knew nothing about one would have to presume that both the and are true.

Presumption vs Permissibility

Presumption and permissibility may seem similar, but they are distinct concepts.

Presumption is only relevant when there is no contention-level offense left in the round. Permissibility, in contrast, is relevant whenever the framework being used to evaluate the round fails to derive moral obligations or prohibitions, which could easily take place when there is still contention-level offense in the round.

Presumption is an argument that concerns the contention-level offense, whereas permissibility is an argument that concerns the framework-level of the debate.