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We had an interesting discussion about various definitions of the words and phrases in the resolution; domestic violence, deadly force, and deliberate response. Trying to understand what exactly was intended when the resolution was written brought to mind an old book and subsequent movie called "The Burning Bed", based on the true-life story of a battered housewife who killed her husband by pouring gasoline and igniting the bed upon which he was sleeping. The housewife was later found not guilty by reason of insanity. So the issue then comes to one of the most important phrases in the resolution, "morally permissible". The idea of something being permissible basically means it is allowed, but that begs the question, allowed under what authority? Does permissibility arise from the fact the act is moral, implying all moral acts are permissible, or does it arise from an external authority like society?
One's approach in answering that question will probably be the single most important factor in establishing the case framework.
Does Legal Mean Moral?
I suppose people of a society would assume their legal codes reflect the moral code of the society as a whole and so it would seem that things which are legally permissible are also morally permissible. But one does not need to look too deeply to find examples where this assumption fails. At one time in the United States, slavery was considered legally permissible but we agree it is not morally permissible to enslave another human being. But the issue of permissibility goes much deeper than that. In some societies, honor killings are considered legally and morally permissible. Honor killings may even be considered a form of domestic violence. But in most societies, honor killings are viewed as morally reprehensible. In my opinion, the debater must be vigilant for arguments which are based on legalities as opposed to morals. Societies hope their legal codes reflect the ethical norms of the society but it should not be assumed unless one holds to a framework there is no moral right or wrong apart from that established by the majority.
In the obscenity case Jacobellis v. State of Ohio, argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in the early 1960s, Justice Potter Stewart was famously quoted as saying (paraphrased) hard-core pornography is hard to define but "I know it when I see it". The same is true of morality. Its hard to define but each of us has a standard which demarcates right from wrong and moral behavior would be right behavior. By implication permissible behavior is that we deem to be right behavior. Determining whether or not an act is morally permissible requires the establishment of an ethical philosophy.
Anyone who has any appreciable LD Debate experience has probably already been exposed to the common ethical philosophies of deontology and consequentionalism. Deontology, supports the idea of a rules-based ethical framework which establishes universal code of conduct that can be rationally known. For example, and most well known, is Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative which provides three standards one can apply to determine if a course of action is not only morally correct, but morally obligated. Conversely, consequentialism is an evaluation of whether the ends justifies the means. Under this philosophy, an action can be justified if it maximizes a desirable result for the greatest number of people.
I think another interesting approach, though perhaps not commonly known to many LD judges, is the principle of pragmatic ethics. This tends to shift the burden of ethical behavior from the individual to society and establishes an ethical framework in which moral standards are relative and tend to evolve in such a way that all of society advances morally. Pragmatic ethics provides a good explanation for how something may be deemed acceptable in a given time and later deemed unacceptable as the morality of the society progresses. It also provides a convenient link between moral code and legal code, in my opinion, pragmatism can argue that changing laws are a true reflection of how ethical norms advance.
Affirmative will advocate that it is morally permissible to intentionally use deadly force against a person given the conditions set forth in the resolution, namely, as a victim of repeated domestic violence. I personally believe, the Aff must be fully prepared to advocate the "burning bed" scenario in which the victim carries out a non-confrontational attack against the abuser. Those situations in which the victim, acting in self-defense, repels a physical attack with deadly force will not be the principle issue of the debate as I think Neg will have a difficult time arguing an act of self-defense is not moral permissible. Therefore, it seems, Aff must present a moral justification for killing or intending and attempting to kill an abuser and one possible way to do this, is show the victim is essentially acting out of self-defense as is often advocated in "battered woman syndrome" type cases. Nevertheless, the best cases, I would think, will avoid the legal, psychological and medical issues and establish an acceptable moral framework in which such acts can be justified on strictly ethical principles but this would take a really skilled case. Aff will face numerous studies which refute the grounds of the psychological or medical factors and must contend with Neg absolutist moral framework which may claim that killing is immoral under any circumstances. Here are few suggestions for affirmative arguments:
- People have a right to protect themselves if society does not
- Self-defense is a legitimate response to domestic violence
- Allowing deadly force elevates the issue of domestic violence as public concern
- It is permissible because it does not harm the public interest
- Domestic violence is a threat to society
Like any other LD resolution, I think the best course of Neg is present its own framework and then attack the Aff framework. Neg may choose to take an absolutist approach and claim that killing in general is wrong and killing under these circumstances is particularly wrong. I also believe, it would be perfectly legitimate for Neg to argue that allowing such behavior harms society. Utilitarian principles are used to establish laws under which society operates and it is impossible to legislate parameters such as, the frequency of the violence and the degree of the violence, which constitutes a justification for deadly force. It is difficult to decide when deadly force exceeds proportional justice. In other words, would all forms of deadly force be acceptable if such actions are permissible? It would also be legitimate to argue that alternative actions could be taken rather than kill the perpetrator but I do think that suggesting such alternatives opens up a rabbit-hole which may push the debate away from the core moral permissibility debate. Some possible Neg contentions:
- Killing is never justified
- Allowing deadly force harms society
- Deadly force is not proportional justice
- It violates the right to due process
- There are better ways to handle the problem