Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Domestic Violence Resolution - Is the AFF Undefeatable?

Recently I was chatting with another debate coach who expressed concern about the current LD resolution and the frustration of debaters trying to defeat the Affirmative position.  Perhaps they are seeing a trend that Aff is winning more debates than Neg.  In the debates I personally have judged, I have not seen such a bias.  Clearly the idea a victim of repeated domestic violence is morally permitted to exercise deadly force is one that is difficult to overcome, perhaps because we all want to believe that given such a circumstance; such a helpless situation in which it appears there is no other option, one may use deadly force to defend oneself.  Locke argues the right of self-preservation is a natural right and so maybe it is something so basic to our core beliefs regardless of ideological up bringing, we will always want to reserve the right of self-defense.

Natural rights, i.e. a victim has a right NOT to be killed, an aggressor forfeits one's protection under the social contract, i.e. "forfeiture of life" and the principle of double-effect seem, at least in our area, to be winning the day.  Additionally, domestic violence is an inherently emotional issue. One that arouses sympathy for the victim and disdain for the perpetrator.  So how can Neg overcome all the weight which tends to tip the balance - if indeed it does exist?

Hopefully I will be able to provide some help over the next few days.  (Perhaps I am over optimistic since I not researched deeply.)  But first I suggest, the Neg debater clear one's mind of their own bias in this resolution and forget about domestic violence since this is a circumstance and rather, concentrate on the universal principle of killing in self-defense.  One finds there are conditions under which philosophers, judges and juries justify the use of deadly force but are the conditions themselves morally justifiable?  Think about this - can one really say, there was no intention to kill the perpetrator? Can one really say the victim's life is worth more than the perpetrator's? Can one really claim proportionality can be objectively evaluated?

More on this soon.


  1. If you bridge the gap between Justice and Morality, you could argue that it is unjust to kill the attacker because it's not proportional. Lawrence Kohlberg discusses developmental stages of morality, based on Piaget's stages of cognitive development. "Kohlberg determined that the process of moral development was principally concerned with justice, and that it continued throughout the individual's lifetime." Kohlberg lists six major stages of moral development, with five and six being classified as "post-conventional". People in Stage Six "live by their own abstract principles about right and wrong—principles that typically include such basic human rights as life, liberty, and justice"; more specifically:

    "In Stage six (universal ethical principles driven), moral reasoning is based on abstract reasoning using universal ethical principles. Laws are valid only insofar as they are grounded in justice, and a commitment to justice carries with it an obligation to disobey unjust laws. Legal rights are unnecessary, as social contracts are not essential for deontic moral action. Decisions are not reached hypothetically in a conditional way but rather categorically in an absolute way, as in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. This involves an individual imagining what they would do in another’s shoes, if they believed what that other person imagines to be true.The resulting consensus is the action taken. In this way action is never a means but always an end in itself; the individual acts because it is right, and not because it is instrumental, expected, legal, or previously agreed upon."

    Thus, to act justly is to act in a way to build one's personal morality. Though an individual may be a victim of domestic abuse, to truly achieve morality (according to Kohlberg) is to work towards Stage Six. A person who uses deadly force against an aggressor isn't acting in a way that upholds life, and (depending on the definition of justice--say retributive) isn't acting justly by ending the life of the aggressor. Furthermore, the last line in the description of Stage Six is perfect for the Neg because it clearly states that even if a victim may have a legal right or even because others might expect a response, neither makes the individual achieve a moral state. I assume the argument, or at least some sort of observation, has already been made stating that laws are not always grounded in morality, and Kohlberg just reaffirms that.

    I think using Kohlberg means that a victim is still allowed to defend himself/herself, but to deliberately kill the aggressor is neither just nor moral. Since the resolution questions the MORALITY of using deadly force and not the PERMISSIBILITY of deadly force, the Neg should have at least SOME ground to discuss the (im)moral implications of killing an individual.

    As a side note, you conclude with a line that says, "[C]an one really say, there was no intention to kill the perpetrator?" Are some Negs (or Affs?) saying that if a victim accidentally kills the attacker, then there was no intention so you Negate (or Affirm and retain morality based on accidental killing to protect one's own life)? Or did I just misunderstand what you meant? If the resolution says "It is morally permissible for victims to use deadly force as a DELIBERATE response to repeated domestic violence", then I think we have to assume that the victim was intending to kill the aggressor, meaning arguments based on an unintended death that resulted from self defense (and other DDE arguments) aren't topical.

    1. Excellent response Chris. Now I will definitely be looking at Kohlberg. As for your final comments, you did not misunderstand what I said. DDE is being utilized to effect for the Aff position, but questions of topicality are rarely argued in response. One particular analysis affirms that deadly force does not necessarily mean a force intended to kill, just capable of killing if used a certain way. So the victim can deliberately intend to use it in the non-lethal way with the unfortunate consequence of it actually being deadly. The argument traverses a narrow path but it is legitimate.

  2. Looking at my records, I see at the first debate I voted AFF every time, but it was justified. Since then, I've tended to skew AFF but there is a significant number of NEGS, particularly at Sylvania after the breaks. Knowing who was debating what at the final Sylvania round, baring any stupidity on NEG's part, I probably would have picked him up over the stupid Social Contract value I'd just seen in semis.

    Miranda and I spent a lot of time puzzling over the McMahan card you sent. We resorted to drawing pictures of Him with a baseball bat, Her with a gun, and It as generic child in the scenarios. As of page 2, we're both still thinking he's better on the NEG side than the AFF, but it seems McMahan is going to try to justify self-defense. Or self-preservation. As I said - puzzling.


    1. In McMahan's view, there is a difference in self preservation and self defense and the justification for each is unique if I recall correctly.


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