Although there are a variety of values and criteria for debaters to select from when formulating their cases, two of the most prevalent in LD debate are utilitarianism and deontology. Often used as both criteria and as values in LD, these are two time-honored philosophical positions that apply to a wide variety of topics. All LD debaters need to be familiar with these competing philosophies in order to be consistently successful in competition.
Utilitarianism: Utilitarianism is an ethical system that is most often attributed to philosophers such as John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham. Utilitarianism believes that the most ethical thing to do is to maximize the happiness within a society. Utilitarians believe that actions have calculable outcomes and that ethical choices have outcomes which lead to the most happiness to the most members of a society. Utilitarianism is thus often considered a 'consequentialist' ...view middle of the document...
Deontology holds that some actions are immoral regardless of their outcomes; these actions are wrong in and of themselves. Kant gives a 'categorical imperative' to act morally at all times. The categorical imperative, in its most widely used formulation, demands that humans act as though their actions would be universalized into a general rule of nature. Kant believes that all people come to moral conclusions about right and wrong based on rational thought. Deontology is roughly associated with the maxim 'the means must justify the ends.'
The conflict illustrated: A classic example illustrates the conflict between these two ethical systems. Suppose an evil villain holds you and ten other people at gunpoint and tells you that she will kill all ten of your fellow prisoners unless you kill one of them yourself. You have no doubts about the veracity of the villain's threats; you believe fully that she will do as she says she will. Therefore, you have two options. The first option is to kill one of the ten people to save the lives of the other nine. The other option is to do nothing and watch the villain kill all ten people. Utilitarians would most likely conclude that you should kill the one person because it has the most beneficial outcome. Deontologists would most likely conclude that you should not kill the one person because killing another person is wrong as a universal moral truth.
Utilitarianism's answers to deontology: Utilitarianism's first answer to deontology is to say that there are no 'universal moral truths.' Such truths are difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain. On the other hand, the benefits and disadvantages of actions are much more easily calculated. Thus, rather than relying on amorphous, vague moral truths to guide action we should look to more concrete ways of determining the ethics of a particular act. Also, utilitarianism would argue that deontology leads to morally untenable outcomes, such as in the example above. Utilitarians would argue that the outcome of ten deaths is much less desirable than one. Thus, we should always look to the ends rather than the means to determine whether an act is ethical or not.