This is the second edition of Full Strat Disclosure. The goal of this project is to provide a free place to discuss and learn strategy from some of the best. Coaches and judges will discuss a case they either wrote or coached and detail the strategic thinking behind it. On this edition, Nathan Cha will discuss his fictionalism NC on the topic “developing countries should prioritize environmental protection over resource extraction.” 

NC:  I will preface this by saying that this case was and will not be the ideal type of case for many judges. While very strategic, there are many judges that will hack against you and/or annihilate your speaks. So if you want to run something like this, pref accordingly. 

To negate means to deny the truth of, so the neg burden is to show it is not the case that environmental protection should be prioritized over resource extraction. Since should[1] denotes an obligation, I can prove the resolution permissible or prohibited, as both would deny the existence of an obligation. And presume neg since statements are more likely false than true since every part of the statement must be true in order for the whole to be true but if one part of the statement is false then the whole statement is false. 

NC: The block of text above is pretty straightforward. It grants me access to both permissibility and prohibition ground. It also gets me access to presumption. The reason why will become more clear as you read the rest of the case. 

Normativity is a fiction, constructed out of a desire to make ourselves feel at ease. Joyce[2],

“The history of moral philosophy can seem a disappointing spectacle. Large tracts of it can be interpreted as thinkers taking their own moral preferences and trying desperately to prove them correct. The most ambitious among them aspire to objective absolute necessary truth for their moral claims. Failing this (as fail it does), various softer projects are countenanced: Perhaps objectivity is asking too much; maybe we can allow that moral truths are in some manner constituted by human practices. Or perhaps absolutism can be dropped; maybe we can be satisfied with one moral truth forus and another moral truth for them. And so on. The theories are plentiful, the convolutions byzantine, the in-fighting bitter, the spilt ink copious, and the progress astoundingly unimpressive. It is a disappointing spectacle not merely because we have so little to show for it after two and a half thousand years, but because this enterprise of self-exoneration can seem immature, as deriving from an anxious need for reassurance. Yet when one reflects on where our moral judgments come from, it appears unlikely that this reassurance will be forthcoming. By the time we take our first tottering steps, each of us is already immersed in a social world rich in concepts like right and wrong, desert (relating to rewards and punishments), must and mustn’t. Our childhood is one grand advertising campaign designed to get us to internalize these concepts and take them seriously – a campaign, moreover, that in all likelihood we are biologically designed to find compelling, because thinking in this fashion helped our ancestors produce more babies than their competitors. And so we do. Nowhere, however, does this account of how we come to make moral judgments presuppose that any of the beliefs in question are actually true (even approximately so). Now, as adult philosophers – being in a position to stand back and see the process for what it is – do we really need to concoct cunning theories designed to earn this missing truth for our moral beliefs? Even supposing this mission to establish moral truth were possible (regarding which the fat back catalog of failed theories cautions pessimism), the motivation to demonstrate that one’s current moral framework the product of a particular contingent cultural setting interacting with a particular contingent evolutionary trajectoryis more-or-less correct (even if only ‘correct for us’) seems an expression of grotesque hubris. Even if this felt need for reassurance is natural, investigating why we feel the need seems the braver course than seeking its satisfaction. But what, one might protest, is the alternative? Surely it is not enough simply to make judgments about what is morally right and wrong (virtuous, evil, etc.) and think no further on the matter; surely these judgments require justification. How can I in good faith make the judgment that something is morally wrong if I cannot also maintain that this judgment is true? And if I’m going to maintain that it’s true then I shall need to be confident that there exists some sensible account of those facts in virtue of which it is true. This is not just some abstruse philosophical quandary; this is serious! There is a very real possibility that no reasonable account can be given of what it takes for a moral judgment to be true. Thus there is a very real possibility that none of our moral judgments are true at all: it is untrue that punching babies is morally wrong; it is untrue that keeping promises is morally better than breaking them; it is untrue that we have any moral duties towards our fellow humans whatsoever.

Thus there are no true obligations and we are free to act as we please, we should not care.

NC: Joyce justifies a branch of moral skepticism called Moral Fictionalism. It is the belief that morality is a convenient construct formed to make ourselves feel like better people even though the content of morality is meaningless. Everything we believe is based on our experiences in life and what we learn as children. However, nowhere do we actually justify whether our beliefs are actually “true” in a normative sense. The truths that we believe are not accessible to many other people and vice versa. The reality is that many people believed this card was a blatant skep trigger at the top of the negative case. Many times, that is what I would label it as. However, this case was just straight up skep. The rest of this case is a red herring and people would invest a lot of time into substance and then I would just extend this card to win me the round. Skep can prove either permissibility or presumption depending on how you want to spin the implication. Either all actions are permissible because morality doesn’t exist OR the resolution is incoherent so we look to presumption.

The only possibility for a suggested course of action is to be guided by some form of motivation and only reasons that are internally generated can cause us to act since externalism, based on others as the sources of obligations, fails. Katsafanas[3],

While externalism captures the non-optional status of moral claims, it faces several challenges. I will just mention two of them. First, there is the much-discussed problem of practicality. Moral claims are supposed to [should] be capable of moving us. Recognizing that something is wrong is supposed to be capable of [should] motivat[e]ing the agent not to [take that action]. But how could a claim that bears no relation to any of our motives possibly move us? As Williams puts it, the whole point of external reasons statements is that they can be true independently of an agent’s motivations. But nothing can explain an agent’s (intentional) actions except something that motivates him so to act’ (1981, 107). Williams’ point is this: if the fact that murder is wrong is to play a role in the explanation of a person’s decision not to murder, then the fact that murder is wrong must somehow figure in the etiology of the agent’s action. But this suggests that, if the fact that murder is wrong is to exert a motivational influence upon the person’s action, then the agent must have some motive that is suitably connected to not murdering. And this pushes us back in the direction of internalism. Second, externalism seems susceptible to a version of Mackie’s argument from queerness. Desires and aims are familiar things, so it seems easy enough to imagine that claims about reasons are claims about relations between actions and desires or aims. But what would the relatain an external reasons statement be? Are we to imagine that a claim about reasons is a claim about a relation between an action and some independently existing value?.”

NC: The tag of Katsafanas was very important. It allowed me to spin Joyce as either a skep trigger or the rest of the case as a red herring because it was intentionally vague as to whether motivational internalism was sufficient to solve the skeptic problem voiced by Joyce. Katsafanas is also a skep trigger. He says that if we do not look to actions that motivate us to act internally, morality is impossible.

Thus, the standard is consistency with internally motivated state actions.

And, the only cogent theory for states is realism, since they can pursue their own self-interest in a system of anarchy. Mearsheimer[4],

[For] any one great power, all other great powers are potential enemies. This point is illustrated by the reaction of the United Kingdom and France to German reunification at the end of the Cold War. Despite the fact that these three states had been close allies for almost forty-five years, both the United Kingdom and France immediately began worrying about the potential dangers of a united Germany. The basis of this fear is that in a world where great powers have the capability to attack each other and might have the motive to do so, any state bent on survival must be at least suspicious of other states and reluctant to trust them. Add to this the “911” problem—the absence of a central authority to which a threatened state can turn for helpand states have even greater incentive to fear each other. Moreover, there is no mechanism, other than the possible self-interest of third parties, for punishing an aggressor. Because it is sometimes difficult to deter potential aggressors, states have ample reason not to trust other states and to be prepared for war with them.”

And my framework is not about the consequences of actions but rather what states perceive to be in their self-interest since that is what guides them.

NC: The next part of the syllogism was Mearsheimer. The standard was basically motivational internalism so Mearsheimer functioned as weighing as to why realism offense comes first under the standard. The sentence after the card functioned to preempt any util turns that opponents might try to leverage against the contention. The framework is all about what we perceive to be in our self-interest so consequences don’t matter. This was also all a part of a ruse since people thought I would actually go for substance. And while I very well could have, I never did.

I contend that resource extraction is an internally motivated state action. Mathai[5],

“[P]ower politics is also a driver of environmental degradation. The possession of power in international relations, whether “hard”, “soft” or “smart”, is sustained in great measure by the size of a country’s GDP. And despite claims of dematerialization, GDP remains correlated to an economy’s “ecological footprint”. The tendency of countries to unceasingly pursue the accumulation of power and prestige in geopolitics is also a driver of environmental degradation. Within the realist construction of international relations countries constantly challenge or seek to maintain the status quo of the global pecking order. This construction predisposes geopolitics to competitiveness and conflict as the default mode rather than cooperation and coexistence. The latter are wished for and talked about glowingly, but the former weigh more on states’ behaviour, planning and economic investments. This competitiveness leaves states obliged to develop their power resources to the utmost, as Jawaharlal Nehru observed in his autobiography. It may be debated whether all countries of the world act similarly (i.e., oriented toward competitiveness and conflict) but among the established and aspiring powers on the world stage or in smaller regional theatres, this remains the norm.”

NC: This card is the contention level offense of the case. It was a pretty strong link to the standard and also pretty easy to weigh against turns.

And, only intentions are relevant since a) consequences aren’t directly attributable to individual agents, but rather to states of affairs themselves. Thus, the only verifiable way to evaluate standards is through intentions. b) ends-based logic is circular because it assumes that past justifies future consequences. However, the only justification for past action itself is past action, which means ends-based logic is entirely circular.

NC: These were two more arguments to preempt util turns. Almost everyone tries to respond to realism with util turns. So to sum up the case, there were multiple ways to access the ballot which I heavily utilized to win rounds and it was very short which allowed to me to add lots of new layers to the debate with lots of turns to aff cases, multiple off cases like Topicality, theory, Ks etc. It also had reasonable shock value at the TOC because very few people knew about moral fictionalism nor did they expect the entire case to be a red herring.


First Result on Google.

[2] “Moral Fictionalism.” Richard Joyce. 2011.

[3] Katsafanas, Paul. “Deriving Ethics from Action: A Nietzschean Version of Constitutivism.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (2011): 1-41.Jstor. Web. 14 Sept. 2011.

[4] Mearsheimer, John. “The Tragedy of the Great Power Politics.” Google Books.

[5] Will the Environment Survive International Relations? 6/28/2013. Manu V. Mathai.

10614229_680863542000757_4790590609207986535_nNathan Cha debated for three years at Randolph High School in New Jersey. His achievements include winning Newark, quarterfinals at Harvard, finals of the Penn Round Robin, and octafinals of the TOC. He will be attending NYU and coaching Bronx Science in the fall. 

If you are interested in participating in this project, message Ben Koh on facebook or email premierdebate [at]