Understanding the Value Criterion (a.k.a. the Standards)

Added on by Henry Zhang.

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A value criterion or standard in debate is something by which we compare the effects or impacts of an action. One of the most poorly understood aspects of the debate, even the most advanced debaters have trouble understanding the nuances of the debate surrounding the standard.

Like most things in debate, the standard is something that in round you will have to argue about. Thus, understanding the function of the standard and what role it serves can be hugely advantageous for your eventual success.

What purpose does the standard serve?

The importance of the standard is based on the fact that much of the debate in Lincoln-Douglas is centered about very vague ethical questions concerning morality and justice. While there are many points of issue on any particular topic, such as the death penalty, there exist even larger philosophical questions that have been unresolved for thousands of years. Given that philosophers have been debating about what morality actually is for such a long time, there is bound to be a lot of ambiguity and confusion when you argue that something is moral.

The standards serve to clear up this confusion. In establishing the framework and the standards, as a debater, you state very clearly what your definition of morality is to resolve at least some of the ambiguity. However, something like morality is still extremely broad, and while something may be moral in one sense, it can easily be immoral in another. Thus, in the standards further clarification is necessary and an explicit criterion is needed to provide a clear indicator of when something can be labeled moral.

How is it set up?

In general, the standards are separated into two parts, the value and the criterion. Each of them have their own nuances but together they form the basis for a clear framework for evaluating the impacts of arguments.

The Value

The value is very often a vague ethical concept that is somewhat universally recognized as good. If there are different interpretations of what your value could mean (such as procedural versus distributive forms of justice), then the value is when you should provide clarification. The purpose of your value is to define what is most relevant in terms of the resolution.

In terms of the debate, there will usually be little contention over what the value of the round should be. Normally the resolution will explicitly use a word like moral or just as some sort of a qualifier. If your value is inconsistent with that of your opponent, in general it's not too much of an issue. Most terms for something ethically good are really synonyms. Only if your position (and criterion) are inconsistent with your opponent's value should you invest a lot of time in that debate.

The Criterion

While the value is something very vague and abstract, the criterion in contrast is focused and specific. While in your analysis surrounding the value, you can give clarifications as to what specifically your value means, it is still probably something very general. In order to aid the process of the debate, the criterion gives a very concrete, measurable way of determining what's good and what's bad. A common example of a criterion is one of saving lives. The number of lives saved by the death penalty is something that (arguably) could be measured while its morality clearly cannot.

The majority of your arguments responding to the framework and standards in general should be focused on responding to the criterion. There are many different ways to determine what is good, and as a result there are different advantages and disadvantages to each criterion. Consider how inclusive or exclusive a standard is - if a standard is saving the President's life, then arguably killing everyone but the President is moral. Also look at how effective it is at measuring impacts of arguments. These are some starting tips, but these issues will be covered more in-depth later on.

(For more framework debate resources, including competition-ready philosophical frameworks and responses, check out the Free Framework Repository and the Philosophy Master Toolbox.)