I consider utilitarianism to be a narrow standard, because even
though lots of different things have impacts to wellbeing, the standard assumes
that consequences (in terms of wellbeing) are all that matters. Deontological standards
that exclude all consequences are also narrow standards. The default framework,
I think, should be a wide framework according to which consequences matter, but
are not all that matters.
Some would object to this view on the grounds that a standard
must be either exclusively ends-based or exclusively means-based.
I believe this claim originated as a theory argument (“Phil
Spec”) in 2007. Since then, it has grown into a kind of conventional
wisdom. I’m not sure whether people accept it because they mistakenly think
that non-consequentialists don’t care about consequences; they seem to
reinforce each other. I have also heard people justify this view on the
grounds that a wide framework, which considers both ends and means, or
leaves their prioritization an open question, can’t sufficiently weigh impacts.
That would be bad because it prevents your opponent from impacting offense to
your standard, and because it makes the judge unable to decide the round
I don’t share those worries because the same debates about
ends-versus-means happen. They become weighing arguments. The upshot is that
the opponent can impact offense to your standard just as well, and the judge
can use the standard to evaluate impacts, with the impacts’ weight being determined
by philosophical argument.
Under the view that a standard must be exclusively ends-based or
means-based, the vast majority of non-consequentialist views (and many of the
most plausible ones, in my opinion) would be excluded. If you share my view
that LD framework debate is only valuable because of the opportunity to learn
how to argue about and apply philosophy, then this is a bad result. The
means-ends dichotomy also seems to exclude virtue-based considerations about
the agent’s dispositions. (You can, in principle, translate those
considerations into means- or ends-based ideas. But, just like
“consequentialized” translations of deontological theories, the
resulting view may not be the most plausible version, so why assume it’s wrong
at the outset?) The norm against wide frameworks also excludes value pluralism,
Rossian deontology, and commonsense morality.
You might think, though, that even if there is comparison going
on, a wide framework is just too complicated to work. In a short debate round,
we have to simplify things and ignore considerations that are otherwise
relevant to questions of applied ethics and public policy. But, first, while
it’s true that we tolerate oversimplification, we
still favor accuracy: although debaters are free to make sweeping,
implausible claims about the world, those claims lose against specific evidence
that shows a more accurate (and usually more complex) picture. And, second, LD
debaters utilized wide frameworks for years, and judges regularly decided
rounds (with debaters’ approval) using two different standards. Narrow,
preclusive standards have been around as long as I’ve been debating, but the
idea that standards must be preclusive and must be
exclusively means- or ends-based is a recent development. The reason for its
popularity has more to do with its strategic advantages than with its truth or
with the incoherence of its alternative.