Why VBI: Philosophy



“I learned more about philosophy in one week here than what I’ve learned about it during two years of debate.” —Danny DeBois

VBI is the best camp in the country for learning philosophical approaches to Lincoln-Douglas debate. We have the only debate camp whose instructors have published in peer-reviewed philosophy journals—including an article on teaching philosophy through LD—and have studied at the graduate level at the top four philosophy departments in the world.


Alumni of our Chicago institute have greatly enjoyed and benefited from its core philosophy curriculum, directed by PhD candidates Christian Tarsney and Nick Tourville.  This year, we are extending the philosophy core to all sessions of VBI! Students will learn philosophy in an integrated series of small seminars. Seminars will focus on philosophical skills, political philosophy, normative ethics, and metaethics. We will also offer electives on other areas of philosophy.

Focus Week

Our third week in Los Angeles will also continue our tradition of allowing students to focus on one or two aspects of debate, including philosophy. Alumni of the philosophy focus week include Marshall Thompson (below), Danny DeBois (TOC champion), and Josh Roberts (NFL champion). This year, students will choose a Major and a Minor field of study. This program combines the best elements of our traditional Focus Weeks and last year’s “Victory Briefs University” structure.

Seminar Leaders

Our 2015 philosophy seminars will be designed and taught by:


Ben Holguin, PhD candidate at New York University. Ben specializes in philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. He was a three-time alumnus of VBI and won Valley, Blake, and the Mineapple twice. He has coached debaters to win St. Mark’s, VBT, and the Montgomery Bell Academy Round Robin. Ben graduated from Stanford University with a B.S. and M.S. in Symbolic Systems.


Jake Nebel, BPhil candidate at the University of Oxford. Jake has published work on rule consequentialism, status quo bias, and jurisprudence. He has coached debaters to win the TOC, NDCA, TFA, Emory, the Harvard Round Robin, and many other tournaments. As a debater, he won Greenhill twice, Glenbrooks twice, Harvard, Bronx, and Emory, along with several round robins, and was top speaker at the TOC.



Christian Tarsney, PhD candidate at the University of Maryland, College Park. Christian thinks about value, time, identity, and rational decision-making. He coached the 2010 TOC champion and the runner-up of the 2013 TOC and NFL championships. He now coaches at WDM Valley.



marshall-thompsonMarshall Thompson, philosophy major at Wheaton College. As a debater, Marshall specialized in philosophically oriented case positions, in particular nuanced application of Kantian and Social Contract theories. He won the Greenhill and Bronx invitationals and the Montgomery Bell Academy Round Robin. He is president of his college’s Philosophy Club and is a VBI Philosophy Focus Week alumnus.




Nick Tourville, PhD candidate at Rutgers University. Nick’s research interests are in ethics, epistemology, and logic. As a senior at St. Louis Park, Nick was the bid leader to the TOC. He coached, along with Christian Tarsney, the 2010 TOC champion. Nick also debated policy for the University of Minnesota.



Guest Lectures

At all sessions of VBI, students will have the opportunity to attend guest lectures by philosophers throughout camp. Most of our Guest Lecturers will be professors at nearby universities. Here are just a few of our Guest Lecturers; more will be announced in the coming months:


Ryan Davis, Assistant Professor at Brigham Young University. His graduate studies were at Princeton and Harvard. He has worked on the ethics of political participation, global distributive justice, and the value of autonomy. He has published in The Journal of Value InquiryEthical Theory and Moral Practice, Teaching Philosophy, Political Studies, among other journals. Professor Davis will be a Guest Lecturer at VBI Chicago and will help us design our philosophy curriculum over the next few months.

pvePeter van Elswyk, PhD candidate at Rutgers University. Peter works on philosophy of language, formal semantics, metaphysics, and philosophy of science. He has published in Philosophical Studies and Teaching Philosophy and is the Managing Editor of Oxford Studies in Metaphysics. He coached the 2010 National Champion and taught at VBI for over five summers. Peter will be a Guest Lecturer at VBI Swarthmore.


LeiterBrianBrian Leiter is the Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the Center for Law, Philosophy, and Human Values at the UChicago Law School. Professor Leiter has published highly influential work on such topics as Nietzsche’s critique of morality, American legal realism, social epistemology, and freedom of religion. Professor Leiter will be a Guest Lecturer at VBI Chicago.



Bart Schultz is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at UChicago.He serves on the Editorial Board of Utilitas, the leading professional journal of utilitarian studies. He has designed courses on Philosophy and Public Education, The Philosophy of Poverty, John Dewey, The Chicago School of Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Environmental Philosophy, and Happiness. Professor Schultz will be a Guest Lecturer at VBI Chicago.


Apply now to learn from the best at VBI.