Philosophy and Oppression by Shrey Desai

Shrey Desai debated for four years at Saratoga High School (CA). Shrey qualified to the California State Tournament, championed Western Championships and SCU (twice), and won speaker awards at the College Prep, Stanford, and Berkeley Invitationals. He would like to thank Chris Theis, Jake Nebel, Sajeev Saluja, and Prachit Bhike for their thoughtful comments and revisions.


As some of you may recall, the first article I wrote for Victory Briefs was Fairness vs. Critical Arguments. I discussed the importance of fairness and how it conflicted with and outweighed critical impacts, namely role of the ballot arguments that the affirmative or negative made. Without a doubt, this issue collected a lot of heat and there were controversial discussions surrounding rationale and real-world implications. Upon reading the comments, I noticed that many critical debaters reiterating one thing over and over again; each wanted their peers to engage their arguments substantively, rather than theoretically. For many critical debaters, their arguments are not merely 1AC or 1NC speech, but rather extensions of their identity, beliefs, and most importantly, voice.

Danielle Reyes, the 2016 Harvard Lincoln-Douglas Champion, put it best when she wrote in a Facebook post: “We have to pay close attention to how oppressive structures pervade academic spaces like debate, not just on an active violent level … but also on a passive exclusionary level [such as] reading fairness first against anti-blackness debaters…” Maybe a couple more spikes at the bottom of an affirmative case or hidden fairness outweighs arguments in the voter section of a 1AR theory argument are not the most respectful response to critical arguments on the circuit.

However effective those strategies could have been, I believe the fairness/critical impact debate has been going on for much too long. The more and more I witness and hear about them, these debates are often very frustrating as judges are left to resolve a large amount of buzzwords, competing assertions, and arguments to little to no weighing. Indeed, some judges are outright unconvinced by these debates. Terrence Lonam, a well respected adjudicator from the Lake Highland Preparatory School, recently expressed his discontent in his Lincoln-Douglas judging paradigm: “I think arguments saying T/Theory unilaterally outweigh Ks (or vice-versa) are nonsensical because they essentially saying the way you happen to organize an argument gives it some privileged space to come before other arguments that happen to be organized differently.”

I believe it is time for debaters to approach critical argumentation with a more educational and maybe even theoretically stable methodology – philosophy. Instead of answering role of the ballot arguments with theory, debaters should present counter-role of the ballot arguments through a philosophical lens. Section 1 will discuss the dichotomy between ideal, or philosophical, theory and non-ideal theory. Section 2 will consist of a defense of ideal theory against common criticisms non-ideal theorists have voiced. Finally, Section 3 will present a case study of philosophical role of the ballot arguments in action through an analysis of a popular ethical framework called virtue ethics.

I. Ideal theory and Non-ideal theory

Consider the following passage from Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle:

Let us not fail to notice, however, that there is a difference between arguments from and those to first principles. For Plato, too, was right in raising this question and asking, as he used to do, ‘Are we on the way from or to the first principles?’ There is a difference, as there is in a race-course between the course from the judges to the turning-point and the way back. For, while we must begin with what is evident, things are evident in two ways—some to us, some without qualification.

The first principles that Aristotle speaks of are philosophical principles. By definition, philosophy has first and foremost been a theoretical discipline. Its most popular project is that of ethics, which consists of different principles and theories used to guide action and govern human behavior. Even today, there is a relevant consideration of whether these ethical, or ideal, principles should be the starting point of societal conduct and law. This is the distinction between ideal and non-ideal theory.

Wenar (2013) defines ideal theory as consisting of “idealizing assumptions about its subject matter.” Many popular ethical theories, such as Kantianism and contractualism, are derived from ideal subjects, ideal principles, and ideal conditions. For instance, Kantian ethics propose that all actions must be consistent with universal law; this implies that in all situations, one must never lie or never kill someone. These sorts of principles are only possible in an ideal world because they deviate from important practical considerations, such as whether a lie would save lives or whether the CIA should kill a terrorist. Contractualism is even more ideal because it argues that ethical actions are those that nobody would reasonably reject. Again, contractual actions only exist in ideal circumstances where people share the same psychological makeup and have the same interests. This theory would not function in non-ideal circumstances like the status quo. The current resolution is a great example; bipartisan support on a handgun prohibition bill would never happen because Democrats and Republicans are simply ideologically opposed. 

However, non-ideal theory is the opposite of ideal theory. It attempts to focus on the structural conditions that humans are in and how that affects their judgment, such as privilege, economic status, social conditions, etc. Non-ideal theory attempts to reject a comprehensive picture of ethics and takes into consideration questions such as political effectiveness and feasibility. Laurence (2012) clarifies, “Nonideal theory, by contrast, ‘asks how this long-term goal might be achieved, or worked towards…It looks for courses of action that are morally permissible and politically possible as well as likely to be effective.’”

In the context of debate, ideal theories and non-ideal theories are both very popular. Non-utilitarian affirmatives are usually ideal theories. Common frameworks read on the circuit include the veil of ignorance, equal freedom, virtue ethics, property rights, communitarianism, and other ethical theories. In contrast, most roles of the ballot arguments are non-ideal because they focus primarily on status quo conditions. Roles of the ballots such as capitalism, biopolitics, feminism, anti-blackness, and militarism are all examples of non-ideal theories because they are concerned with how people are poorly treated in the status quo, mostly as a result of the impacts stemming from the affirmative or negative advocacy.

As this analysis has proven, ethical frameworks that affirmatives read have more implicit clash (than one would think) with a critical role of the ballot argument, and vice versa. The most important distinction between the two is that of abstraction and idealism. In dealing with oppression, debaters have erred towards non-ideal theories. In responding to kritiks (Ks) in the past, affirmatives have mostly gone for policymaking good arguments or argued that other forms of oppression are the root cause of the impacts the negative discusses. There have been few situations in which non-utilitarian affirmatives have leveraged their ethical and normative frameworks, or ideal theories, against Ks. If a debater could prove that an ideal method to addressing oppression is far more effective than a non-ideal method, then that debater could win the round.

Let us consider the following scenario on the 2016 January/February topic to clarify: The private ownership of handguns ought to be banned in the United States. The AC is an intimate partner violence critical affirmative, which argues that a handgun ban would reduce intimate partner violence and therefore deconstruct patriarchal structures. The bottom of the affirmative case has the following argument: The role of the ballot is to vote for the debater that rejects intimate partner violence. The overarching concern here is oppression, but the method that the affirmative uses in order to address oppression is a focus on domestic structural violence and the material conditions of women, or non-ideal theory. The NC is a property rights case, which argues that a handgun ban would revoke the right to self-defense and is therefore impermissible. The negative agrees that addressing oppression is important, but he or she argues that the method to do so is incorrect. She argues that the counter-role of the ballot is to vote for the debater that better respects individual liberty. With this argument, the negative asserts that the discussion of the NC, or ideal theory, is much more fruitful in addressing oppression rather than non-ideal theory. If the negative can win that her method is super to that of the affirmative, then she will win the round.

II. A Defense of Ideal Theory

So far, the dichotomous relationship between ideal theory and non-ideal theory has been introduced, but the relevant question now is whether ideal theory is actually an effective method to addressing oppression. Intuitively, one would think that focusing on material conditions is far more effective, as oppression is a state that is not theoretical, but instead created from elements in the real world. In addition to this, non-ideal theorists have brought up a variety of criticisms against ideal theory, which I will discuss below.

Criticism #1: Abstracting from social realities cannot account for the dynamic nature of oppression.

Mills (2005) argues: “Almost by definition, it follows from the focus of ideal theory that little or nothing will be said on actual historic oppression and its legacy in the present, or current ongoing oppression, though these may be gestured at in a vague or promissory way (as something to be dealt with later).”

While non-ideal theorists are correct in pointing out that ideal theory is in fact “ideal,” they are incorrect in assuming that an ideal framework cannot be used to discuss oppression. Rawls (2009), one of the main proponents of ideal theory, insists: “The reason for beginning with ideal theory is that it provides, I believe, the only basis for the systematic grasp of these more pressing problems.” As Rawls suggests, the main reason we start from ideal theory is to set in stone principles that can be used to judge real world events. For example, egalitarianism is a philosophical doctrine that maintains all humans are equal in fundamental worth. If we start from the ideal egalitarian assumption that all humans are equal, then we can safely say that classist oppression or sexist oppression are wrong because they put one group of people on a higher pedestal than another group. Ideal theory allows us to picture a world with full equality, and if we see real world events that do not cohere with this picture, oppression can be detected.

Ideal theory is effective because it sets a goal for society. It is true that society will never have complete equality, but if we start from an ideal method, we can effectively measure progress. Consider the following debate scenario on the living wage topic. In response to a capitalism K arguing wages are capitalist, the affirmative turns this argument by saying living wage coalitions are key to stopping the spread of neoliberalism. Both arguments here deal with capitalism and making competing assertions, but it is difficult to adjudicate which side is in fact the most capitalist per se. A non-ideal theory of rejecting capitalism would have a difficult time comparing the two arguments because there is no fundamental and central standard by which one can compare the two arguments. What one needs to do is have an ideal scale: the left side is no capitalism and the right side is full capitalism. Through this spectrum, one can weigh between the “units of capitalism” the affirmative and negative produce. Robeyns (2008) concludes: “What is the goal of ideal theory so defined? Ideal theory functions as a lighthouse: it tells us in which direction we should be moving to reach a (minimally) just society, or a society that is just with respect to a particular domain.”

Criticism #2: Ethics are constantly under debate and there is no “correct” ethical theory.

Non-ideal theorists have commonly insisted that the multitude of ethical theories prevents us from using the “correct” framework in order to address oppression. In addition, there are a lot of ethical theories that conflict with each other; obviously, utilitarianism and deontology cannot reach the same conclusion regarding ethical scenarios.

Even though there are a lot of ethical projects to pick and choose from, many of them begin with similar assumptions about people. There are certain constraints that ethical theories must account for before they become ethical theories. Through his comprehensive analysis of ethics, Gosepath (2007) finds that “[t]he principle of equal dignity and respect is now accepted as a minimum standard throughout mainstream Western culture.” In utilitarian theories, the considerations and interests of one person do not automatically outweigh those of another. In deontological theories, each person is an autonomous agent and cannot infringe on the liberty of another. These normative constraints are the fundamental standards which ideal theory hinges on. Different forms of oppression fall under these guidelines as well; every single oppressive group tends to deny the respect and worth of another group. As Stemplowska (2008) concurs, “All normative theories must contain principles, that is normative statements expressing position(s) on one or more values.” There does not need to be one overarching and comprehensive ethical theory because this is extremely over-demanding and also unnecessary. The backbones ethical theories and doctrines are constructed upon suffice for adjudicating real world events.

In addition, the fact that ethics are constantly under debate can also aid the oppression debate. While it is intuitive that oppression is bad, there is still a gray area that must be discussed. For instance, is it moral to oppress a few people in order to save a large amount of people from oppression? Or, should we always avoid the active oppression of a single person, even if it causes pain and suffering to others? These are tough questions to answer, and the only way to answer them is to debate the philosophical justifications behind them. The former question is a utilitarian concern, which says that the ends justify the means, so as long as oppression is kept to a minimum, an action is permissible. The latter question is a deontological concern, which says that the means are important instead, so out of ethical duty, oppression to any single person should be avoided. Non-ideal theorists would be unable to answer these sorts of questions because these questions require an ethical principle to give it value and meaning. Our world is not black and white, and so our logic should not be either. It is not a question of rejecting oppression, but rather understanding why oppression is bad; the discussion of ethics can greatly benefit an individual’s understanding of societal injustices in the real world.

III. Ideal theory in action: Virtue ethics

One of the three most popular normative theories in mainstream ethics, virtue ethics “emphasize[s] the role of character and virtue in moral philosophy rather than either doing one’s duty or acting in order to bring about good consequences” (Athanassoulis). Unlike its counterparts – consequentialism and deontology – virtue ethics has proven to be a much more flexible and some might argue intuitive framework. Consequentialist principles, or those that weigh the net benefits and harms resulting from an action, are often criticized for reaching repugnant conclusions. Events such as the Holocaust, genocides, and slavery yielded positive consequences for the masses, but the minority voice was shut out and therefore not included in the moral calculus. Intuitively, this seems wrong and therefore consequentialist frameworks, at least from an individual standpoint, do not seem appropriate when dealing with sensitive topics such as oppression. Deontological principles, or those that stem from individual duties and obligations, are even more rigid than consequentialist principles. If not for the moral framework deontology provides, the history the ethical theory itself is rooted in seems to draw blame from various philosophers and historians. Soble (2003) has expressed his concerns regarding the categorical imperative and homosexuality, Bernasconi (2002) discussed the racist premises that philosopher Immanuel Kant rooted his theory upon, Mendus (2000) released an article criticizing deontology for excluding women, and Maslow (1981) has expressed his concerns regarding deontology as a classist and elitist theory. When weighing between possible ideal theories that can be used to address oppression, consequentialism and deontology do not seem like viable options.

What makes virtue ethics an attractive theory to address oppression is its emphasis on character. Moral character is achieved through societal deliberation and character traits such as respect, compassion, and benevolence are cultivated throughout the way. Virtue ethicists argue that a strong moral character is key to eudaimonia, the Greek word for “a good life.” In order to relate virtue ethics to oppression, I will use white supremacists as an example. White supremacists fundamentally believe that their race and culture is superior to those of others, such as African-Americans, Hispanics, or Asians. Through mere intuition, one can safely say that these white supremacists have inculcated a lot of vices; just to name a few, these supremacists lack empathy for the feelings of others and are definitely not humble when weighing between cultural beliefs. They are not leading “the good life,” and they are fundamentally devoid of important virtues and a strong moral character. Tessman (2005) argues that oppressors “exhibit moral vices (such as callousness, greed, selfcenteredness, dishonesty, cowardice, in addition to injustice) or at least the absence of certain specific moral virtues (perhaps compassion, generosity, cooperativeness, openness to appreciating others).” In order to cleanse themselves of their repugnant mindsets and oppressive tendencies, these oppressors must first and foremost rid themselves of these vices. Through the Aristotelian ways of moral education and practice, the oppressors can develop a moral character, ultimately solving for the root cause of their harm towards others.

This phenomenon also has historical precedent. The use of virtues was empirically successful in bringing down oppressors during the Civil Rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an important moral authority for the United States; he encouraged the discipline of nonviolence and tolerance in order to spread racial justice. The methods that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used were morally praiseworthy, and ultimately, successful. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 proved that policymakers in the United States federal government had come to terms with their vices and were cognizant of the racism that had infiltrated the nation. The same white supremacists that had segregated African-Americans were forced to develop a moral conscience and inculcate virtues such as respect and compassion that allowed them to view the African-American people as equals. Moral integrity and the promotion of virtue were not only effective but also essential in stopping real world oppression.

So, how would this function in a debate round? This approach would require the affirmative to set up a virtue ethics framework in the 1AC. Because virtue ethics is a popular and flexible theory, there is usually a lot of topic literature available, so there is no need to worry about contention-level offense. When the negative reads a criticism, or K, of the affirmative case, he or she will most likely set up a role of the ballot with a non-ideal theory to address the instances of oppression discussed in the 1NC. In the 1AR, the affirmative can argue for a counter-role of the ballot. Utilizing the virtue ethics example, a counter-role of the ballot text could read: The role of the ballot is to vote for the debater that best promotes virtue. The offense under this counter-role of the ballot would be the entirety of the affirmative case, and the net benefits to prefer this counter-role of the ballot would be reasons as to why virtue ethics, an ideal theory, is optimal to discuss oppression in academic spaces like debate. Personally, I would refer debaters looking to execute this strategy to the Tessman article; the entirety of her piece centers on why moral conscience and a virtue ethical character is necessary for liberatory movements.


With the expansion of critical argumentation, debaters must ultimately seek nuanced, educational, and also respectful strategies that can address these arguments. While philosophy and ideal theories do have their setbacks and disadvantages, this article has shown why philosophical approaches are an effective and also strategic method to addressing oppression. Ideal theories provide principles that allow individuals to track moral progress and normative reasoning that can provide insight into the “gray” area that many situations and policies fall under. Aside from philosophy, I encourage debaters to move away from excessive tendencies to pull up theory files or pre-written blips when encountering critical arguments. Debate, as a competitive and academic activity, should be as inclusive and educational as possible, and philosophical theory is a great starting point for debaters seeking to expand their knowledge base and skill set. 


Reyes, Danielle. Facebook Post. February 15, 2016.

Lonam, Terrence. “Lonam, Terrence.” Judge Philosophies. September 26, 2015.

Wenar, Leif, “John Rawls”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Laurence, Ben. “The Priority of Ideal Theory.” Practical Philosophy Workshop, University of Chicago. 2012.

Mills, Charles W. ““Ideal theory” as ideology.” Hypatia 20.3 (2005): 165-183.

Rawls, John. A theory of justice. Harvard university press, 2009.

Robeyns, Ingrid. “Ideal theory in theory and practice.” Social Theory and Practice 34.3 (2008): 341-362.

Gosepath, Stefan, “Equality”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Stemplowska, Zofia. “What’s ideal about ideal theory?.” Social Theory and Practice 34.3 (2008): 319-340.

Athanassoulis, Nafsika. “Virtue Ethics” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Soble, Alan. “Kant and sexual perversion.” The Monist 86.1 (2003): 55-89.

Bernasconi, Robert. “Kant as an unfamiliar source of racism.” Philosophers on race: Critical essays (2002): 145-66.

Mendus, Susan. “Time and chance: Kantian ethics and feminist philosophy.”Feminism and Emotion. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2000. 55-68.

Maslow, William D. “Academic Sociology as a” Classist” Discipline.”Humanity and Society 5.3 (1981): 256.

Tessman, Lisa. Burdened virtues: Virtue ethics for liberatory struggles. Oxford University Press, 2005.

  • Salim Damerdji

    Aristotle justified slavery and thought women had different virtues from man – e.g., talk less. It’s not clear he’s any less susceptible to Ks than Kant. It’s also unclear how virtue ethics excludes consequentialist offense, so kritikal negs could just link their offense in, which defeats the point of setting up a separate framework.

  • Kieran Cavanagh

    I think this article is problematic on many levels. To make such a totalizing assumption that abstract philosophy can be used to solve oppression when there has never been any evidence of this ever working in the past seems to be a fairly risky thing to do. But first, I’ll go over a few objections to the practice this article proposes in terms of how it is implemented in debate:

    First, how does one offer a solution to oppression by using a philosophical framework to filter offense? It seems to me that if there is a situation in which debater A who reads a philosophical framework does not have offense under debater B’s role of the ballot and instead uses their philosophical framework to say how it is a better solution to oppression, then you are actively saying that the impacts that count as offense under the ethical framework are more important than the impacts that function as offense under the role of the ballot. That is directly saying “hey, I’m going to support an ethical framework where the only morally relevant things are clearly not oppression (since otherwise debater A’s offense would function under the role of the ballot anyway and there would be no need for a philosophical counter role of the ballot) and say it’s a better way to solve oppression!” It defeats the whole purpose of your supposed benefits of using philosophy to solve oppression. If we say that we should exclude a framing device that takes material oppression to be relevant in favor of one that does not (or devalues the severity of oppression) that directly reinscribes oppression.

    Second, if the discourse of using philosophy to try to solve oppression is where the benefits lie, (i.e. saying that presenting a Kantian theory is offense under a role of the ballot) then that seems problematic insofar as no solution is actually offered. A philosophical theory as it is used in debate is just a paradigm for evaluating rounds, not an active solution. Most role of the ballots assume a solution to oppression is good, and that only engaging in discourse about oppression is insufficient. Additionally, not providing actual solutions rob us of any hope for gaining skills regarding how to advocate for actions that actually cause some form of change. And while I’ll get to this later, if discourse is really what matters most, we should definitely reject most philosophical theories due to the whiteness that surrounds their creation and use (i.e. the authors’ racial biases, or the fact that philosophical texts are often inaccessible to most non-privileged people). Even if introducing the theory itself is good in some way discursively, very few K debaters actually think that simply introducing a theory is the best way to solve oppression. Occasionally you’ll hear a debater make an argument that goes something along the lines of “i talked about XYZ, vote for me” but a) usually that is only done when their discourse is a criticism, and b) most would agree this is a pretty poor argument for many reasons.

    Now, I’ll address the defense you made of ideal theory.

    First, regarding your arguments addressing the abstraction criticism of ideal theory:

    You say that ideal theory provides us for fundamental assumptions by which we can live our lives that can solve oppression and thus provides society for a goal to look forward to, but a) this assumes society as a whole will have access to philosophy- philosophy is a very privileged discipline due to the denseness of the texts and the lack of ability to access expensive journals where most philosophy is stored, b) this is completely and utterly empirically denied in every single way. You answer the argument that ideal theory is bad with more abstraction- these “goals” that philosophy sets for us are fictions that have never been tested. There has never been a single instance where philosophy has been beneficial in how people see the world in the context of oppression, and even if there has, I highly doubt that something that clouds the view of what the world is like is more effective than something that sees the world how it is (non-ideal theory). c) abstraction is bad because it clouds our minds of what the world is actually like, so when it comes time to form solutions, we have trouble doing so because we think the world is one way when it is in fact another. So even if philosophy is a good method, abstraction makes that method ineffective due to an inability to implement solutions in a world where we do not look at material realities. d) Creating ideal images of the world for us to look towards is not how philosophy is used- ideal subjects are created in order to answer questions about what would happen in such a world, not to try to work towards a world in which the thought experiment occurs. Rawls doesn’t think that a literal veil of ignorance should exist in society, he says that we should treat others as if there is a veil. No one actually views philosophy as a goal to reach an ideal society, which means your argument doesn’t make sense. e) These principles of equality that you discuss (such as those proposed by kant or rawls) are seriously colorblind in the sense that they treat a violation of freedom of a racist the same that they treat the violation of freedom of an oppressed person, which is a pretty problematic assumption. They do not try to actively change the status quo, since these same principles of equality are deployed now to keep oppression in place, such as white lives matter groups being formed in response to black lives matter groups in an effort to ensure equality, or LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws being shot down due to their supposed infringement upon heterosexual equality. It doesn’t matter if this isn’t actually what these philosophical theories advocate for, since people in society take them as such.

    Second, regarding your arguments addressing the second criticism of ideal theory:

    This whole section seems to misunderstand the purpose of the criticism of ideal theory. The reason why there is no correct ethical theory is because oppression is multifaceted and can not be explained by one totalizing theory. While some theories may have common assumptions, the best way to actually explain oppression is to look at material reality. You can theorize all you want, but nothing can come close to reality except reality. Taking bits and pieces from multiple theories to form an ever-changing theory of oppression is one that is non-ideal and probably the best way to try to challenge oppression, since we are not confined to something like universalizability as a metric for evaluating the goodness and badness of actions. At some points, we should evaluate the moral status of actions based on their ends, and at others we should use deontological theories. But to say that one is totally correct is narrowminded as it does not take into account the totality of the situation, one that only material reality can account for. Additionally, you talk about how there are grey areas in whether oppression is bad, so we should use philosophy to provide justification for those areas. I would argue that a much better way to do that would be to show the reality of the situation. If I give you vivid descriptions of the conditions of slavery, you would be much more convinced why slavery is wrong than if I explain to you why slavery is not universalizable and thus immoral.

    I’ll only touch on the virtue ethics section briefly. The main idea is this: even if virtue ethics may be good, why opt for a moral theory that abstractifies when we can opt for a non-ideal theory that doesn’t?

    In sum, do you really think those who face massive structural violence are going to rely on a bunch of old white men and women who tell those oppressed groups that this is how they should fight oppression when in reality those philosophers know absolutely nothing about what it means to be oppressed? I don’t think so.

    • Noah Simon

      On your first argument: Srey’s argument was not that frameworks themselves solve oppression but rather are the best methodology to determine what we should do to solve oppression.

      On your second argument: seems to be the same as the first. ROB’s don’t offer solutions. They tell the judge what impacts are relevant, just like frameworks.

      On your next big argument: a) it’s not relevant if not everyone will be able to access philosophy–the point is that the winning philosophy in this round will tell us what course of action is best to solve oppression. on your b) argument about why philosophy hasn’t worked in the past: philosophy has never been implemented in the same sense as debate–and you beg the question of what “failure” is. The argument is not that white men in the 1700s were great it’s rather that if everyone followed [Kantianism or whatever] right now in the real world, that would be best. c) i think you misunderstand what abstraction is. Abstraction doesn’t say that the world is X but rather that there is some principle that we follow in all circumstances. This very much applies to the real world; if we say that rights unconditionally matter, that means that in the real world, we need to respect every single person’s rights. Not sure why it clouds the real world. d) you say that abstraction is not a goal but that’s irrelevant–abstract principles tell us how we act. “implementation” isn’t a concern. e) you say that equality is misused but that’s not a problem with abstract principles but rather bankrupt individuals who misuse them. People who say that white lives matter more than blacks are wrong and being unjust according to basically any abstract principle. Non-abstract arguments can be equally misused: Hitler thought that Jews were an oppressive problem but that doesn’t mean that all arguments that try to fight oppression are antisemitic.

      You say oppression is multifaceted and can’t be explained by one totalizing theory but that doesn’t seem to be true. Any theory posits a comprehensive account of the world. Kant says that rights violations are always wrong, no matter how many facets.

      You say we shouldn’t be confined by one theory but that doesn’t make sense: a) if we’re not confined by a theory we could do literally anything, collapsing into subjectivism and allowing for any oppressive act to be committed, b) that presupposes some external theory to follow in lieu of the original theory, which bites your own criticism.

      You say philosophy is narrow-minded but that presupposes some alternate epistemology to tell us what’s relevant, since otherwise you have no ground from which to challenge the normative judgments that philosophy gives us.

      • Kieran Cavanagh

        On my first argument: the point you’re missing is that whenever you justify a counter role of the ballot based on philosophy that says we should actively prefer a moral theory which probably doesn’t really justify why oppression is that bad (otherwise there’s no need to justify a counter role of the ballot) it’s the antithesis of a solution to oppression. How can one say they are solving oppression better when they say at the same time “my framework which (presumably) excludes the offense from your role of the ballot is a better way to solve oppression!” That makes no sense, it’s completely contradictory.

        Now, onto the stuff defending ideal theory:

        a) you say it doesnt matter if people don’t have access to philosophy, but this is the biggest proof of how abstract this kind of thinking is. We can’t just say that using philosophy to try to solve oppression is a maxim we should all adopt if that’s simply not possible. Concrete solutions, on the other hand, are possible. b) please. this has got to be a joke. structural oppression has never been solved through philosophy, and even if you say that it’s never been implemented that way before in debate, this is just debate. If it hasn’t done shit in real life, what is a bunch of privileged kids talking about abstract af stuff going to do??? c) uhh we might have different conceptions of abstraction but I view abstraction as viewing the world one way (in ideal ways) when in fact it is different, since abstract things have an inherent disconnect to reality. Even if, it’s only a semantic distinction between words, so despite the fact that you think abstraction is something else (?) what I’m describing is still bad since it prevents proper implementation of solutions to oppression. We start to think of the world in idealized ways which diverts attention away from the reality of the situation, which is obviously bad. d) again, you misunderstand my argument. It’s that the idealized world that philosophy constructs is not always created in order to guide action, rather, it is created to set up the conditions in which action would be guided, which is what shrey is talking about. e) once again, you’re missing something that’s key. if we ought to think in the ways ideal theory wants us to think, there’s bound to be misconceptions, which is exactly what I’m talking about with my arguments about moral equality being bad. People always misconstrue it and use it for nefarious purposes.

        Lastly is the argument about narrow minded white men. Here’s this for an alternative epistemology: Use the lived experiences of oppressed folk rather than white men up in an ivory tower. And if you really want an epistemological theory, how about something like empiricism? that seems to account well for the material reality of oppression while avoiding being ideal theory.

        If I’m oppressed, I frankly don’t give a shit about what some white man tells me other people should act towards me based on some intellectual gymnastics. I would think that we should straight up just confront oppressive structures rather than bending over backwards trying to squeeze some overidealized theory into liberation movements when we can much, much, much more easily just try to get rid of oppression without using philosophy. So far, there are literally no disadvantages to that approach being presented.

        • Noah Simon

          Let’s be very clear what “ideal” theory does. All it does is say the world ought look like X and provides a comprehensive account of what badness is, what oppression is, what we ought and what we ought not do. Non-ideal theory says oppression is bad without justifying why it is bad, what it is, how to stop it, or what we should do. Both define oppression. The only difference is that ideal theory justifies what it is and how to account for it whereas non-ideal theory presupposes consequentialism and only says one specific consequence is relevant .

          So when you say that philosophy doesn’t say oppression is bad I have literally no idea what you’re saying. Philosophy is the only possible thing that could tell us what is bad in the first place or what oppression is. When you say oppression is bad, you automatically and necessarily appeal to abstract ideals (e.g. human worth, equality, etc.). The only offense philosophy excludes is offense that isn’t relevant! That’s the whole point. A Kantian would say that we could never violate someone even if that would allow for bad consequences, but if you say that Kantianism is oppressive since it allows for bad consequences, that obviously presupposes a) that Kantianism is incorrect and b) that consequentialism/some other theory that tells us what matter is true (that’d be an alternative philosophy).

          On a) about accessing philosophy–this also doesn’t make sense. Do you think fewer people have read Groundwork than Red White and Black? There is no White People Library that charges an admission price of $1000 and has a big folder called “Abstract Philosophy.” Abstract philosophy is accessible to the same people that could access non-abstract philosophy. And, again, I’m not sure why this is relevant. Philosophy doesn’t care how many people know it, just that we abide by its rules. Philosophy isn’t “implemented” to “fight oppression;” it tells us what to do. You say we need to care about concrete solutions but 1) how do we determine what solutions are “concrete” and “valuable” without philosohpy? 2) that presupposes concrete solutions, e.g. consequences, matter more than the means of our actions and 3) philosophy obviously tells us how to take concrete action; that’s the whole point of philosophy.

          The b point is where things get fun. You say structural oppression has never been solved through philosophy, but that’s obviously because the entire world has never abided by a single theory at the same time (maybe except subjectivism). You say that privileged kids talking about abstract stuff isn’t going to do anything, but that obviously begs the question of what we ought be doing. Your ROB warrants just assert that oppression is bad without defining what it is or how to fight it, so I’m not sure how productive that is. When has a Mills card changed the world any more than a Korsgaard card? Debate philosophies are never “implemented” in the real world–abstract or not. You say we need to fight oppression in the real world but in a debate round the judge has no way to know how to do that outside of abstract theory. All of your appeals to intuition are unjustified, unverifiable, and unusable.

          c) Abstract things are not disconnected from reality. Although the word abstract often evokes the idea of things that aren’t real, that’s not what abstraction means at all in the context of philosophy. Abstraction just says we need to comprehensively justify things and then apply them to the real world. You say it prevents proper implementation of solution to oppression but again that begs the question of what those are. It’s also incorrect to say abstract philosophy can’t be applied to the real world–if we are Kantians then in the *real world* we just respect peoples’ rights. It’s that simple. Abstraction doesn’t say we “think of the world in idealized ways which diverts attention from the reality of the situation”–it literally does the exact opposite. It says we have to take the real world and make it perfect. It does not assume that everything is already perfect. That is just a fundamental misconception about abstract philosophy. Abstract says we need to make X look like Y and non-abstract just says we have to fix X but without telling us what to make it look like.

          d) I have no idea what you’re trying to say.

          e) Ditto. You’re saying it is going to be misused but I don’t see how that’s unique to abstract philosophy. If you just say “oppression is bad” White people in Texas could say we need to kick out all minorities because they’re “oppressing them” according to their subjective view of oppression. The point is, without some abstract concrete understanding of oppression, it’s literally impossible to tell people what oppression is and it collapses into subjectivism.

          You justify empiricism which *surprise* is an abstract philosophy. You say we should use the lived experiences of oppressed folk and while that sounds great there’s no way to do that without an abstract philosophy. Without an abstract philosophy, we can’t a) determine who is oppressed, b) why they are oppressed, c) what they deserve, d) how we should fix it. Abstract philosophy easily solves: it would say we need to fix the lived reality of slaves, for example, because their rights are being violated. The bottom line is this: if we don’t look somewhere to derive principles from, there will be no principles. Abstract philosophy is not just white men in an ivory tower; it works the exact opposite way. It says no matter our social status or power differential, we all need to treat each other with respect (however that is qualified by any particular theory). There is no way to obligate people without abstraction, since we would be staring at the empirical world with no idea of what to do in it, since literally any time we obligate someone, we are appealing to some external obligation.

        • Kieran Cavanagh

          This seems to be a debate of starting points, specifically whether the starting point of philosophy (i.e. what oppression is, why it occurs, etc.) or the starting point of material conditions (i.e. how does oppression manifest itself in the real world, the effects of it, etc.) is a better approach to confronting oppression. I will isolate an addional reason, in addition to my criticism of philosophy why my starting point is preferable. Oppression will always be a problem because in most cases where oppression occurs, people refuse to accept that what they are doing is oppressive or just don’t want to hear it. Because of this, a starting point that tries to answer questions such as “why is oppression bad?” is insufficient most of the time because it tries to convince the oppressor to not do what they do, but does nothing to change the fact that oppression occurs and affects people daily. Some people are just bigots, and sadly, if they won’t accept the fact that what they’re doing is wrong, using complex philosophical concepts won’t change their minds. However, if we use a starting point of looking at the material conditions of oppression (i.e. its effects) and try to directly solve those, we accomplish some of the same things philosophy tries to accomplish, which is to understand oppression better since we analyze how it occurs on a structural level, while also ameliorating its effects. If discrimination will always occur, then it shouldn’t be our job to try to use philosophy to better understand why oppression is bad or persuade others why it is, it should be our job to confront the effects of it, since the latter seems like a futile attempt.

          So now, you make some arguments about how philosophy always justifies why oppression is bad. This may hold some degree of truth in the abstract, but in how it is practiced in debate rounds, it is definitely not the case. The whole reason why we would even use a philosophical counter role of the ballot in the first place is to try to exclude some form of offense from a K, since otherwise you would not need a philosophical CROB and instead you could link your own offense under their role of the ballot. When you exclude K offense, you are saying that some form of oppression is not relevant under that philosophical theory, which means that philosophical theory CANNOT explain why that specific form of oppression is bad, which refutes the entire thesis of your argument. You say that the philosophical theory defines what oppression is, but I’ll give an example to show why this is wrong. Let’s say on the handguns topic, the aff reads an intent-based philosophical framework, and the neg reads a role of the ballot and a mass incarceration DA, arguing that handgun bans lead to the consequence of more racialized incarceration. This is clearly consequentialist in nature. The aff reads a philosophical CROB in the 1AR, and says that their offense contextualizes what oppression is (and that it is means-based), and excludes the DA because it is consequentialist. Under your model of debate, this seems fine. However, there is a huge problem with this. The aff debater is literally saying that one form of oppression should be discounted and thus is not oppression, which is very problematic from a discursive standpoint. How can you possibly say that thousands of black people being funneled into the prison industrial complex is not oppression??? You might say that the neg role of the ballot would exclude the aff offense, but role of the ballots are not explicitly consequentialist or means-based, so the aff could easily go for link turns rather than a new type of framing in the 1AR. The point is, we should not frame debate arguments in ways that say that one philosophical conception of oppression is true and another is false, we should give merit to all forms of oppression, which philosophy simply cannot do due to its emphasis on one theory to explain things.

          Now, onto the arguments about abstraction:

          I find this line fairly troubling: “Abstraction just says we need to comprehensively justify things and then apply them to the real world.” It’s the other way around, philosophy says we need to comprehensively justify things and then apply them to the real world, and the way philosophy does this is through abstraction. It intentionally ignores the full material reality of the situation in favor of idealized situations and intellectual gymnastics. Philosophy says that instead of using real world examples of how oppression occurs and manifests itself and taking those examples as sufficient to prove why oppression is bad, we should use strings of logic and imagined scenarios to justify why things are bad, even when those things that philosophy justifies to be bad are not examples of material oppression. Here is where another problem emerges. When we create philosophical theories in order to explain things, we run into some serious problems. Let’s say I come up with an argument that oppression is bad because it is intuitively wrong. That claim would be justified by intuitionism. However, intuitionism is often regarded as oppressive because it affirms bigoted people’s biases. Or let’s say I justify that oppressing someone is wrong because it violates their equal freedom, which would be justified by Kantianism. However, Kantianism would also justify refraining from taking guns out of the hands of white supremacists bent on killing black people on the grounds that it violates the white supremacist’s freedom. Additionally, almost all philosophical theories suffer from colorblindness by giving the same degree of moral wrongness to harm against a black person vs a white person. I hope I don’t have to explain why colorblindness is bad. The main issue is that we can’t use one overarching philosophical theory to explain why things are bad since that can lead to repugnant or oppressive conclusions. This is because most of these theories can’t take into account the totality of the situation due to the fact that they are abstract. In the case of intuitionism, it cannot take into account who is doing the interpreting, and in the case of Kantianism or colorblindness in general, most theories cannot take into account the status of each agent in their idealized situations, which is probably important. You make a bunch of arguments about how I’m misunderstanding abstract philosophy, but I gave some very specific examples of how abstract philosophies ignore the reality of the situation, which obviously shows otherwise. So, to sum it up, we should at individual cases of oppression (and don’t give me bullshit like “the only way we know what oppression is is through phil”) and deem those cases to be bad because they simply are and come up with tailored solutions to those problems, instead of using philosophy to do those things since that always misses some part of a larger picture.

        • Shrey Desai

          You’re absolutely correct in pointing out that this is a debate about starting points, and ultimately this article is about articulating why ethics and philosophy is a better framework for evaluating the impacts of oppression. When you say that a philosophical starting point tries to answer questions such as “Is oppression bad?,” I think you’re being overly reductive. Philosophy doesn’t only care about why oppression is bad, but also the types of oppression that are bad. For instance, can a non-ideal starting point answer questions like: “Can we oppress the few in order to save the many?” That is an example of a question which obviously has a lot to do with oppression in the status quo, and also happens to be a part of the utilitarian/deontological theory debates. Starting from the ideal and working our way down to the non-ideal is the best way to approach the problem, because then you really become misguided and unable to answer important questions like these. Philosophy will always say that oppression is bad, as the egalitarian tenet of equality is usually implicit in most (if not all) ethical theories. Rather, the question at hand is the applications of oppression in the status quo, and how we can go about addressing them – that is where philosophy comes in.

          The next argument you bring up is regarding discrimination, and I think this is a great point. When slavery existed in the past, discrimination as we describe of it now, was non-existent. In the eyes of white people, there was no conception of discrimination or segregation. Obviously, if we started from the material conditions of the present, there would have been no way to ameliorate the situation because there would have been no fundamental ethical principle to follow. One of the most important factors in changing our view on slavery was that of equality, which is an ethical principle. Martin Luther King, Jr. argued for equality and treating others the way you wish to be treated – this was a powerful policy with a philosophical underlay that changed the mindsets of millions of Americans. I’m not saying that we should philosophize all day and just abstract about the world, but instead we should take a step back and analyze the situation, see what is really going on, and then approach the problem with our newfound knowledge. Abstraction should not be in opposition with policymaking, but just the starting point and root of it.

          Further, you talk about how the only reason we would use a philosophical counter role of the ballot is to exclude K offense. This is absolutely incorrect and completely misguided. In case you read the virtue ethics section of the article, I talk about how many philosophical impacts have a lot of interaction with critical impacts. On the Jan/Feb topic, I read a Virtue Ethics affirmative a lot, and one of my biggest advantages was alienation, or the idea that handguns would alienate and dehumanize an individual from the rest of the community. There are many weighing arguments that can be done with critical impacts, such as the scope, magnitude, root cause, etc. Also, even if you’re not convinced by this, I think in the status quo the exclusion of offense is inevitable. In Policy debate, when affirmatives read policy affirmatives, they present a role of the ballot to fundamentally exclude critical impacts because it’s not relevant under a policymaking paradigm. Many affirmative debaters in Lincoln-Douglas are doing the same thing; this is not bad, per se – the debate just then becomes a question of which methodology is better and which debater is winning under said methodology.

          Your example is also flawed in that it only brings up the debate between intent and consequences. It’s important to point out that not all philosophical frameworks are intent-based. Egalitarianism, as I talked about in the article, is a consequentialist ethical theory. In fact, virtue ethics could be labeled as consequentialist to an extent, even though it has some intent-based characteristics. Even if the affirmative does read an intent-based framework and claims to “exclude” your offense, I think you should just point out that just because their framework is intent-based it does not mean that they automatically “exclude” my offense – that’s just some construct that debaters have constructed. At the end of the day, it’s a question of argumentation and delivery rather than the principle and philosophy itself. If you can’t defend your K against an intent-based framework, you can’t blame philosophy for that because it has nothing to do with that – it just boils down to how you present your arguments and what the judge is receptive to.

        • Kieran Cavanagh

          You say that we should use philosophy to evaluate the impacts of oppression, i.e. to define what is oppression, etc, but there’s two problems with this. First regards its application in debate, namely how this is not how people use philosophy in debate, but I’ll get to this more later. Second, all of my previous criticism of ideal theory applies here, particularly the things about abstraction in my reply to Noah. Why listen to a whole bunch of white men talk about abstract concepts when we can just as easily listen to the lived experiences of oppressed peoples? That seems like a sufficient counter-theory that defines what oppression is and also probably gives the best insight into how to solve it. This entire debate is very simple: we have two competing theories that define oppression, and one is not in full touch with reality due to a) the epistemological standpoint of the author and b) the way in which the author uses totalizing and broad theories that always miss something. Additionally, you would probably agree that saying that something that is pretty clearly oppression is not oppression is pretty bad, which is exactly what specific theories do. Sure, when it comes down to whether we should oppress a few in order to save many, or whether it is okay for actions to be intentionally racist if the consequences are the opposite, we can use phil to resolve those questions. However, we should not use philosophy to determine what counts as oppression in the first place.

          Next, you say that we need some sort of ethical principle to follow, but my argument about the lived experiences of oppressed peoples solves this- we can simply listen to them. I think the people who would know the most about their situation are the people who are in the middle of it.

          Next is the argument regarding how philosophy is used in debate, and my thesis is this: the only strategic reason why anyone would read a philosophical framework is for their standard to be relatively exclusive (and this is true 90% of the time in practice) and when you make your standard exclusive, you always exclude something that counts as oppression, REGARDLESS of whether or not your framework speaks to/defines oppression. This answers your arguments about virtue ethics, since even if virtue ethics may account for some forms of oppression, it still excludes others as well as potentially justifying oppressive things (i.e. the fact that both the oppressed and the oppressor face character deficiency because of the system of oppression means that virtue ethics can’t prioritize the plight of the oppressed. See “Virtues and Oppression: A Complicated Relationship,” by Marilyn Friedman for more insight into this). And what about other philosophical frameworks commonly run? Property rights seems to justify prohibiting freeing slaves so long as slaves are given their own right to property, Levinas seems to justify refraining from passing a policy to prevent the oppression of the Other in the fear that we totalize it, and prescriptive frameworks seem to amplify the harms of the status quo. Additionally, a lot of framework debaters build skep/presumption triggers into their frameworks (even Noah made an argument in this debate that sounded a lot like a presumption trigger) simply because philosophers often make those types of arguments to support their theories. All of these things hardly say why oppression is bad. There’s a reason why framework debaters often read aff role of the ballot choice or a truth testing paradigm in the aff, it’s because K role of the ballots would preclude their offense and they wouldn’t even have any offense to link to the role of the ballot most of the time. Also, I don’t think exclusion of offense is inevitable. We can make weighing arguments instead to see who has the strongest link under a role of the ballot. But those weighing arguments should not be focused on ideal theory for reasons described above, because 99% of the time, the arguments used to justify phil FWs are not justified in terms of oppression or the same arguments role of the ballots are justified in terms of, they are justified in terms of abstract moral principles and meta-ethics and epistemological claims. Plus, even if it’s not an issue of exclusion of offense, if the theory that the philosophical debater advocates for can still justify oppression whereas my view does not justify oppression since it listens to the oppressed, then we should reject your view.

          Next, you say that saying a framework excludes offense is just a problem with the way debaters have presented them, but that doesnt dispute my argument. What you advocate for justifies debaters presenting things as argument exclusion.

        • Oliver Sussman

          Your first argument confuses me, as this seems not to be a testimonial question. Obviously, we are not choosing between going to white men or oppressed populations for moral guidance. Normative ethics are not justified via an appeal to any particular source of epistemic origin. Likewise, justifying a critical ROB clearly does not equate with literally engaging with the viewpoints of oppressed people. It seems odd to claim such an argument equates to doing something like actually talking to communities of color about gun bans. Moreover, such engagement in a vacuum could not allow us to derive normative guidance. What happens if there are conflicting “lived experiences,” and how do we resolve rights conflicts? Do we aggregate viewpoints? If not, which “lived experiences” do we value most? Universal and implicitly philosophical answers to these questions seem to be assumed in this kind of ROB. If anything, it seems your viewpoint is the one that oversimplifies oppression, as solving oppression is not as simple as simply trying our best to listen to oppressed peoples. Clearly there is never one unified consensus, even among oppressed individuals, about how to approach any particular issue. To interpret these voices requires some method of determining what counts as moral knowledge. While you accuse traditional ethics of overlooking relevant circumstances contextual to certain situations, you yourself advocate a for an even more vague and impractical method of determining how to approach and solve oppression. Obviously the epistemological standpoint of any decision-maker poses a problem, but it poses an equal challenge to the task of determining how exactly to listen to oppressed voices. It’s as if you assume some sort of neutral, objective method of interpretation in this regard, which seems to be the exact sort of thing you’re critiquing. More broadly, it seems objective normativity is implicit in ALL exercises of non-ideal theory, which means that this sort of abstraction cannot be a unique disadvantage to traditional ethics.

          This is where your concession becomes crucial. You say “Sure, when it comes down to whether we should oppress a few in order to save many, or whether it is okay for actions to be intentionally racist if the consequences are the opposite, we can use phil to resolve those questions. However, we should not use philosophy to determine what counts as oppression in the first place.” These seem to be two contradictory statements. The first sentence is inherently pertinent to the question of what counts as oppression, or perhaps more importantly, the question of what to do to solve it. If we should oppress a few to save many, then oppression is regarded as a state of affairs, and is most likely an empirical question. If in fact we should not oppress a few to save many, then oppression is a rights-based question likely derived from some rationalist epistemology. The point is that it’s clear normative ethics are often at the very least relevant in the evaluation of offense under a role of the ballot. However, many ROBs do seem to presuppose a certain viewpoint in this matter, i.e. that oppression should be minimized through a consequentialist lens and is grounded in empirical reality (just because they don’t use phil vernacular doesn’t mean they don’t have philosophically relevant assumptions). It thus seems clear that we can (and need to) use traditional framework arguments to figure out what to do.

          This also means it’s silly to say that frameworks are evil and just exclude certain types of oppression, when ROBs serve the exact same function. It seems you’re mostly saying excluding consequentialist oppression ROBs is repugnant, but that obviously begs the question. Your entire point in this section seems to just be that there are certain understandings of what oppression means in a normative sense that are best, but the whole point is that we should be able to have that framework debate. I’m not sure why it’s so awful to argue in favor of an empirical view of oppression via rigorous philosophical debate than through quick intuitive appeals. Yes, there are surely some pretty awful traditions within ideal theory, but it does not follow that we ought to reject the entire philosophical discipline. Non-ideal theory can too be extremely repugnant; for example, in debates where consequentialism is functionally assumed in the ROB, horrible things like murder and slavery can be justified. I will say that your characterization of property rights frameworks is simply wrong, though; deont does not say giving people property rights makes everything okay. Slavery is a violation of freedom, independent of whether property rights are granted.

          Bad, sketchy debaters will always read triggers and aff ROB choice. I think this reflects a lot more on their strategic orientation and aversion to clash than the philosophical disciplines of their authors.

          You say weighing arguments are acceptable within a ROB, but the distinction between comparing strategies for combating oppression within and between ROBs is arbitrary. Either way, we will deal with questions like whether we should approach oppression in a means-based or ends-based way. And ultimately, that question is a philosophical one, as clearly we can conceive of ourselves as “listening to oppressed voices” regardless of that particular answer. In answering this question, we will also probably still presuppose abstracted, objective normativity whether or not we claim to use non-ideal theory.

        • Kieran Cavanagh

          Regarding my first argument, I am simply trying to provide a non-ideal way to approach oppression. It seems to be that most of your arguments appeal to the idea that we need ideal theory for philosophical reasons, yet my approach is one of trying to solve oppression. It doesn’t matter if my theory cannot meet all of these philosophical constraints you set if it is an effective way to solve oppression. Obviously there will always be questions left unanswered so to speak, yet if we just accept the fact that X is oppression and not take a philosophical approach to it, it seems like there’s no disadvantage to this. The thing you seem to be missing is that as long as we know what counts as racism within a certain margin of error, it is MUCH better than listening to an abstract philosophical theory that has never showed any evidence of accurately showing what counts as oppression or how we should approach oppression and has clear disadvantages to it. You seem to just be nitpicking, and these disadvantages you isolate are minuscule in comparison to using ideal theory. But even if, you say that the testimonies of oppressed peoples can conflict, but this doesn’t make sense- we wouldn’t ask a white woman whether she thinks blackface is racist, we ask a black person. Next, you say there are other problems with listening to oppressed peoples, but these instances in which these problems become relevant (such as ones in which oppressed folk are very divided on) do not happen very often. Most women would agree that paying them less than men is institutionalized sexism. When these problems do occur however, despite their rarity, we can use philosophical means. The point is that ideal theory should be used as a last resort, once we bypass the risk of it being oppressive.

          On the next argument, I agree that normative ethics can be relevant when it comes to evaluating what forms of oppression are more important, but I’ll clarify since it was unclear in my last post- normative ethics should be used when we cannot come to a conclusion through non-ideal methods (i.e. listening to oppressed folk). I touched on this in the previous paragraph, but I’ll further on it here. The whole reason ideal theory is bad is because it has a risk of deeming clearly oppressive actions to be not oppressive due to its disconnect from reality, so I think that the only place in which ideal theory should be used is in places where that risk is no longer present. That is, we should use ideal theory to resolve disputes over what oppression is when there is no clear consensus from oppressed communities, which removes the risk of it being oppressive. It is much less clear whether mild instances of cultural appropriation are oppressive than if slavery is oppressive, for example.

          As for your next big argument, I think the above paragraph answers this.

          Now, for the main argument, whether or not ideal theory’s application in DEBATE is good. My initial intent was to refute the thesis of this article, that ideal theory should be used in debate to try to solve oppression, and that does not rely on winning that ideal theory is bad, simply that its application in debate is bad. You say that there will always be bad sketchy debaters, but as you have no way to solve that, it seems like phil is just another way sketchy debaters can be oppressive. Plus, many authors use skep triggers as justifications for their theories, which also answers your argument about the content of philosophical literature. Additionally, you have not answered that there is literally zero strategic reason to read a philosophical FW in debate that does not exclude lots of offense, including critical offense. So if you want to read a standard of minimizing oppression and use abstract philosophy to justify it, go ahead, but that is not what most people do. I’m aware that you yourself read a Hobbes aff at some point, and I’m sure we can all agree that Hobbes’ theory is oppressive as shit. There’s no getting around the fact that maintaining that state’s power despite its numerous flaws and oppressive nature is pretty problematic, and even if you argue it isn’t, there are really no convincing reasons why the offense that links to a Hobbesian FW has to do with oppression.

          The main issue is that all of your arguments about why ideal theory is good are simply not competitive with mine; there are good strains of ideal theory and bad strains, and the good strains simply will not be used in debate.

        • Emilio Rivera

          You say “we should at individual cases of oppression…and deem those cases to be bad because they simply are and come up with tailored solutions to those problems.”
          That confuses me.

          Let’s say that claim is true. How do we know what an oppressive action is? If we just deem oppressive cases to be “bad because they simply are” then it seems that you’re just arguing for intuitionism. Because the only way you know something is bad, in your world, is because you simply presuppose WITH YOUR INTUITION, that it is.

          What is the difference between intuitionism and your “solution”?

        • Kieran Cavanagh

          “How do we know what an oppressive action is? If we just deem oppressive cases to be “bad because they simply are” then it seems that you’re just arguing for intuitionism.”

          I’ll clarify, my previous phrasing was unclear. I define oppression in a way that most define it: the exercise of power and/or discrimination over others. However, this is not to say that this means that any time one discriminates against another or exercises power over another, it is oppression. For example, if the state taxes people, that’s not necessarily oppression. Likewise, if a black person makes fun of white people, we probably shouldn’t consider that racism. The action of being oppressive has many different characteristics, so it’s hard to exactly pin down what oppression is. For example, oppression is characterized by dehumanization, discrimination, exercise of power, etc, but cannot be explained in full by those three things. I isolate this as one of the main problems with philosophy, since it cannot use one theory to fully define what oppression is. The things I described draw from many different philosophical theories, such as principles of equality, of rights, of non-coercion, etc, which cannot all be encompassed in a single philosophical framework. I think the harm that occurs as a result of deeming oppression to be bad by individual cases is dwarfed in comparison to the harm that comes from adopting a philosophical theory that seeks to explain oppression but always leaves something out. If you really want some form of epistemological theory that explains what exactly oppression is, I think that listening to a conglomeration of oppressed people’s perspectives is sufficient to prove what oppression is, so I guess this could be a modified version of intuitionism. it solves my criticism of philosophy because it is non-ideal it nature; it uses the lived experiences of the oppressed. I can further upon this if you need me to.

          Also, your argument is irrelevant anyway since I am arguing against the way philosophy is used in debate, namely that it is most often used to justify the moral irrelevance of oppression rather than the moral relevance. If you really want to explain why oppression is bad morally, than simply read a minimizing oppression standard and those justifications. But since a theory that focuses on the idealized way that oppression is oppression always excludes something, a view of oppression that is not defined by one theory is preferable.