Wed Oct 9 14:48:42 CDT 2002
There seem to me two important issues that arise in the thread on Berekeley's
counterfactural affirmative. While my team lost to the this affirmative, I
found it engaging and valuable. Fairness is important, but I believe some too
quickly dress up an unreflective traditionalism in the garb of "fairness".
One set of questions relates to the adequacy of their advocacy and another set
relates to their use of counterfactual reasoning.
1. Is their use of standpoint epistemology useful, helpful, fair, etc. Do
they offer sufficiently predictable ground such that the negative enjoys
"fair" ground, whatever that might be? This area of discussion includes
questions relating to the role of the resolution, the need for a plan, and
modalities for its implementation, objective decision-making, and so forth. I
think there are good arguments on both sides of these questions, I and have
nothing to offer here.
2. A second, and I would argue conceptually distinct question, is whether or
not the use of counterfactuals is desirable. Here, I think, some who object
to Berkeley's affirmative on grounds rooted in the issues raised in #1 above,
mistakenly reject the use of counterfactuals.
I wish to raise three related issues.
First, do not debaters routinely employ counterfactuals? That is, when we use
"what if" constructions, e.g. fiat, impact predictions, scenarios, to make
normative claims about a world that is counter to the facts of this world, are
we not making counterfactual statements? To those who too strenously assert
that such reasoning applied to the "future" is helpful, while that applied to
the "past" is not, too readily reject Santayana's warning.
Second, may not a closer, discplined reading of historical causation, in given
instances, provide a useful corrective to the ahistorical accounts emphasized
in some advantage/impact discussions? In some of our scenarios, evidence from
last month, let alone that drawn from deeper explorations of historical
processes, is effectively meaningless. Does the 'hegemony of the now'
constitute an adequate foundation for understanding and changing the social
Third, I learned much from Berkeley's presentation. I found myself concerned
not so much by their use of counterfactual reasoning, but rather the adequacy
of their treatment. Perhaps one should assume greater burdens in presenting a
counterfactual than a review of an important historical period.
I share some of the concerns expressed on the list about whether or not
Berkeley offers "fair advocacy" to negate. I see no reason, however, to
dismiss out of hand the framework they offer. If they advocate a specific
course of action, perhaps the debate should be engaged and not perfunctorily
dismissed as violating some notion of tradition, i.e., a "plan" that must be
imagined as "passing today."
And I feel even more strongly that the limits of their advocacy do not
constitute compelling reasons to automatically elevate an imagined present and
future over an equally imagined past.
Policy Debate Coach
trond.jacobsen at cornell.edu
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