Motion balance at the Wageningen Open

doorMascha Bloemer

Motion balance at the Wageningen Open

By Srdjan Miletic

As usual, I won’t write about the social side of the tournament because, frankly, that’s not my area of expertise. What I will write about is the motion, which were as follows:


Motions (as posted by Micheal Dunn):

  • R1: Given the scarcity of donor organs, THW deprioritise substance abusers on organ recipient lists
  • R2: THBT the punishments for murder and manslaughter should be equal
  • R3: This House regrets The Euro
  • R4: TH regrets monogamy
  • Final: THBT the acquisition of wealth, above that needed to meet one’s basic needs, is immoral


I believe that the motions for round 1 and 2, while interesting, were probably unbalanced, favouring Prop and Opp respectively. Here’s why:

Round 1:

This motion requires current substance abusers (A.K.A: addicts from any decent Gov) be given lower priority than non abusers. The basic, obvious arguments I would expect to see from gov are:


  1. (Very Weak) Drug users are less deserving  of organs
    1. Drug users chose to use drugs
    2. Drug users harmed society
  2. Drug users are helped less by organs
    1. Organs should be distributed in such a way as to maximise either [(tenuous claim) life years/(acceptable claim) lives saved]
      1. Justification
        1. We have to adopt some position, neutrality is impossible
        2. We already do this in all other resource allocation problems, i.e:
          1. police
          2. economic subsidies
          3. etc…
        3. Intuitively appealing
          1. Intuition is the only source of morality, no independent grounding is possible
          2. Case: two people. One has a 99% chance of rejecting an organ, the other a 2% chance. All else is equal, I intuitively would give the organ to the person it is more likely to save.
    2. More likely to die earlier, and hence gain less years of life from the organ
      1. More likely to become addicted again
      2. More likely to have serious health problems resulting from addiction.
    3. More likely to reject organ than non-users
      1. Less likely to stick to diet and drug regime required to avoid rejection
      2. Less healthy


The problem with the motion, and the reason I suspect it is unbalanced, is that these arguments are easy to make, intuitively appealing and hard to rebut. Moving to Opp, there are far fewer obvious arguments and even rebuttal of the Gov case, while by no means impossible, is far from simple.

First, rebuttal. Obviously, it is easy to rebut argument 1, drug users being less deserving of life, by pointing out that drug addiction is not a choice or through other means. The real difficulty comes with argument 2, that drug users are less likely to benefit from the organs and that we should allocate organs so as to maximise the amount of lives saved/extended. There are two options here, opp can argue that:

  1. We should not allocate organs so as to save the most lives
  2. Drug users do not benefit less from organs than non-users

The issue with the first line of argument is that I struggle to see an alternate system of allocation that is anywhere near as appealing as allocating to maximise lives saved. The problem with the second argument is that it does not seem possible to entirely rebut the fact that drug abuse leads to a higher risk of organ rejection. While it is possible to frame out certain health risks, for example, by pointing out that STD’s or immune problems acquired due to drug use are already accounted for by the health check’s done to determine rejection risk, it is not possible to frame out the risk of re-addiction and consequent rejection as that is a risk a doctor cannot know of without taking into account past history of substance abuse. Also, framing out the health risks of drug addiction by shoving them into the “general health” requirements can be a bit iffy if Gov are smart enough to argue that certain health risks associated with addiction are not possible to independently verify/discover. Hence, my belief that the motions is likely unbalanced
Round 2:

While this is a round I personally find much more interesting, it is one which seems to be even more unbalanced. This time, I’ll start with the possible opp lines (many of which are lifted from other people in the tournament)

  1. The purpose of the justice system is to provide restitution and closure to victims
    1. victims of intentional crime are, all things equal, more offended than victims of accidents. The same applies to victims families.
  2. The purpose of the justice system is to  punish people who do evil
    1. Intentional harm to another is more evil than unintentional harm
      1. i.e: What’s more evil? 1: carelessly leaving medicine where a child could find it, drink it and die. 2: forcing the same medicine down the child’s throat because you want to kill it.
  3. The purpose of the justice system is to protect society from dangerous people
    1. Man-Slaughterers are less likely to reoffend than those who made a decision to take a life


I find these arguments to be, generally speaking, quite obvious, easy to argue and persuasive. On the other hand, I struggle to see what Gov can argue and most of the obvious lines are comparatively weaker. i.e:

  • (depending on mech) [Longer/Shorter] sentences are better because deterrence/prisons are bad]
    • Rebuttal: Just make sentences generally longer/shorter but not the same
  • Victims are equally offended in both cases
    • Rebuttal: False, intentional crime is more offensive
  • Both crimes are equally evil as both show a disregard for human life
    • Rebuttal: Murder = intentional = far greater disregard
      • i.e: What’s more evil? 1: carelessly leaving medicine where a child could find it, drink it and die. 2: forcing the same medicine down the child’s throat because you want to kill it.
  • There is no free will and morality does not exist?????
    • Rebuttal:
      • Crazy
      • no moral culpability
      • not intuitively plausible
      • (advanced but devastating): no free will = no personhood


Note that this is not to say that it is impossible to argue for Opp. I would be glad to do so and I think many philosophy students or high-level debaters would be capable of doing so. My point is that it seems to be far easier to argue for prop, especially for the average debater in the average room, which leads me to believe that the motion could be unbalanced.

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Mascha Bloemer contributor

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Martijn OttenGeplaatst op11:37 pm - jun 8, 2015

Michael Dunn posted some interesting prop-arguments on Facebook that are worth mentioning:

1.Free will does not exist, there is no such thing as intent, it is wrong to impose suffering upon people for that over which they have no control.

2. Even if choice does exist, there is no cogent moral distinction between the choice to, say, drive drunk and the choice to stab someone. In both cases, the behaviour which you are knowingly engaging in forseeably leads to an elevated chance of someone else dying. Sure the probabilities are higher in the latter case, 99.9% vs 30% or 40% but the callous disregard for human life is the same in both cases.

3. If the right to incarcerate people in anchored in the suffering imposed on victims and the grieving then the harm done and hurt caused should not be categorically different. In both cases, someone has been deprived of their life and others of a loved one, and to claim that intent should inherently have any bearing on their suffering and loss is absurd. That’s not to say it ought not have an influence, but this is better taken into account by, say, a victim impact statement than a separate offence.

4. Consequentionalist argument. This would lead to shorter sentences. Whatever opp counterprop, manslaughter will be getting less time than murder, and we’ll be giving everyone this time. Insert arguments about shorter sentences being good.

5. Consequentionalist argument. This would lengthen sentences. Whatever opp counter prop, murder will be getting more time than manslaughter, and we’ll be giving everyone this time. Inset arguments about longer sentences being good.

6. Consequentionalist argument, but more fun. The idea that people who commit murder are somehow marked out as different from other people who are just careless or respond poorly to circumstance, is harmful. There is no such thing as an evil person: rather bad luck or carelessness often leads people to do bad things. Here, in both cases, people are making choices that lead to bad outcomes – picking out a particular set of choices and saying ‘these are especially bad’ strengthens the idea that there exists special moral evil in the world. This idea is so harmful because it limits attempts to tackle the underlying causes of crime because – y’know – they are just evil people and there’s no stopping them.

Disclaimer: obviously this is very summary and there is *way* more to say on all of these.

    Srdjan MileticGeplaatst op2:07 am - jun 10, 2015

    I saw them but I think the majority of these arguments are more difficult to argue for and less accessible (likely to occur to a debater during prep time) than the Opp arguments. Specific problems:

    1. It’s dammed hard to convince the AIV that there is no free will, largely because the idea is so unintuitive and there are some really unpleasant consequences to accepting it, such as not being able to hold anyone accountable for their actions and potentially being unable to maintain a meaningful concept of personhood (although this is somewhat beyond the average debate). Even assuming you manage to prove free will does not exist, it turns the debate into one about deterrence, protection and restitution to victims which is still biased in Opp’s favour.
    2. Just not plausible, higher % chance of harm to another person indicates a greater degree of disregard for human life by those who take an action(i.e: leaving medicine out where a child could eat it vs force feeding the child medicine). Also, murderers do so intentionally while many manslaughter are genuinely ignorant of their action entailing a significant risk to others.
    3. Good mitigation of opp arguments that murder is more offensive to victims/familly, but is only mitigation and not an argument for equal sentencing… unless you really know what you’re doing. I’ll say a bit more about this lower down.
    4&5. Irrelevant. Just shorten/lengthen sentences. Not an argument to make them equal
    6. Very hard to argue convincingly. Hard to argue that sentencing changes public perceptions. Hard to argue that public perceptions of evil are wrong and there is no sutch thing as evil. Hard to argue ideas of evil are bad. In short, if you can win running this you’re probably 1) so much better than your opponents or 2)so, so good that your debate is not really representative of the balance of the motion.

    One really interesting, and potentially strong, prop line that just occurred to me based on number 2 is to prop that you would make the sentences for murder, manslaughter and ALL CRIMES a matter of judicial discretion. After all, putting crimes into rigid categories obviously entails problems arising from the fact that punishments assigned to certain categories of crime are generalizations of how heinous we see the average crime in that category to be, meaning that certain outlier cases are unjustly punished too harshly or lightly. That being said, I’m not sure how far this is likely to occur to the average debater or how likely it is to be acceptable to judges, especially bad ones who punish unexpected mech’s, so I doubt it has much effect on balance.

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