Your Value Doesn’t Matter, Part 1: The Role of Values

This post was the precursor to a much more comprehensive look at the role of values in this article.


Often, I get asked, “What’s a better value than the one I have now?”, “What value are you using in your case?”, or “How do you beat this value? I can’t think of anything.” Ninety-five percent of the time, it doesn’t matter. Often, in the context of the round, the value is only a peripheral part of the debate.

In this post, we’ll be looking at why we we even use values in value debate and why the role of values means they will always be secondary to the arguments in the resolution.

The Value Debate

Before we get into all the jazz about cool ways to look at values—we need to look at the accepted, canonical role of values. In any debate, we start with the resolution, which defines the two sides of the debate. Assuming the resolution doesn’t explicitly specify a value (“Resolved: On balance, violent revolution is a just response to oppression”), debaters take the argument that their respective sides lead to specific, arbitrarily-chosen, real-world results. One side might explain how their advocacy leads to justice, while the other side argues that they lead to general welfare. The debaters must do their best to prove without a shadow of a doubt that their side of the resolution leads to their value.

Why We Need Values

If both debaters have proven that they garner their respective values and their cases are waterproof, the debate, at this point, is at a deadlock. Both sides agree that they each lead to some positive value, and there is no way to choose a winner. Here, the round progresses to the value debate, where the deadlock is broken. The debaters argue that the results of each side of the debate should be preferred based on a priority of values. This occurs, however, only if both sides have proven their cases without the shadow of a doubt.

That’s theoretically why value debates need to occur: when we weigh two positions, their conflict sometimes comes down to a struggle between two underlying principles. What I just described is a textbook value debate.

Why Arguments Come First

In reality, however, seldom are cases airtight: the link from the resolution to the case, the internal links in the case, and the link from the case to the value are all too often weak. But as the necessity of a value conflict is based on the strength of those individual links, seldom is there a need to resort to the value debate to win a round. (we’ll be discussing why it’s a good idea to link turn your opponent’s value in part 3)

What’s a good value? The best answer is “the one that goes with your arguments.” A good argument will bring a good value. If your argument isn’t strong enough, picking the “strongest” value will help you as much as shouting “my case is amazing” at commercial vaccuum cleaner decibel levels. The role of the value debate as a tiebreaker shows the importance of first and foremost shoring up your arguments that prove your case actually leads to the value. The value debate doesn’t happen without it.