Value, Fact, and Policy Resolutions

Academic debate offers resolutions with three different kinds of claims: value, fact, and policy. Understanding the difference between them allows you to craft your case with precision, and deliver your advocacy with accuracy.

Categories Should be Meaningful

Unfortunately, there's plenty of confusion out there about how these kinds of statements should be defined:

"A Fact Res is a res that uses the word 'is'".

So... the resolutions that use transitive verbs just get lumped into their own category? Take the res: "Peace is more valuable than war." This claim feels different from something like: "The United States is the freest nation in the world." The verb they use isn't the crux.

Or "A Fact Res claims that something is true." 

So do all resolutions! Policy and value resolutions don't claim to be false, do they? We need a better way to differentiate resolutions. Let's start with value claims:

Value Resolutions Assign Worth to Something.

Worth is not scientifically testable. Stanford University couldn't release a studying proving that hamsters make nice pets, or that Rice Krispies are more delicious than Cocoa Puffs.

Value claims are claims that you can't be completely wrong about.

"I think mango smoothies are delicious."

You get the idea. Tomorrow morning, I could inform all of my students that I believe the Emoji Movie to be a better film than Lord of the Rings. There would likely be outrage and picketing outside my apartment, but no one could say I was provably wrong. My movie preferences are my own business!

There are lots of ways to assign worth to something. Value Resolutions can say something is moral, something is good, something is delicious.

There are also two kinds of Value Resolutions:

Brightline & Comparative

Brightline Value Resolutions assign worth to one thing: x has this kind of value.
Example: Hamsters make good pets.

Comparative Value Resolutions assign worth to more than one thing: "x is better than y."
Example: Hamsters make better pets than snakes.

For your reference, both NCFCA and Stoa's LD resolutions this year are comparative value, whereas last year's Stoa resolution ("Preemptive warfare is morally justified") was a brightline value resolution.

Fact Resolutions Make a Claim About a Testable Aspect of Reality.

"Fossil fuels will be obsolete in 50 years."
"The war on terror is winnable."

Fact Resolutions don't care about how much something is worth. It wouldn't matter if you supported fossil fuels or not, the resolution is just asking you to prove that they'll be out of touch in half a century.

Check out the contrast between fact and value:

Fact: "A libertarian candidate will win the next Presidential Election."
Value: "Libertarianism is the best political philosophy."

See the difference? While the value res assigns worth to libertarianism, the fact res claims that an event will really happen, and we can test that prediction with real things (polling data, for example).

Just remember: Facts don't care what you had for breakfast. They don't like things. They don't not like things, either. They just make a statement about reality.

Policy Resolutions Suggest a Course of Action (Typically Through Change).

You can have a policy resolution that doesn't ask us to change anything (The United States should retain its current minimum wage). That's still a policy resolution, just a bad one. Most will ask us to make something different.

In a nutshell, policy resolutions just say "do this thing". 

"The FDA should be abolished."
"A country should be invaded."
"We should all go to the zoo."

One time in a college round I had a two-word policy res: "Go Vegan."

What about Metaphor/Scenario Resolutions?

Metaphors and Scenarios are not actually different resolution categories, just different ways of expressing one of the three above. 

Metaphor Resolutions (Such as "The glass ceiling can be broken") are still either fitting into either fact, value, or policy: they're just hiding behind some ambiguity. In the example, we'd probably interpret the resolution to be fact.

Scenario Resolutions usually end up being policy, since the topic usually gives us an extended story about some situation and then finishes with "do this thing."

Use your knowledge about the first three categories to understand the rest, and you'll move into case construction with ease.