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The Contender
Con (against)
18 Points

When in conflict, Idealism should be valued above Pragmatism

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/30/2009 Category: Miscellaneous
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 2,083 times Debate No: 8037
Debate Rounds (3)
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A couple weeks ago, the radio in my car stopped working. Now, since I'm a guy, you can imagine that this was pretty much the end of the world for me because I really value being able to listen to music. The next day I took my car to a mechanic and he was able to fix the radio. Now, although the mechanic allowed me to achieve my goal of listening to my radio again, I don't value taking my car to the shop, rather I value being able to listen to music again. It's very much a similar scenario when we are faced with a conflict between Idealism and Pragmatism. While it is sometimes necessary to sometimes be Pragmatic about a situation, we must never let that pragmatism become the primary focus, we must always hold our ideals highest or we will never be able to achieve anything. It is for this reason that I stand solidly resolved that: When in conflict, Idealism should be valued above Pragmatism.

To better help us understand this resolution and the terms provided I offer the following definitions:

When two ideas come into Conflict, they "come into disagreement; [and are] contradictory, at variance, or in opposition"

Idealism is defined as "the cherishing or pursuit of high or noble principles, purposes, goals, etc." (Random House Dictionary)

Pragmatism, on the other hand, is defined as "a way of approaching situations or solving problems that emphasizes practical applications and consequences." (American Heritage Dictionary)

And finally, to Value something is "to consider with respect to worth, excellence, usefulness, or importance."

Because this is such a vast topic I would like to present the value of Liberty as the scale to weigh the round. We can define Liberty as "freedom from arbitrary government or control" (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language)

Now let's go ahead and look at how Liberty is the most important value in…

Contention 1: Liberty is the highest value
Lord Acton once said "Liberty is not the means to a higher political end; it is the highest political end. It is not for the sake of good public administration that it is required, but for security in the pursuit of the highest objects of civil society, and of private life"

What this is saying is that without personal liberty it is impossible to achieve any other value. Great leaders from William Wallace to Patrick Henry recognized this fact and crafted their actions in a way that best upheld this standard. Because Liberty is the value from which all other values are derived, I strongly urge you to vote for Liberty at the end of today's debate round.

Now that we've established the superiority of Liberty, let's look at how Pragmatism fails to give us true liberty in….

Contention 2: Pragmatism fails at Liberty
During the Spanish conquest of South America the Catholic priests who ministered to the natives had a great opportunity to improve the native's liberty. However, despite having this goal, it wasn't long before they became bogged down in Old World style bureaucracy. They quickly traded their ideals for a more pragmatic outlook on the situation and as a result the natives suffered. Not only did the natives not gain the liberty they desperately needed, the same priests that began with such a noble goal actually became the facilitators of the injustices that allowed millions of the natives to die in the Spanish gold mines. Because Idealism was not valued over Pragmatism Liberty was destroyed for millions.

Another example where we can see Pragmatism failing to deliver Liberty was in the Japanese Internment Camps during World War Two. For decades, America had valued Liberty above all else. But after the bombing of Perl Harbor, the American people, desperate for something to do, forgot about their ideals and turned to the most immediate solution: locking all the Japanese Americans in prison. While a small amount of safety may have been achieved, the cost was undeniable. Pragmatism cost thousands of people their liberty.

Now that we've seen that Pragmatism fails to deliver liberty, let's look at how Idealism is capable of giving us true liberty in…

Contention 3: Idealism succeeds where Pragmatism fails
Now, there are a multitude of examples of places in history where Liberty was upheld through Idealism but for now I'd like to look at two related examples.

Before America broke away from England the founding fathers came to understand how important liberty truly was. Not only that, these men understood that if they looked at the situation pragmatically they would never be able to achieve this goal. In fact, from a practical standpoint, the American Revolution appeared to be foolishly impossible. However, because the founding fathers valued the ideal of liberty so highly they launched a new nation and were able to achieve a great amount of liberty.

The next example is the Civil Rights movement of the nineteen hundreds. The men and women who made a stand for civil liberties did so knowing that they were likely to be jailed or even, as was the case with Martin Luther King Junior, killed for their values. However, they refused to view their situation pragmatically, and as a result, a huge step towards true liberty was made.

In conclusion I want to leave you with two thoughts: One, Liberty is the highest value we can seek to achieve and two, when there is a conflict between idealism and pragmatism in the pursuit of liberty, Idealism should always be valued first. For these reasons I strongly urge you to join with me in making a stand for liberty by affirming the resolution.


This is an excellent debate topic. I appreciate the challenge.

I accept Pro's definitions. For the purposes of this debate I also accept Pro's first contention that liberty is the highest value. I'll note that liberty defined as "freedom from arbitrary government or control" leaves a lot of room to debate what is arbitrary and what is not.

Pro implicitly assumes that one should have ideals, otherwise there is no point in debating the best way to advance one's ideals. I accept the notion of having ideals. However, I do no accept the notion that ideals ought to be immutable. Ideals, I contend, ought to be changeable in the details. thus liberty as a broad ideal ought to be maintained, but exactly what is arbitrary control and what is not arbitrary control is subject to experience, which is to say it is subject to pragmatism.

Pro gives exactly two examples of pragmatism failing to achieve liberty. We are supposed to generalize that pragmatism always fails. His two examples are Spanish priests failing to give liberty to natives in South America, and the confinement of Japanese Americans in World War II. Pro's examples actually illustrate a tautology: if one fails to provide liberty, then liberty is not provided. That's true, but not helpful in assessing pragmatism as a strategy in achieving liberty as opposed to the single-minded pursuit of idealism.

For example, about 500,000 soldiers from the Axis Powers were captured by the Allies in World War II. None were given trials in civilian courts, they were not each provided with an attorney to represent them, and in few case were they imprisoned based upon forensic evidence or sworn testimony of accusers. It would have been a physical impossibility to have done so. So should have idealism have prevailed and all the prisoners released to return to the battlefield? That is a conflict between idealism and pragmatism. Having sent 500,000 enemy soldiers back to fight would undoubtedly have cost many thousands of lives and prolonged, if not lost the war. Liberty would certainly have been enhanced for the prisoners, they would have been freed. However liberty would have been diminished for Allied soldiers, and perhaps for the citizens of allied countries. Having liberty as an ideal does not resolve the situation. The decision is a pragmatic one.

Pro gives exactly two examples of idealism obtaining liberty: the American Revolution and the Civil Rights Movement. From this we are to generalize that idealism always is the best way to achieve liberty. In virtually every case of lost liberty, someone has pursued an idealistic approach to obtain it. Sometimes that approach succeeds, sometimes it fails. For example, what toppled the old Soviet Empire? It was idealism only in the sense of having ideals as goals, which I have stipulated as appropriate, but the method was clearly pragmatic. Economic pressure caused the empire to crumble, not idealists within Russia protesting or external idealistic pronouncements independent of pragmatic action.

Examining realistic problems, we see the resolution is inherently flawed because "idealism" is too poorly defined to know how to apply the rule that the proposition asserts. Consider the common question in foreign policy as to whether to confront or engage a nation that suppresses liberty. Will the prospects for liberty be enhanced by confronting or engaging North Korea? Iran? Somali pirates? South Africa under apartheid? Having liberty as an ideal doesn't serve as a guide for action. One must make a pragmatic decision on a case-by-case basis as to the best way to achieve the goal of liberty.

Turning to American politics, we may ask which is the best way to enhance liberty. Is it to support Ralph Nader or Ron Paul, depending upon one's idealistic concept of liberty? Minority candidates are unlikely to succeed, so it is not obvious that supporting a candidate of idealism best advances the ideals. It might be better to focus on single issues in a strategy of making incremental gains. Or it might be better to work within one of the major Parties to attempt to push them in direction desired. Asserting that idealism should be favored over pragmatism does nothing to resolve the choice. Does idealism always favor tilting at windmills? Or does idealism always favor taking the pragmatic route to an ideal?

If liberty is the highest value, does that mean that all common criminals properly convicted crimes ought to be released? Clearly, that increases the liberty of the convicts. On the face of it, idealism is in favor of releasing the serial killers, while pragmatism argues not to do that. However, there is some countervailing loss of liberty in society as whole, so it is not so simple. The rule to place idealism above pragmatism is in fact not helpful in resolving the apparent conflict.

The resolution fails because it does not provide a rule that can be followed. If one comes up with an interpretation that can be followed, the resolution then fails because the rule sometimes succeeds and other times fails. A much better rule is to do what we judge pragmatically to be the best route to achieving liberty.

The resolution is negated.
Debate Round No. 1


norin forfeited this round.


Was the decision to forfeit pragmatic or idealistic?

Arguments are continued.
Debate Round No. 2


norin forfeited this round.


I was hoping for a debate rather than a prompted monologue. I think it is bad conduct to post a challenge then forfeit. My arguments went unaswered, so they stand.
Debate Round No. 3
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Vote Placed by 1Devilsadvocate 3 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: F.F.
Vote Placed by DDO.votebombcounter1 4 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Countering Erick
Vote Placed by Erick 4 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: :)
Vote Placed by RoyLatham 7 years ago
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