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Subject: Question regarding semantics of resolution for college policy debate
Question: I am a policy debater at the University of Michigan. For the entire year we debate about a single resolution and have to propose policies that fall under the scope of the resolution. Part of the debate is figuring out the best way to interpret words in the resolution, and a prerequisite to that is an understanding of the semantics of the language used in the resolution. This year's national resolution is: ''Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially reduce restrictions on and/or substantially increase financial incentives for energy production in the United States of one or more of the following: coal, crude oil, natural gas, nuclear power, solar power, wind power.'' My question regards the prepositional phrase ''in the United States.'' Does this phrase modify the verbs (''reduce... and/or... increase,'' meaning that the action must take place in the United States), the direct objects (''restrictions... and/or... financial incentives,'' meaning that the restrictions/incentives must be lifted/provided in the United States), or the other prepositional phrase (''for energy production,'' meaning that the energy production must occur in the United States)?
Reply: I agree it's ambiguous. I don't know what you procedures you use to clarify a resolution, but if I were in your situation, I would invoke them. One reason legal language is so complex is that it needs to clarify ambiguities such as how the prepositional phrase should be interpreted. In the normal course of events we use real world information to resolve these ambiguities (as noted by Dr. Sampson), but court cases can happen BECAUSE parties are in conflict over an ambiguous phrase. Clarifying ambiguities, especially when two parties may not be inclined to cooperate, can therefore require some effort in the legal profession. Hope this makes sense
Reply From: Elizabeth J Pyatt      click here to access email
Date: 31-Jan-2013
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Question regarding semantics of resolution for college policy debate    Geoffrey Richard Sampson     (31-Jan-2013)

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