Chapter 13

Advanced Theory


What do you mean, advanced theory? Don’t we have enough theory already?

Debate theory is an ongoing process. Each generation sees something new develop. Cross-examination and the comparative advantage case format became part of high school debate in the 1960s; justification arguments first appeared in the 1970s; and the newest concepts — which we will be examining in this chapter and the next — came to the forefront in the 1990s.

Two factors drive the evolution of debate theory. First is the quest of Negative debaters to expand their repertory of tactics. High school debate resolutions have become broader in scope over the last few decades. This has enlarged the range of possible Affirmative cases and, some experts contend, handicapped Negative debaters. Negatives are forced either to research an immense number of potential cases or to fall back increasingly on generic arguments. But the potential research burden is so vast that it’s impractical for most schools, making the first option undesirable; and judges tend to favor case-specific over generic arguments, making the second option undesirable, too. So what are Negatives to do? What they have done is to seize new theoretical tools that can be used against a broad range of Affirmative cases.

The second factor promoting the evolution of debate theory has been the spillover from collegiate debate. Colleges and universities began experimenting with non-policy debate some twenty years ago. Policy debate still flourishes at the college level, too. It was inevitable that some of the experiments being tried in collegiate debate would find their way to high-school contests, since college debaters often serve as judges — and sometimes, as coaches — for high- school teams.

It is important to realize that this experimentation with debate theory is not a threat to you. Much of the advanced theory we will look at in this chapter is just a strategic application of concepts you have already learned. If you are a novice debater, it is highly unlikely that you will encounter such tactics as counterwarrants in the course of a debate round. Even varsity debaters will rarely meet with issues in advanced theory. And — in those rare instances when your opponents initiate an advanced tactic, the experimental nature of their strategy will force them to assume that the judge is unfamiliar with it. They will have to explain their reasoning in precise detail to make sure they’re understood — and this explanation will also make their argument and theoretical basis understandable to you, too.


Okay, how does the Negative strategically apply the concepts they already know?

There are three techniques that are immediately accessible to the Negative: developing shell disadvantages, reassigning speaker responsibilities, and using conditional arguments.

Shell disadvantages.
A policy debate is really a conflict between the arguments of the Affirmative case against those of the Negative case. But the Negative is handicapped under the traditional style of presentation. The disadvantages of the Affirmative plan are usually the most important parts of the Negative case — yet those are not presented until the very last constructive speech. The 1AR will blow off the D-As with simple refutation: "No link, no brink, no impact, and anyway, the Affirmative advantages outweigh the D-A." All of the great 2NC substructure is discarded. In reply, the 2NR speaker could spend time rebuilding each D-A in detail; but he or she doesn’t really have the time, since all the other important arguments in the round also have to be covered in this brief speech. So the disadvantages are also slighted in the final rebuttals. And that’s a pity for the Negatives, because the D-As may be the most telling arguments in the round. Because so much more time in the round is given to the Affirmative case than to the disadvantages, the Affirmative’s arguments receive a psychological advantage in the mind of the judge.

The shell disadvantage (sometimes called a skeleton disadvantage) attempts to remedy this situation by bringing out disadvantage arguments early. They are initially presented during the First Negative Constructive, either at the start or near the conclusion of the speech. A shell D-A is developed just like any other disadvantage: it has a link to the Affirmative case, one or more internal links, a claim of uniqueness, and a clear impact. The distinction is simplicity: the structure is deliberately simplified to comprise only major points; and the evidence is very brief. The First Negative labels the shell disadvantages "D-A number one, D-A number two," and so forth; he does not explicitly call them "shell D-A number one."

The response to the shell D-A will have to arise in the Second Affirmative Constructive; if the Affirmative waits until 1AR, their responses become new arguments in the rebuttal and will be discarded. Since 2AR wants to get on with the usual business of rebuilding case arguments, he is likely to give only the usual brief responses to the shell D-A: "No link, no threshold, etc." Some 2ARs will spend the time to give reasonable, substantive responses to the shell disadvantages, of course, along with making these refutation responses.

The Second Negative Constructive then has responsibility for carrying the argument forward. He will adapt to the strategy of the previous speaker. If the 2AR gave lots of solid responses, the D-A will probably be dropped at this point. That’s okay; a good Negative team can afford to lose the occasional disadvantage. But if 2AR merely followed the usual 1AR pattern of weak refutational claims, then 2NC will turn to his work with gusto. He will go back to the original D-A structure from 1NC and fill in with additional evidence and substructure, spreading and extending his partner’s initial arguments. For every Affirmative challenge — "No link," perhaps — he will provide one or more reasons backed up with evidence to show there is a solid link between the plan and the disadvantage. Most important of all, he may tie in new impacts flowing out of the disadvantage. Remember, since this is a constructive speech, the 2NC speaker is not limited to merely parroting arguments that have been already presented; he is permitted to advance completely new positions. Of course, the Second Negative will not devote the entire speech to expanding shell disadvantages; he will also present his own original plan attacks.

This strategy puts intense pressure on the First Affirmative Rebuttal. It is intended to put pressure on 1AR. Sure, the speaker has to refute the new plan attacks. But against the disadvantages that originally arose as shell D-As, the First Affirmative is allowed no new responses. The Affirmative side has already staked out a position on those arguments in 2AC. Some leeway will be given to accommodate the Negative extensions, but the Affirmative cannot bring up any novel substantive positions. And that’s what makes this strategy so fiendishly effective! If, for example, the chief 2AC argument against a shell D-A was that it has a weak impact, and then 2NC extends the initial argument to demonstrate a strong impact, 1AR can only reply by trying to reaffirm the "weak impact" claim, which is no longer credible.

The shell D-A strategy not only operates to get a Negative case developed early in the round, but it also forces the Affirmative to commit to a certain position on the disadvantage early as well. Additionally, by introducing an argument in the First Negative and following through in the Second Negative Constructive, the shell D-A links the partners into a team strategy in a way we have not seen before.

The only way that Affirmatives can avoid the potential trap of a D-A shell is for the Second Affirmative to refute it soundly in 2AC — to give multiple substantive answers rather than to rely on presses and refutation without evidence.

Reassigning speaker responsibilities.
Conventionally, the First Negative covers case stock issues — need and inherency — leaving the Second Negative solvency and disadvantages. But it must be stressed that this is a convention, not a law fixed in stone. We have already seen in previous chapters that 1NC will sometimes address solvency by dissecting the Affirmative arguments. And the very existence of shell D-As suggests that plan attacks need not be the exclusive property of the Second Negative.

In truth, Negatives are free to distribute their speaker responsibilities as they like. The conventional way is very effective as an instructional vehicle for beginning debaters, and it allows the maximum time for developing an in-depth spread on all the stock issues for veteran debaters. But sometimes your strategic needs may not make this the best possible approach. Perhaps the specific need claim is something that’s fundamentally true, and the Affirmatives are going to win that stock issue even if you read your best evidence; or perhaps the inherency claim is something you’ve never heard of before, and you know you don’t have anything to defeat it. Or perhaps the Affirmative case is so squirrelly that the First Negative wants to present about five minutes of topicality and justification arguments, forcing him to drop some other issues.

All these conditions can be accommodated by flexible reassignment of speaker duties. Either Negative speaker can initiate arguments on any of the stock issues during his constructive speech, with the exception that most judges — as we learned earlier — will accept topicality challenges only if they arise in the First Negative Constructive.

Negatives varying the usually assignment of speaker duties should take note of three special considerations. First, you should be very careful to let the judge know that this is a deliberate strategy, not a product of misunderstanding the usual speaker assignments. This can be done by beginning 1NC with a road map of the two constructive speeches, telling both the judge and the Affirmatives which stock issues will be covered in which Negative speech.

Second, reassigning speaker duties requires absolute mastery of organization. All arguments against the Affirmative case should use the outline structure and argument labels from the case. The Negative speaker should present all case arguments in a cluster, traveling once down the outline, rather than taking random potshots at points in the case and alternating them with plan arguments. And please use consistent numbering between the speeches! If the First Negative presents two PMA’s and one disadvantage in his speech, then the Second Negative’s first PMA should be numbered "PMA Three," and the first new disad in 2NR should be "Disadvantage Two."

Third, make sure that the division of duties maximizes your effectiveness by maximizing the number of issues you cover. Second Negative should initiate new arguments rather than repeat and extend positions which arose in the First Negative’s speech. This error — of wasting the constructive opportunities of 2NC — is the one that most often bedevils debaters experimenting with this strategy for the first time.

One technique that has proved very effective is the Emory Switch, a strategy that was first employed by debaters from Emory University. The Emory Switch merely exchanges speaker responsibilities between First and Second Negatives, insofar as that is possible. Thus, First Negative will present plan attacks PMAs and D-As), and cover topicality if that will be an issue in the round; the Second Negative will cover need and inherency, and (possibly) attack the case-side solvency arguments. The disadvantages developed in 1NC are not shell D-As — they will be fully-developed plan attacks.

The Emory Switch has notable benefits. It allows the Negative to establish its case early in the debate. It gives the Second Affirmative no clue to what case-side arguments will eventually be contested by the Negative; consequently, 2AR has to run as many extensions as possible, knowing some of them will be wasted. By waiting until both Affirmative constructive speeches have passed before challenging case issues, the Negatives gain the opportunity to detect any cracks in the complete Affirmative analysis — and the greatest chance to sit back and plan a strategy against the Affirmative case.

There is a tradeoff in adopting the Emory Switch. Although the Negative gets plan objections on the record early — in 1NC — there is little time to develop penetrating case-specific arguments. Thus, most of the plan attacks will be relatively weak, generic positions. And the importance of the Affirmative case may be reinforced in the judge’s mind, since so great a period elapses before it is contested by the Negative. The Emory Switch is a powerful and effective strategy, but it probably should not be used by all Negative teams every round. Rather, it should be reserved for those rounds when, after hearing the Affirmative case, you realize that you aren’t likely to develop great case-specific plan attacks but could benefit from a deeper analysis of case issues. To have this option open, though, means that both Negative speakers need to be equally adept at presenting case and plan attacks.

How does the Affirmative team respond to the Negative’s reassigning speaker duties? They do what Affirmatives always do: refute everything the Negative says, and rebuild the Affirmative case as needed. In 2AC, the speaker will begin by covering topicality, then any plan attacks (in depth), and then rebuilding and extending case arguments. If nothing was attacked on case side, extensions are still important. The First Affirmative Rebuttal will cover plan attacks, topicality, and then case arguments, but will put the greatest stress on refuting arguments that first appeared in 2NC, for the Affirmative has never had a chance to answer those. There really is no major change in strategy for Affirmatives, just a change in emphasis; keep calm, and you will find you can adapt to Negative tactics gracefully.

Conditional arguments
By conditional arguments, we mean arguments that are presented but not fully endorsed unless or until some conditions are met. As we have seen, Negatives like to pose dilemmas for the Affirmative team. Often, though, in trying to build a dilemma, Negatives have to present mutually contradictory arguments. We have already met some of these earlier in this text: for instance, Negatives may argue that the plan is so poorly constructed that it would never solve the harms, and then also argue that when the plan solves the harms, undesirable consequences will arise. A little thought reveals that these arguments cannot both be true. Indeed, Affirmatives might be able to destroy one or both of the arguments by pointing out the contradiction. So Negatives try to use conditional argumentation to make these contradictions more acceptable. "We don’t think the plan will work," they may say, introducing the PMA, "but if the plan does work — if you, judge, grant solvency to the Affirmative — then this disadvantage which outweighs the case benefits will also occur." The Negative is asking that the disad be considered only after solvency has been decided, and then only if solvency falls Affirmative.

Virtually any argument can be made conditional or contingent on the decision of other issues. But Negatives seem to get special joy out of applying conditional arguments to inherency issues — especially conditional minor repairs and conditional counterplans. The Negative first relies on a defense of the status quo to win inherency. But if the status quo is proven to be faulty, then they will invoke the conditional counterplan.

Unfortunately, once Negatives learn they can advocate conditional arguments, some abuse the privilege. Your author once judged a round in which the Negative argued (1) that the harm claimed by the Affirmative wasn’t really bad, but good, so there was no need established; (2) and the status quo is better at getting this good thing, there is a disadvantage to replacing the present system by the Affirmative plan, (3) but, conditionally, if the Affirmative wins the need issue by proving this thing really is bad, then the status quo could minimize its occurrence more than the plan could, so there is no inherency; (4) but if the status quo really can’t minimize the occurrence of the bad thing, then here is a conditional minor repair that would work; (5) but if the Affirmative proves the minor repair doesn’t work, then this conditional counterplan will capture the Affirmative advantage and provide additional benefits as well; (6) and, if the counterplan is not needed, here is a conditional disadvantage that applies to the Affirmative plan and is unique relative to the status quo and the minor repair, although not to the counterplan; (7) but, if the counterplan is needed, here is a conditional disadvantage that is unique to the plan relative to the counterplan (though the disadvantage would also accrue under the status quo). You will not be surprised to learn this round was a confusing mess to judge. The Affirmative remained calm; ultimately, the Negative team became disoriented by the interwoven layers of their own hypothetical arguments, dropped a few crucial positions, and lost the round.

It is not settled in contemporary debate theory whether conditional positions must be resolved at the end of the round. Many judges and debate theoreticians believe that the Negatives have a duty to condense their arguments to a well-defined, internally consistent position by the conclusion of 2NR. Such a viewpoint requires the Negatives either to drop conditional arguments or to affirm them by dropping contradictory arguments. But this opinion is far from universal: other debate experts have no reservations about voting for a Negative team that may have contradictory positions outstanding at the end of the round.

More conservative judges may disapprove of conditional arguments altogether, or may dislike some conditional arguments. In particular, a few judges are biased against conditional counterplans, believing that if the Negative team is willing to jettison the presumption of the status quo, they should have the conviction to stand behind arguments fully. We will look at judges’ reactions to advanced theory more fully when we examine judge paradigms a few pages from now.


Is there anything else devious that can be done with counterplans?

Sure! Usually Negatives present counterplans in order to demonstrate a nontopical policy alternative that is superior to the Affirmative plan. Much of the debate in the round would focus on the counterplan’s merits. But sometimes the Negative will present a counterplan with a different aim in mind: to make a disadvantage unique. That is, the Negative will present a disadvantage that applies both to the status quo and the Affirmative plan — but, since the counterplan abandons the status quo, the disadvantage must be counted as a unique hazard of the Affirmative plan.

Let’s look at an example. Under a resolution calling for federal intervention in public secondary education, the Affirmative calls for the federal government to be the sole source of funding for public education. The Negative wants to argue that federal funding will lead to federal control of schools, and that anything which interferes with local control of education will destroy a vital relationship in American communities. However, since the federal government currently sends a trickle of money to public schools, the Negative can’t plausibly argue that any federal funding is disastrous. The crafty Negatives, though, first introduce a counterplan banning any federal funding for public schools. The disadvantage they introduce later applies to the plan and to the status quo, but not to the counterplan; the counterplan has made the disadvantage unique.

Of course, such a counterplan introduced for tactical reasons still has to prove itself in its own right: it must be nontopical, competitive, and at least as beneficial as the Affirmative plan in order to win.


Counterwarrants were mentioned several paragraphs ago. What are they?

The concept of counterwarrants originated in college debate, and has begun to seep into high school debate as well. They are very controversial, and may be rejected by many judges in states where the style of debate is conservative.

At the heart of counterwarrant theory is the logical fallacy known as hasty generalization. To explain that will require some background. Philosophers have identified two broad methods of reaching conclusions from data. Deductive reasoning is the process used in mathematics and formal logic: from a limited set of assumptions (sometimes called axioms) and a set of rules, an investigator can outline a series of steps leading to a specific conclusion. Anyone who has worked with proofs in geometry class will be familiar with the process.

However, outside the formal systems of mathematics and logic, we cannot be so rigorous. We are forced to fall back on inductive reasoning (also called inference) to establish the truth or falsity of a statement. We repeatedly compare new data with the statement to be tested. Every datum that supports the statement gives us greater confidence that the statement is true. Each supporting instance provides a warrant — a support for belief — with respect to the statement being investigated. However, even a single example that is opposed to the statement would serve to prove it false. The obvious implication here is that inductive reasoning never provides us with complete certainty, since there may always be a disconfirming example just outside our view.

Does this mean that inductive reasoning is bad reasoning? Far from it! Science operates by inductive reasoning; in fact, all generalizations ever made about the real world are grounded in inductive reasoning.

Let’s take an example. You want to know if all men are irritable if they are awakened from a sound sleep by having ice water dumped on their heads. So you fill up a bucket and set out to test this conclusion by experiment. After — oh, let’s say twenty or thirty trials — you will have accumulated lots of evidence that men are downright cranky when awakened in this manner. Although you cannot have absolute confidence that the statement is true, the fact that you have only confirming examples gives you increased confidence that the conclusion really is true.

Now let’s consider another example. This time, you’re testing the statement ALL BOOKS ARE DICTIONARIES. Again, you look for examples, and this time you visit the public library. The first book you see — that really big one on the reading stand — yes, that’s a dictionary. You wander around the reference shelves and pull out a book at random; yes, by chance this one’s a dictionary too, though it’s written in French. Having taken two samples, you leave the library, confident that the conjecture is probably true.

But, of course, it is false. All books are not dictionaries; relatively few books are dictionaries. Because we considered only a small set of atypical (not typical) examples, we went astray. This is an example of hasty generalization, the use of inductive reasoning to reach a conclusion based on too few examples. In this case, we examined only two books; that’s not a sufficiently broad base for the conclusion we are testing. Looking at just a few more books would probably have been sufficient to give a counterexample to refute our hypothesis.

In policy debate, the Negative counterwarrant strategy claims that the Affirmative case is a single atypical example of reasoning under the resolution. The Negatives further suggest that considering other examples would lead to rejecting the idea that the resolution was generally true. Finally, they then present several alternative examples of topical Affirmative cases and plans, and demonstrate that each of these cases is, indeed, a bad idea. Each of these alternative cases gives a reason why the resolution should be rejected: a counterwarrant. Thus the Negative contends that, as a general principle, the resolution should not be adopted.

If the Negative wins this debate, they have not done so by confronting the Affirmative case set before them. Rather, they have shifted the focus of the debate from the specifics of 1AC to the resolution itself. Indeed, the Negative in a counterwarrant round may never address details of the 1AC’s case and plan. The Negative will argue that its ultimate duty is to oppose the resolution, and that counterwarrants serve as the ultimate test of the resolution’s truth or falsity.

The primary argumentation for this position must fall on the First Negative. He will need to explain to the judge what a hasty generalization is, to argue that 1AC constituted a hasty generalization on the merits of the resolution, to propose the counterwarrant cases and plans, and to show the fatal flaws in the counterwarrant examples.

The Affirmative team — primarily the Second Affirmative Constructive — will likely need to adopt four approaches when faced with a Negative counterwarrant attack. First, they will argue that through its failure to grapple with issues of the Affirmative case, the Negative grants the stock issues to the Affirmative. Second, Affirmative teams will argue that the counterwarrant approach is illegitimate. Since the Affirmative has the initial duty to determine (through their choice of definitions, case, and plan) the range and limits of the resolution, then at the conclusion of 1AC the resolution and the Affirmative plan are identical. Unless the Negative offers a topicality challenge (which is impractical, considering the time 1NC must devote to the counterwarrant arguments), there is no ground for concluding that ANY other cases and plans can be fit within the umbrella of the resolution; the Negative has to argue against the Affirmative policy or concede the round.

Third, the Affirmative will argue that a single desirable plan — such as their own — is sufficient to establish the legitimacy of the resolution. No matter what the topic being debated, anyone can devise a bad topical plan and case. Simply omitting enforcement provisions, or providing inadequate funding, or using an incompetent administrative agency will suffice to make any plan undesirable. But the existence of bad ideas, the Affirmative will argue, does not mean that no idea is good. This argument, if carried throughout the debate, can undercut the legitimacy of the entire Negative strategy.

Fourth, the Affirmative will present a conditional argument: if counterwarrants are accepted as valid Negative strategies, then the particular alternative cases the Negative provides are not legitimate counterexamples of the resolution. At this point, 2AC would use any tactics available to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the counterwarrant cases. One key argument will be topicality: Second Affirmative will present nontopicality challenges to show that the counterwarrant cases are outside the resolution. It is vital that 2AC makes sure any topicality arguments do not apply equally well to the Affirmative case! Additionally, 2AC will examine the Negative’s reasons for rejecting the counterwarrant cases as undesirable. If the "flaws" in the counter-cases are each different, then there is no reason to believe that these weaknesses derive from the resolution; rather, the Negative themselves may have engaged in hasty generalization by choosing atypical, flawed examples. If all the counterexamples share a similar "flaw" that is not shared by the Affirmative plan, that again suggests that the "flaw" is an artifact of the Negative’s selection process rather than a problem stemming from the topic. If the "flaw" applies to the all the counterwarrant cases as well as to the Affirmative case, then the Affirmative can treat this as a generic disadvantage applied to the Affirmative case; they will argue that the D-A is not significant, not bad, and certainly outweighed by Affirmative benefits.

Several potential problems should be obvious at this point. Speaker responsibilities beyond 2AC are undefined. Most of the debate theory we have grown to know is jettisoned. With the abandonment of 1AC’s case structure, the debate may fall apart into a morass of disorganization unless speakers on both sides work especially hard to structure their arguments. The complex theoretical nature of the arguments make this a risky strategy for Negatives unless they know the judge is extraordinarily competent. For these reasons, among others, use of counterwarrants should be approached with extreme caution.


I like the notion that debaters can tell the judge that some sorts of arguments, such as counterwarrants, are or are not acceptable. Is this a part of advanced debate?

Oh, yes. As we have seen, debate theory is constantly in a state of change. Debaters cannot be sure that their judges are aware of the latest vogues in theory. Rather than risk the judge misapplying an argument, debaters will make claims about the relative merits of arguments and theoretical positions. Such decision rules have become hallmarks of contemporary debate.

As the name suggests, a decision rule is a proposed guideline which, if followed, will help the judge choose which side ought to win. We can classify decision rules into two broad categories: those which defend or attack elements of debate theory (which can be called theoretical decision rules or formal decision rules) and those which assign rankings to the impacts of Affirmative need arguments and Negative disadvantages (which we shall call valuative decision rules).

We already have seen a few examples of formal decision rules. Look back at the material we have covered in the chapters on topicality and counterplans. The standards of a nontopicality challenge — which suggest that definitions of a particular type should be preferred over those of other types — are theoretical decision rules. So is the argument that nontopicality ought to be a voting issue. And so is the argument that the Negative loses presumption in a counterplan round. Formal decision rules make a claim about how debate theory should be construed, and back this claim up with reasoning. If the judge accepts the decision rule, it is likely to have a significant influence on which side wins the debate.

The principal lesson of advanced debate is this: all debate theory is tentative and mutable. Debaters may use formal decision rules to argue in favor of, or in opposition to, conventional theory as it has been explained in this book. Additionally, debaters may argue in favor of new theoretical structures — those beyond the scope of what we have covered — which can form the basis of winning debates.

There are three things you may have deduced already about theoretical decision rules. First, they are tools that can be used as readily by the Affirmative as by the Negative. For example, the Affirmative team can argue that nontopicality is a reverse voting issue — since it takes up so much time, and has a potentially devastating effect on the Affirmative if the issue is lost, and since the Negative has staked their whole credibility on this claim that the Affirmative is cheating, then (Affirmatives may say) if the Negatives later lose or drop their nontopicality claim, the decision of the debate should go Affirmative regardless of the other arguments in the round. In another example, Affirmatives could argue that existential inherency is a legitimate approach, or that inherency should not be a voting issue in debate; winning this argument would mean the Affirmative could still win the round even if they lost or failed to present inherency positions.

Second, decision rules become grounds for debate as the round progresses. Just as Affirmatives and Negatives will dispute whether reasonability is the best standard for evaluating definitions, so can any formal decision rule become a topic of conflict between the sides. Indeed, it would be possible for one side to refute a decision rule offered by the other by proposing that all decision rules are invalid — which itself is a decision rule; your author has never seen this attempted, thank goodness.

Third, formal decision rules tend to require analysis by the sponsoring team more than they require evidence. Mind you, if you can find a quotation from a debate authority which adds support to your theoretical position, that is helpful. But a greater emphasis is placed on the reasons why a particular element of debate theory should or should not be accepted, and that requires articulate analysis by the side proposing the rule. It’s often not enough to say that a certain debate authority endorses a theoretical position; it’s more important to show why this theoretical position would improve debate.


Okay, I think I see what you mean about nontopicality being a type of decision rule. Are there any other regular types of formal decision-rules?

Yes. In the 1990s a new form of debate argument emerged, called the kritik. Usually, a kritik is a Negative argument that claims the Affirmative approach has overlooked a crucial gap in our understanding of the world, or that the Affirmative performance in the round is damaging to the conduct of debate. Kritiks have become increasingly important to advanced debate in recent years, and the subject is too complex to explain fully here. We’ll devote the next chapter to them.


What about valuative decision rules?

The other type of decision rule takes some inspiration from value debate, which we briefly mentioned in the first chapters of this text. Debaters also call these decision rules moral imperatives, because they represent moral or ethic rules that is it necessary ("imperative") to follow.

Valuative decision rules identify a particular value — a abstract principle of goodness — as being of superlative importance. Among the values often encountered are freedom of expression, human life, individual liberty, social justice, political equality, and democracy. This is by no means a complete list; there are hundreds of potential values which may be applied. The valuative decision rule will then weigh the proposed Affirmative plan against the Negative’s case (disadvantages plus the status quo or counterplan). The team proposing the decision rule will argue that the alternative which best supports the specified value must be judged superior.

When valuative decision rule arguments used, they will commonly be appended to the solvency argument of the Affirmative case or to the impact claim of a Negative disadvantage. Most debates are decided, after all, by assessing the cumulative unique merits of the Affirmative plan and weighing them against the evils noted in the disadvantages. Often this presents a puzzle to the judge, who has to balance fundamentally different things: saving lives versus the risk of economic catastrophe, for example. The valuative decision rule is designed to guide the judge in making that decision. If the Affirmative team proposes that human life is the highest value, for example, as part of 2AC’s extension arguments on solvency (and assuming this argument survives all through the debate), then no economic disadvantage would suffice to outweigh the Affirmative advantage of saving lives. If the Negative proves that human freedom is the ultimate value, then a disadvantage which shows the Affirmative plan crushes human freedom would be likely to outweigh any potential Affirmative advantage.

Obviously, valuative decision rules require evidence. Debaters will find it useful to gather quotations from philosophers and religious authorities to prove that particular abstract principles are important or unimportant.

As with formal decision rules, valuative decision rules can be used as tools by both sides in the round. To be consistent, though, each side should probably limit themselves to proposing only one value as preeminent during a debate. If both sides present a valuative decision rule, then a portion of the later debate will be devoted to comparing those two values to convince the judge that one should be preferred over the other, and to disputing whether the plan promotes or impedes the values in question.

Valuative decision rules are an attempt to draw some of the theory of value debate into policy debate rounds. At the time this book was written, there appeared to be an effort to look to value debate theory for a framework for arguing valuative decision rules; you may get further insight by consulting a textbook on value debate.


Are judges receptive to theoretical arguments such as these?

There is dispute within the judging community over the issue of judge intervention. How much should the judge’s opinions, preconceptions, and biases enter into the final decision of the round? This becomes especially important in the upper echelons of debate, where debaters are more likely to argue theoretical positions. What happens if one side argues in favor of a new theory that the judge dislikes? But even in novice rounds, we must consider: what should happen when a team advances an argument that the judge finds unreasonable, unethical, absurd, or offensive? To what extent is it proper for a judge to disregard such arguments, even if the other team fails to oppose them?

Those who oppose judge intervention say that judges have an obligation to remain as divorced from the debate process as possible. When issues of debate theory come under dispute, they believe, they should be settled just as issues of fact: the side which better supports the point by evidence and reasoning should win the issue. These experts acknowledge that every judge will bring some preconceptions to the round, particularly in determining how much proof is needed to refute an argument. However, they contend that training in advocacy is best served by taking effort to consider all arguments valid until refuted, and by never rejecting any debater’s effort out of hand.

Nobody seems to be in favor of giving judges free reign to decide debates based on personal feelings about the debaters or about the issues in the resolution. But there are some judges who feel that limited intervention may be occasionally appropriate. These experts see their role as both arbitrator and educator: the judge’s responsibility is not just to weigh what is said, but also to teach debaters that there are boundaries to what is acceptable in argumentation. Such judges may favor particular approaches to debating, or may give less importance to particular issues of theory and substance that emerge in the round, based on their conceptions of what debate ought to be.

Debaters are caught in the middle. They don’t like the risk that an interventionist judge will arbitrarily reject something they say. But many are also reassured by the framework provided by debate theory, and they are uncomfortable that a noninterventionist judge may accept unreasonable substantive and theoretical arguments proposed by their opponents. But all debaters agree they need to know how a judge responds to debate — to know his preferences in debating style. Knowing this, debaters would have the option of judge adaptation: of adjusting their styles to conform with the judge’s preference.

You certainly are within your rights to ask the judge before the round begins whether he is an interventionist. Even more helpful, you may ask what the judge’s preferred paradigm is. Of course, what you do with this information is up to you. Some coaches prefer their debaters to accommodate judge preferences as much as possible; others insist that their debaters maintain a certain style regardless of the judge.


What are judge paradigms?

Originally, the word "paradigm" (PAIR-ah-diym) applied to a model: for instance, the models of how verbs are conjugated in a foreign language. In his 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), Thomas Kuhn used the term to apply to a model of thinking — a conceptual structure into which new facts are placed, and a structure that may be threatened when new facts fail to fit well. Kuhn’s concept has stirred great interest in many fields, and it was natural that the concept of paradigms be extended to competitive debate in the 1970s and 1980s.

There are six judge paradigms which have widespread currency today, as well as an assortment of others which have not yet gained broad appeal. Knowing the judge’s paradigm gives you insight into his view of high school debate, and lets you know to what sorts of arguments he may be receptive or hostile. In order of increasing liberalism, the common paradigms are Skills, Stock Issues, Policy-Making, Hypothesis Testing, Tabula Rasa, and Games-Playing.

THE SKILLS PARADIGM. The skills judge favors the team which exhibits the better speaking abilities. The issues which emerge in the debate have a secondary importance, and theoretical arguments get even lower ranking. This viewpoint is often the one taken by judges new to interscholastic debate. Debate theory assumes lesser importance to them because they may have had only limited exposure to traditional theory. Such judges may not know what a "paradigm" is.

For the skills judge, the decision will be influenced by the debaters’ eloquence, use of a measured speaking rate, application of concrete examples, vivid imagery, and appropriate analogies. He may not be receptive to arguments which lean heavily on theory, such as topicality, conditional arguments, counterplans, counterwarrants, and formal decision rules. Disadvantages with reasonable real-world impacts are likely to be favored over counterintuitive D-As or those that reach extreme conclusions.

From the debater’s perspective, the skills judge is the most likely to be interventionist. He may reject any of the substance of the round in order to give the decision to the more articulate debaters. Contemporary debate, marked by an increasing reliance on theory and a drive for faster speaking speeds, tends to give a hostile reception to the skills judge. This is unfortunate. By limiting our use of laypersons as judges, we risk severing debate from any connection to the real world and to the community which sponsors debate as an educational program in the schools. So if your judge prefers the skills paradigm, you should welcome this as an opportunity to adapt to the same critical viewpoint that will evaluate all your public speaking once you leave high school.

THE STOCK ISSUES PARADIGM. This is the conventional approach described in the earlier chapters of the book. Most judges who have been involved in debate for a few years understand (but may not prefer) the stock issues approach, making this the fundamental perspective given to debaters. Emphasis is primarily on the issues of need, inherency, solvency, and disadvantages, and secondarily on extratopicality and nontopicality. But counterwarrants, justification arguments and, to a lesser extent, counterplans fit uneasily into the stock issues framework, and some judges will reject them. While most judges will accommodate valuative decision rules, formal decision rules that ask the judge to reject conventional stock issues theory may not be accepted.

THE POLICY-MAKING PARADIGM. This approach to debate sees the judge in much the same position as a legislator who needs to choose between voting for a bill or voting for an amended version of the bill. In deciding the debate, then, the judge will be casting a ballot in favor of the policy proposal which has the greater obvious merit. The policy-making judge thus expects to see a contrast between two competing proposals. One is the Affirmative plan. The other will be whatever alternative the Negative favors instead of the plan: perhaps the status quo, perhaps the status quo as modified by a minor repair, or perhaps a counterplan. No matter which is chosen, the Negative is expected to support a single policy alternative and to commit themselves fully to it. Conditional arguments, especially conditional counterplans, are usually seen as inappropriate by the policymaker judge.

Stock issues arguments need to be adapted for the policy-making judge. Need and solvency arguments are still essential. However, the policy-making paradigm will often allow a relaxed approach to inherency, perhaps accommodating existential inherency. When a problem arises, lawmakers tend to look for new legislative solutions rather than to examine the ability of current practices. Only if the Negative chooses to defend the status quo will the capabilities of the present system be subject to intense examination.

In balancing Affirmative advantages versus Negative disadvantages, the policy-maker will often use the tools of risk assessment. The impact claimed by the Affirmative will be modified by the percentage likelihood that the plan will work; thus, if the Negative’s solvency arguments convince the judge the plan will work only about half the time, and the Affirmative claims that their plan can save ten thousand lives a year, then the plan benefits are assessed at 5,000 lives (50% of 10,000) saved per year. In response, the Negative claims that the plan will lead to a world war, killing off a quarter billion people. On the other hand, the Affirmative is able to cast sizable doubt on whether war would actually take place; the judge, evaluating the impacts, decides that there’s only a 0.001% chance the disadvantage would actually occur. So the net impact of the disad is 0.001% of 250 million, or 2,500, lives lost. The net advantage seems to be for the Affirmative; they will win this round if no other arguments are outstanding.

The policy-making paradigm is cool to nontopicality arguments and definitely hostile to counterwarrants (which fail to focus attention on the policy proposals active in the round) or justification (which suggests alternative policies but fails to commit to any of them). Valuative decision rules may be accepted; formal decision rules are likely to be rejected as an impediment to looking at the worth of policies.

THE HYPOTHESIS-TESTING PARADIGM. This view of debate tries to mimic the research methods of the scientist. In this perspective, the resolution is a hypothesis to be proven true or false, and the Affirmative plan is a datum that will test the hypothesis. The emphasis thus shifts away from the specifics of the Affirmative plan to a consideration of the whole resolution. Much of the burden of proof is shifted to the Negative here: if the Negative can suggest any counterexample that shows the resolution should not be adopted, they will win.

Surprisingly, shifting this burden is fair, because hypo-testing also allows the Negative a wide range of tools to cast doubt on the resolution. The Negative is free to claim that there is no need for change, that the problem is not inherent, and that the plan will not work. But, since the Negative only has to prove that a single counterexample to the resolution exists, the Negative partners are not required to be mutually consistent; contradictory and conditional arguments are perfectly acceptable.

Similarly, the whole spectrum of topicality becomes available. Justification arguments, which suggest alternatives to the specifics of the Affirmative plan, are valid for hypothesis- testing judges. So are counterplans, which advocate alternatives to the resolution. And counterwarrants, which test the resolution itself rather than the plan specifics, are best suited for evaluation by a hypothesis-testing judge.

Shifting emphasis to the resolution from the case has one implication for Negative disadvantages: only generic D-As can gain judge acceptance. A disad which is linked to the particular funding mechanism used by the Affirmative plan may be a reason to reject this particular plan, but not a reason to reject the resolution as a whole; and the hypo-testing judge is interested in the whole resolution. Generic plan attacks, which would apply to all or virtually all plans under the resolution, are thus important tools for the Negative. Case-specific arguments will generally be rejected. Counterwarrants work especially well as Negative tactics in front of a hypo-tester judge.

THE TABULA RASA PARADIGM. The Latin phrase tabula rasa means "blank slate." The tabula rasa judge will judge the debate based on the arguments the debaters offer, both on substantive issues and theoretical issues. This judge is explicitly noninterventionist. If both sides in the round seem to think, for example, that inherency is a voting issue, then he will vote on it. If one side claims inherency is a voting issue and the other side denies it is, the judge will look to whatever side provides the best reasoning and evidence to decide what debate theory will be valid during this round — and then he will apply the theory to determine the results of the debate.

Potentially, then, the tabula rasa judge will accept any new element of debate theory you wish to add — or will reject any element of conventional theory you want to discard. Decision rules are a must here: you need to propose formal decision rules to assure the debate theory you prefer will be used. But valuative decision rules may also be useful in determining the winner of substantive issues if the debate is not won on theoretical grounds.

Remember: the tabula rasa judge knows that debate theory is elastic, and he is willing to bend and stretch to accommodate the theory that the debaters want. You can manipulate the judge’s view of debate in order to get the victory you want. How can you resist?

THE GAME-PLAYING PARADIGM. Yes, there’s one step even more liberal than tabula rasa. The games judge views debate as a contest with arbitrarily imposed rules. He also believes that any rule has the potential to hurt one side or the other of the round. So he rejects all rules except those that the debaters ask for.

In terms of theory, this is identical to the tabular rasa position: the judge will adapt to any theory that both sides seem to agree on. If sides disagree about an element of theory, he will use the arguments presented during the round to decide what theory will be. However, it goes beyond this, too, to the procedural rules that govern debate. The judge may not be willing to enforce the rules of conduct which normally are in place at tournaments. He may permit more than one questioner or witness during cross-examination; he may permit debaters to interrupt one another’s speeches; he may permit alterations in the time limits of speeches. To the games judge, no rule should be accepted on its face; any rule is subject to being questioned and rejected.

Rounds conducted before game-playing judges can be very liberating: debaters are treated as free-willed entities best able to decide what debate should be, fully able to choose the structure, theory, and substance of the debate round. Other debaters are intimidated by the lack of structure. Other debaters use the lack of fixed structure as a license to plunge the debate round into chaos. The games paradigm has unique risks and rewards. You have been cautioned!


Introduction to Policy Debate
Copyright © 1990, 1993, 1996, 2002 John R. Prager
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