[eDebate] eDebate Digest, Vol 25, Issue 12 - re: Various Posts on Judging Philosophies & Policy Debate

Art Kyriazis akbiotech
Fri Oct 12 14:33:33 CDT 2007

October 12, 2007

Regarding policy debate, I think it's important that we take the long 
view on judging policy debate.

I.  What makes us different from Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Parliamentary 
Debate, Public Forum Debate, and all those other formats?

Well, in a word, policy debate is EMPIRICAL and based on scientific 
philosophies and ontological philosophies of REALISM and EMPIRICISM and 
POSITIVISM.  It's not supposed to be subjective, relativisistic, 
metaphysical, teleological, medieval, scholastic or any of those 
things.  It's supposed to be cartesian, dualistic, and follow in a 
straight line from Locke through Berkeley, Hume, Wittgenstein Carnap 
Russell and run right through like a five lane expressway through the 
downtown of Realism, empiricism and positivism.  We have about three 
shared values in policy debate; pile up the bodies, pile up the bodies, 
and pile up the bodies.  There's also the 1% chance of nuclear 
annihilation, which is forever, and that is really bad, which we all 
agree, is really bad, so that's a fourth shared value.  Beyond that and 
the superiority of foreign to domestic beers, I think it would be 
well-nigh impossible to find any common metaphysical values in policy 

Policy debate emphasizes studies, science, cold hard facts, as opposed 
to debating metaphysics, values, religion and other stuff that is 
really, in essence, meaningless (unless you really believe Quine's Two 
Dogma's of Empiricism, in which case they might mean a little bit while 
science still means a whole lot).  Toulmin, Kuhn and all those other 
guys who tried to kill off positivism--well, their work ended up in L-D 
debate, didn't it?  And now we have an entire school of debate mired in 
medieval scholasticism, disputations over value judgments, Toulmin 
arguments (if you've ever actually read one of Toulmin's books, say 
after reading something brilliant by Rawls or Nagel, and someone asked 
you what a Toulmin Argument was, you'd say "A Bad One.").

Based on that background, it's important we remind ourselves, not just 
what policy debate is, but why it's important and why it matters.

What policy debaters debate actually matters as a matter of ontological, 
scientific reality; the stuff those other people do in those other rooms 
is essentially just hot air (though they'll be ready for CNN). 

II.  Policy Debate's origins. 

While shrouded in mysteries deeper and darker than the Shroud of Turin 
and the DaVinci Code, the actual beginnings of Policy Debate are reputed 
to have begun with JJ Unger and Lawrence Tribe during a golden age known 
as the "Kennedy Era" or "Camelot". 

During this time, the President of the United States was a handsome 
young fellow who had studied at an Ivy League university who gave 
impressive sounding speeches that were articulate, fact-filled and 
persuasive.  He won the Presidential Election by winning debates with 
his opponent and thinking quickly on his feet.  He was so good on his 
feet that he held a press conference once, sometimes twice a week, 
instead of hiding in the white house afraid of being seen by the public.

JFK's speaking ability inspired a whole cadre of undergrads into public 
speaking and public service with his inspiring speeches and rhetoric, 
and maybe he was, in his own way, responsible in some small way, for 
policy debate.

Throw in the Cold War, Civil Rights, the Environment and Vietnam, and 
you have the genesis of why it seemed important to apply the methods of 
science and social science to the problems of the day. 

III.  Judging philosophies.

In the end, whether one is applying formal or informal logics, formal or 
informal rhetorics, formal or informal argumentation methods, JUDGING 
the debate in a POLICY round must rest on which team has best justified 
itself on POLICY grounds.  Persuasion, periphrasis, rhetorical or 
sophistical tricks--as Plato suggests in one of his more famous 
dialogues, these are not what we want in our ideal republic--what we 
want is sound policymaking.  Policy Debate was intended to get fast and 
ugly to get away from "pretty persuasion."  Otherwise, it will turn into 
the muck that LD has become--a tarpit of sophistry, having few if any 
policy implications, endlessly misquoting the same ten or twelve dead 
philosophers over and over and over again, etc.

Consequently, it would be a mistake to not consider arguments which have 
a bearing on which is the best policy for the nation or the world based 
on topicality or other technical grounds, unless that argument has been 
sustained on an overwhelming basis.  The reason is that even if a matter 
is tangential, if it bears on the policy grounds of the topic at hand 
even somewhat, if the impact is very very large, then it has to have a 
say in the weighing of policy options.  We need to be apprised of ALL 
the facts, as policymakers--which is what we are as judges in a policy 

As a policy round debate judge, you are like President Kennedy in the 
Cuban Missile Crisis.  The debaters are like your cabinet and NSA and 
CIA presenting you with policy options based on facts, cold hard facts, 
based on studies, scenarios, science and probabilistic predictions.  
Thirteen days (or the debate) is up. Now you must act.  Now you must 
weight the facts and decide on the option.  This way, or that way.  And 
you must explain why and how you considered the evidence and arguments etc.

Now you must decide what to do. 

IV.  Argumentation doesn't end in Constructives; Rebuttals are where the 
action is.

One of the things that DOES matter in policy debate is argumentation.  
The late Prof. Branham of Bates University wrote a brilliant little book 
some years ago on policy debate and argumentation, and it is so full of 
wisdom and common sense that I can only commend it to you all, not to 
mention he was a great guy and a better debate teacher and coach, 
requiescat in pacem.   Anyhow,  argumentation, refutation, extension, 
rebuttal and how the teams sum up and extend in rebuttal DOES matter in 
policy debate.  No matter how fast the round is, a dropped argument is a 
dropped argument--but that only matters if the other side picks it up 
and says "they drop and the impact is...." and they give the impact. 

Now you have a voting issue raised in rebuttal.  Deal with it!

For me, and perhaps for all of you, rebuttals have always been where the 
action is in most debates.  For me, constructives are like the first 
drafts; rebuttals are like the first and final revisions.  I pay 
attention to the final drafts as they emerge from rebuttals in weighing 
the teams' cases for policy options.    With good debates, the 
constructives become more like paintings or canvases, and the rebuttals 
the refinements of fine works of art; and while policy debate is an 
empirical weighing of two sides, in good debates, it becomes an 
aesthetic and artistic experience as well.  We have all experienced this.

V.  Specifics of Judging Philosophy

Posting Judging Philosophies is the obvious answer to this process.  It 
makes the process transparent and fair to all.  Will it result in judges 
getting bumped?  Do trial lawyers bump jurors for cause and 
peremptorily?  Do prosecutors death qualify juries?  Does the earth go 
around the moon?  Let's all have some common sense and not take offense 
at a practice that, in the end, any rational, sane judge who wants to 
win will go through to give his team the edge.  At the same time, let us 
all have respect for each others' judging philosophies. 

This is an open ended discussion and I of course invite comment.

--art kyriazis

adjunct debate coach, friends select school
former adjunct debate coach, american university

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