[eDebate] eDebate Digest, Vol 25, Issue 12 - re: Various Posts on Judging Philosophies & Policy Debate
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
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
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.
adjunct debate coach, friends select school
former adjunct debate coach, american university
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