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On "The Contest" of Debate

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4/13/2015 4:37:26 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
Lately, I've had a few conversations dealing with debate being a contest. The reason for this has to do with whether or not judges are supposed to consider what's unsaid when judging a debate.

For example, let's say a debate has the unprejudiced resolution, "Concept X is good."

Some believe that judges are supposed to be independently familiar with concept x, understand the ideas therein, and then judge the debate accordingly. The idea here is that regardless of your opinion on concept x, you're supposed to be familiar with how positions can be constructed on concept x, and then expect those constructions to take place.

Others believe that judges aren't supposed to use independent familiarity with concept x. Instead, they're supposed to be taught about concept x by the debaters at hand, and judge the debate by itself. They believe that familiarity intrinsically yields opinions, so prior familiarity must not be included.

Between these two beliefs, let's say Concept X can be justified by three branches: A, B, and C. If all three branches are referred to, then concept X is good. (There are other models about concepts and justifications such as concept X being justified by A, B, or C; two of the three being good enough; or maybe there's a dispute between the branches. Please bear with me for now. Those models will be considered later.)

Then, let's say in the course of debate, only branches A and B are referred to by Pro. Likewise, Con doesn't refute them.

If a judge has independent familiarity, the judge will know that A and B by themselves are not all that's necessary to justify concept X. In turn, the judge will vote for Con.

On the other hand, if a judge doesn't have independent familiarity, the judge will see that A and B are the best argument around while Con didn't refute them, so the judge will vote for Pro.

Critics of the first belief argue that there's no contest since concepts would either be predeterminably justified or not. Therefore, there's nothing to debate.

Critics of the second belief argue that there's no contest since debate just becomes a matter of harassment where things are gotten wrong on purpose, so the goal is no longer about philosophical justification but about psychological exhaustion. In other words, debate itself becomes a matter of being uncivil where debaters screw around.

Where is "the contest" of debate then?

(I'll now refer to those other models of justification.)

The contest of debate doesn't come from whether a concept is justified or not, but HOW it's justified. This means understanding the many to many relationships between forms and ideas in words as well as understanding how ideas themselves come together.

For example, let's say again that concept X is justified by branches A, B, and C.

Does this really mean that concept X requires all three branches? Maybe concept X instead is just separately justified by any of these branches.

Someone else might argue that means concept X is justified by branches A, B, or C, but then, it can be argued that the word "or" means one of these branches justify X while the other two do not.

Debate's contest is not in the justifications themselves, but in the words used to justify concepts. Perhaps a judge is previously familiar with a concept or not. What really matters is judging how debaters speak about the justification, and handle the grammar therein.

This doesn't mean that debaters mustn't justify their positions. What it means is debaters must realize that justifications set the arena of debate on any given concept, so they must debate within that arena.