Theory Lecture

SCFI 2011
Lecture Objectives
Understand the definition and role of theory debate
Learn how to construct and write a written theory
Learn how to answer theory arguments
Understand RVIs, how to make an RVI, and how to
argue against an RVI
Imagine this…
You and a friend are playing chess in a tournament.
Your friend keeps cheating by replacing pieces that he
loses when nobody’s looking or moving his pieces to
other places. You lose the game.
He’s breaking the rules, right?
If he had not been cheating, would he still have won?
Can’t know that.
If the tournament judge determined that he cheated,
what would happen to him?
Disqualified: he loses, you win.
The Role of Theory
What is theory?
A debate about the rules of the game
We presume that both parties agree to the same set of
rules and constraints on fair debate before the round
If one party finds the argument/framework/etc of the other
to be unfair for one reason or another, then theory debate is
justified in order to resolve the difference of opinion
regarding the rules of debate.
Either the theory debate resolves (abusive arg kicked by
defender) and theory is kicked by the instigator, or the judge
chooses a theory winner and goes from there:
Instigator wins: the judge rejects the party OR the
argument that broke the rules
Defender wins: Judge either can then evaluate the other
args in the round or vote for an RVI if one is present
The Role of Theory
What theory is…
A means of checking unfair arguments and discouraging
cheating and shadiness
Removes the incentive to run unfair arguments
Goal of the unfair argument was winning rounds, but theory
makes them lose rounds
Pedagogical – a means of educating ourselves and others
about the rules and the status of arguments as fair or
Gateway issue – Theory comes before anything else in
the round. Remember the chess example – if someone
cheats and wins, there is no way to know if he really
won. A judge can’t adjudicate a round unless she
knows nobody broke the rules
The Role of Theory
What theory is NOT…
Different meaning of “theory” in debate lexicon
An easy way to win rounds
Theory is difficult to learn to debate well
Theory debates are very difficult to adjudicate
Theory is often really sketchy because you are being unfair
towards many others who might not be as familiar with
theory debates in order to take advantage of them and win
Structure of a Written Theory
Is it enough to say, “This argument is abusive”?
No – theory is an argument like anything else and must
have the same meta-structural components of basic logic
No warrant, no reason to accept
No impact, no reason why judge votes for it
Also, remember that we PRESUME that debaters agree
to the rules before the round begins, so there has to be a
proactive and positive reason for a judge to accept a
theory argument
Structure of a Written Theory
So, how do we write a theory argument?
Constructing a theory shell
A: Interpretation
Recall that theory is a debate of the rules. The “A” section of
a theory argument is your interpretation about what the rules
of the game should be
Example: “A: Interpretation – the affirmative should not
be allowed to limit the resolution to just one specific
B: Violation
Briefly explain why your opponent does not meet your
interpretation of how the game should be played
Example: “B: violation – the affirmative unfairly limits
the resolution by only discussing one state.”
Structure of a Written Theory
C: Standards
Distinct from “Standard” in the framework sense
Essentially reasons to prefer your interpretation
Most important part of theory in terms of substance –
where most of the debate happens about the nature of
the competing interpretations. You should know every
type of standard, their various strength and weaknesses,
and how to argue for and against each one.
Types of Theory Standards
Fairness – my interpretation is the most fair
My interpretation provides for equal ground for both debaters
His argument unfairly limits my ground
His argument unfairly limits his own ground (strategy?)
Time skew
His interpretation skews the time structure of the round against me
His argument is not something I could have possibly prepared for
Research burden
Outside the predictable limits of the resolution
My interp most fits with the text of the resolution
He defines a word in some way that is not in common usage to derive an
unfair argument
I define a word in a way that better follows common usage
Types of Theory Standards
My interpretation is more educational – topic-specific
Depth: gives us a deeper understanding of a few specific issues
Breadth: gives us broader understanding of the topic area
Other education standards
New perspectives
Real-world education
Examples of theory standards:
“Parametric ACs in negatively worded resolutions annihilate negative ground and kill
predictability because the affirmative can advocate a single instance of bad sanctions and
win. This tanks negative ground for two reasons. First, the affirmative could choose any
instance of sanctions that might be bad or harmful and advocate that they not be used.
This means that the research burden is exploded – the negative is forced to research any
and all sanctions policies and have answers ready, even when answers may not exist at
all. Second, this kills predictability because the affirmative can shift out of both specific
and generic negative advocacies by claiming they don’t apply.”
“The affirmative can win based on a single, isolated incidence of sanctions and only has
to prove that one instance bad. This places an impossible burden on the negative and
skews ground because the negative would either have to advocate that sanctions are
categorically good or answer an unpredictable advantage out of the AC advocacy.”
Structure of a Written Theory
D: Voter
Reasons to vote against your opponent on theory
The most important part of the theory argument in terms of structure – tells the
judge why he/she votes on theory
Three basic voters
Fairness: Most commonly used. Why might fairness be a voting issue?
Unfair means people would leave the activity because they perceive it to be unfair,
which renders the activity useless.
If he broke the rules in any other game, he would lose. Hold him to the same
standard here
Theory encourages out-of-round solvency on fairness – educates a debater not to use
the bad arg again and educates the community
Education: Less common, usually in conjunction with a fairness voter. Why might
education be a voting issue?
Purpose of the activity is education, no education, no reason to perform the activity,
people leave the activity
Least common. Two basic forms:
Topicality-based: judge does not have the jurisdiction to judge non-topical cases
Can’t judge who won the round – remember the chess example
Examples of Voting Issues
Voting issues that call for a loss of the offending debater:
“Theory is a voter for fairness. Before substantive debate can
engage the issues of the round, we must have a fair playing field
on which to debate with equal ground for both competitors. Your
ballot is an important pedagogical tool to prevent the use of
abusive case positions on the topic. Voting against debaters that
run abusive positions sends the message to my opponent not to
run abusive positions again and makes the community more
aware of the abuse so they won’t be so compelled to run similar
Voters that call for rejection of the offending argument:
“Thus, reject the parametricization of the AC and don’t let them
win on a prametricized position – the affirmative should be forced
to defend the resolution more generally to win the round.”
Structure of a Written Theory
“Err” arguments
Theory debates are often hard to adjudicate because debaters
don’t do enough work, the debate is messy, or it’s just almost
impossible to pick a winner on theory without intervening
Thus, the “err” argument
Essentially a little mini-theory argument at the end of a
theory shell – gives the judge an easy way out of theory
Tells the judge which side should be presumed to be winning
the theory debate. Examples:
“Err aff on theory: aff has a significant time disadvantage with
the 1AR to answer the 1NC and faces a win/loss ratio skew”
“Err neg on theory: aff gets the first and last speeches and gets to
set the parameters for the round in the 1AC”
Sometimes makes the judge’s job easier, sometimes doesn’t.
But it takes 5 seconds to make this argument and it can help
clear things up for some judges
But Wait, Steve!
“When will I ever use this? I debate on a very
traditional circuit!” or “I don’t like how progressive
this is!”
“Traditional” debaters can be abusive as well, and there
needs to be a way to check that, or you’ll lose rounds
Remember, the only difference between traditional and
progressive is DELIVERY! Not type of argument
Modify the theory argument by slowing down, reading
less of the standards, and making it less formal, maybe
speaking more extemporaneously rather than reading.
Debating Theory
What do you do if someone runs theory against
First of all, don’t freak out
Three basic arguments that should always be present
when answering theory:
I meet: explain why you don’t violate their interpretation
Example: “I meet: I am not limiting the debate round to one
nation. I grant links to all disadvantages, regardless of
whether it is specific to my parametricization.”
Debating Theory
Counter-interpretation – read a different interpretation about
the rules that fits with your argument. This is where most of the
debate happens
Counter-standards – same thing as regular standards, and different
reasons why you prefer your interpretation over your opponent’s
Meta-weighing is important – debate over which standard is more
important. Critical to winning the counter-interpretation debate
Why might fairness be more important than education?
Why might education be more important than fairness?
Can also compare standards within those categories, like textuality vs.
ground, etc.
Link-turn their standards, why might you achieve their standards
Outweigh their standards on strength of link
Debating Theory
Reverse Voting Issue (RVI)
Two types
Lazy type
“Theory is a two-way street. Since it is a win-lose issue for me it also
must be for my opponent to be fair and reciprocal…”
Why is this a terrible argument?
Non-lazy type
Essentially turns the voters
Discusses why this theory argument is really bad, and just forces you to
unfairly spend time on the theory and avoid the real issues
“My opponent is just trying to make this speech more difficult
for me and put me at a disadvantage by running an a priori
position that I must answer no matter how ridiculous it is. This
means that I am now at a structural disadvantage because I have
far less time to answer the case arguments and extend, which
means they can just kick theory and win the round on the flow.
Debating Theory
Answering an RVI
Why is the “lazy” type of RVI a terrible argument?
How would we answer this argument?
How can we use our “err” arguments in our favor in an
RVI debate?
How can you answer a “non-lazy” RVI?
Legitimate and defend your interpretation
Win the competing interpretation debate
Use meta-weighing
Things to Think About
Warnings about bad theory
What is “bad” theory?
Theory that you could run every round
Theory for which you have a shell in your other expando
that says the exact opposite
Theory that indicts something that you yourself might run
in a different round
Theory that indicts things that are REALLY common and
predictable (like speed)
Theory for the sake of theory
Things to Think About
These days, theory is generally used as a bad, unfair, and squirrely
way to win rounds instead of a check on actual abuse. But that’s
not what it’s really for. It’s for checking abuse, not strategy
You should only run theory if you seriously feel like you are being abused
in the round
If you feel that you want to run theory just because it’s what’s “new” and
“cool,” you need to take a step back and check yourself. I know it’s fun to
do the “new” and “cool” thing all the time, but consider the following:
What are the consequences of running bad theory?
The community becomes more used to bad theory and is more likely to use it
and vote on it
Good theory gets hidden in a morass of bad theory and becomes more difficult
to find, making people who hate bad theory lump good theory in with it and
make it less likely to work as a check on abuse, meaning abuse goes unchecked
Disincentivizes making good case-level arguments, and kills education. Sorry,
but you aren’t going to learn anything that will help you outside this activity by
having a debate about debate every round
Also, judges sometimes (often) really hate theory, because it’s hard to judge.
You may suffer in speaker points or the judge’s opinion of you
Final Thought
At this camp, I will encourage writing and running theory occasionally,
even if there’s not real abuse, so we can learn to debate it. But remember
it is more important to learn to debate the case-level stuff. So write some
theory, run some theory, but please don’t get so enthralled by it that you
feel like you always have to run it just to be “trendy” and “cool.” Have
integrity and when actually debating, use it only when you must.

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