One of the first logical fallacies I ever learned about was the “Part to Whole” fallacy, arguing that one part of a larger category represents the whole category. For instance: “This tire is made of rubber. Therefore the vehicle of which the tire is a part is also made of rubber.” That statement is illogical since it ascribes to the vehicle that which only belongs to the tire.

Unfortunately, the most common usage of applications in Lincoln Douglas debate dangerously borders on this fallacy. Contending that applications in and of themselves, prove their side of the topic. I’d like to introduce you to adopt a different approach: Using applications to illustrate principles.

If you haven’t heard the terminology before, an application is a term generally used in Lincoln-Douglas and Parliamentary debate to refer to examples. The mistake people make is to say that because of that example, they win the round. The logical basis of that is flawed because it equates one isolated example to the entire topic. 

Using applications to illustrate principles means using the example you give to demonstrate the logical position of your case. The key is putting the emphasis on the logical position, and using the examples as a means to that end.

In the 2020 NCFCA LD season, the resolution was “Resolved: Preventive war is ethical”. A common application on the negative side was Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Compare the following two ways of explaining the importance of the application:

Method A. “This example proves that preventive war is unethical and starts war unnecessarily.”

Method B. “This example illustrates a greater principle: That preventive war is based on guesses of faraway events. Such predictions create unnecessary conflict and kill innocent civilians. It’s not ethical to start wars based on beliefs of the future when we as humans can’t know the future.”

In the first method, I’m telling the judge that the sole example of Pearl Harbor is the reason to vote negative. In the second method, I emphasize the principle and use the application to make the principle easier to understand.

I’d like to explain the three reasons why you should be using applications in this manner.

1. Takes Out Two Birds With One Stone

Debate strategy is a game of allocating time. Strong strategy means using your time as efficiently and persuasively as possible. The more time you can save, the better. When you use applications to illustrate principles, you’re taking out two birds with one stone – using one argument to give both an example and a principle. Why waste time giving applications separately from principles when you can use the application to illustrate the principle?

2. Persuasion

If you’ve ever competed in a platform speech before, you’ve probably heard how important it is to have a thesis. The reason it’s so important to have a thesis is that it creates a cohesive theme for the judge to refer back to. Themes are incredibly important in debate as well. The majority of judges have other commitments they have to get to in their day, they can’t spend the entire day looking over their flow. They’re going to vote not just on the line-by-line refutation, but also based on who persuaded them.

Using applications without referring back to a central principle will make the judge wonder why the application matters. Doing so may even cause the judge to doubt your central principle since you’re introducing a new idea that’s unconnected to the rhetoric you previously gave. You’re making the logic seem less important. However, linking the example directly to your main logical position will increase the persuasion of your theme. Applications are important because they’re interesting and make concepts easier to understand. Use them to their fullest persuasive potential by utilizing applications to illustrate principles.

3. Effective Rebuttal Setup

Lincoln-Douglas debate times are short. If you’ve debated Lincoln-Douglas before, you know how fast your three-minute 2AR goes by. Even four-minute 1ARs and six-minute NRs need to be carefully condensed to make the most out of your limited time. If you use examples as sole proof for the resolution, you have the liability in the rebuttals to win that example since it’s your primary support. However, if you use the application to illustrate a logical principle, you can combine the refutation on the logic and the application to save crucial amounts of time.

For instance, on the Pearl Harbor application, if someone refuted it by saying it’s an “isolated example”, all you’d have to say would be that the application of Pearl Harbor illustrated a greater principle. Then you could explain the principle, and get through the most important part of your case, and the application refutation in one fell swoop. However, if you relied on Pearl Harbor as proof rather than an illustration, you’d have to give other applications to prove it’s not isolated. That’s the difference. When you rely on applications as proof, you have to spend precious time in rebuttals defending the applications apart from your principles. Connecting principles and applications from your first speech mean that you can group the two together and spend that extra time on other refutation, persuasion, or additional voting issues.

Don’t use applications to prove the resolution on their own. Use applications to illustrate your principles.

About the Author

Kyle Lee has competed in both NCFCA and Stoa. His accomplishments include over fifty top-three finishes, the record for the most first places won at a single NCFCA tournament (seven firsts in one go at the 2020 Bothell WA, NCFCA Qualifier), first place Lincoln Douglas debater & speaker at the 2020 NCFCA Online National Championship, and first place Team Policy debater & speaker at the 2020 Stoa Online National Championship.
Outside of speech and debate, Kyle is an avid rock climber, holds a second-degree black belt in Karate, and enjoys writing music in his free time.

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