As you may or may not know, I was a fairly experienced Team Policy debater before making the switch to Lincoln-Douglas this season. I’ve debated about 10-15 rounds now, and I thought maybe some of you would be interested in hearing some of my initial thoughts on the style as a whole. Without a doubt, one of the most interesting things to be has been the LD relationship with evidence. My hope is that this article will be helpful for new LD debaters struggling with misconceptions of evidence (as I did) and an interesting-if-not-particularly-useful read for TPers or experienced LDers.
Expectations vs. Reality
Walking into this year, I of course knew generally that evidence was far less essential to LD than in TP. While I anticipated this to be a mental hurdle, I somewhat suspected that my research and card cutting skills could perhaps afford me some small advantage against my more experienced competition. As it turns out, isn’t just less important– It’s unnecessary to the point where I’ve had moderate success using no citations on Neg, and just a couple of quotes on Aff.
In all fairness, I still haven’t debated many rounds, the ones I have debated were not at an actual tournament, and it’s still early in the season with many people not having much research. But even with those caveats, it’s clear to me that evidence is a tool in the toolbox of a skilled debater that they can use to take their speeches to the next level, not an crucial part of a case nor an inherent advantage. It’s unnecessary (in the sense that it’s not required to win rounds), but that’s not to say that it can’t be extremely useful when leveraged properly.
Why Is It Like This?
If I may, I’d like to take a stab at the main reason why evidence doesn’t carry the same weight in the LD style. There are other, smaller reasons (such as time constraints) that play a part, but I think the main idea at play is the idea of credibility in philosophy. In TP debate, evidence is used primarily to support pros and cons of the status quo, and predictions for the future. All else being equal, it is assumed that the most accurate information comes from the person with more experience in the system, more letters next to their name, or both.
This is fundamentally different from using a philosopher or professor to support an argument. For one thing, what makes one philosopher any more credible than another? Obviously, the answer is not “time spent philosophizing.” If it was, we’d only use the ideas of whoever has been philosophizing the longest, which is a silly idea. Further muddying this situation is the fact that trying to prove higher credibility would imply that the philosopher should be considered credible in all of his writings, not just those pertinent to the debate. This is also silly, because it’s normal to agree with people in some areas and disagree with others.
In reality, the credentials of your sources in LD could not be less important. As we debate Value resolutions, the debaters and the judge are transformed into philosophers. We are not forced to use the ideas of PhDs to make our points (if we were, it’d create an arms race where debaters tried to win by showing the quantity of those on their side, not the quality of their ideas), but rather we are seeking to reason our way to truth in our own heads.
Evidence As A Tool
With all that being said, the writings of others can still be extremely beneficial in debate rounds. I’ll keep this section short because it’d be hypocritical to do otherwise– As I’ve already stated, I’ve barely used evidence at this point in my career, so elaboration on how to best use it should probably be its own article, written by someone with more experience. Even so, here’s how I plan on using evidence in the future:
- To Establish Common Ground With the Judge
Evidence from familiar sources can be useful to “get on the judge’s good side.” If you use C.S. Lewis or James Madison in your case, it means that either you agree with them or that your ideas are compatible with theirs (depending on context). If your judge associates you with Lewis, they won’t worry about your ideas contradicting the Bible in some way. If they associate you with Madison, they view you as more credible because it’s (probably) someone they respect.
Even if they don’t know much about your source, any familiarity will cause a light bulb to go off, making you relatable and establishing common ground. Compare citing a Founding Father to a current Stanford philosophy professor. Most people are big fans of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers, and will have no problem accepting quotes from them. But when it’s someone you’ve never heard of, they’re naturally going to be hesitant to agree with no other context. In fact, in the NCFCA, quoting a Stanford professor might work against you. Your judge is probably conservative, and all they know about your source is that he teaches at a liberal school.
- To Give Credit For the Idea
If your source is unfamiliar to the judge, I would argue that usually your point is just as powerful if you say it in your own words. But not always: sometimes, the quote is just beautifully written and you want to use it as is, or maybe your argument is influenced so heavily by a particular source that you feel citing them is necessary as an act of integrity. These are both use cases of evidence that I can get behind!
Hopefully this was helpful and/or interesting!
Jeremiah Mosbey is a current NCFCA-er who competes at the national level. Formerly a policy debater, he made the switch and is enjoying the new experience of value debate. Debate aside, he competes in a variety of speech events with an emphasis on Platform and Limited Prep. He’s extremely involved in the speech and debate community, crediting much of his growth as a high school-er to the lessons learned and relationships made through NCFCA. Jeremiah loves helping younger competitors and watching them gain the same love for the activity that he has.