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We all know how hard it is to debate those who have trouble structuring arguments and organizing them.  Points are scattered all across the map.  In contrast to your claim that they never responded to your case, they insist that they did, and take the opportunity to make a completely new point in their rebuttal.  Even after the trouble you took to reorganize and group their arguments, they just go on to deliver as disorganized and incomprehensible a speech as they did the last time.  It’s like playing hide-and-seek for arguments.

But novices aren’t the only ones that make you play hide-and-seek.  Even some of the best debaters argue based on points never explicitly stated that could be points of contention.  These are disguised so they are harder to see, but they are nonetheless there.  These “hidden” arguments are very important, and might serve as points of clash, but are secreted away, so that responding to them is very hard.  

What kind of arguments are generally hidden?  I think there are three major categories: hidden philosophies, hidden criteria, and hidden values.  I’ll look at each in turn and offer some tips on what these typically look like and what responses require.

Hidden Philosophies

No matter what case or resolution, each argument will be framed under these ideas, often unstated, which you may or may not want to quibble with.

Overarching Philosophy

Most Value debate falls into two camps- idealistic arguments or pragmatic arguments.  Some resolutions favor one of the other, but nearly every debater is forced to adopt one approach or the other in order to argue.  The first ideal (and perhaps most infrequently argued) is idealism, which suggests that ideas should be judged independent of their real-world impacts.  This approach suggests that we ought contrast justice and crime reduction on their merits as concepts, without looking at whether justice is achievable in the real-world.  Naturally, it is adopted by many debaters who are arguing for sides like national security or the needs of the public, which are arguably very open to abuse.

On the other hand, pragmatism insists that we ought to look at the resolution necessarily by examining real-world impacts, This argument is very appealing to judges, and is often employed by those suggesting very clear paths to improving society, as is common for those who argue for things like rehabilitation or private property rights.  

Resolutional Paradigm

Beyond how we should examine impacts, there is another, often unstated philosophy that underlies nearly every value case.  Either we should examine conflict, or we should not.  The first paradigm is the conflict paradigm.  This argument is that we can only truly decide which is more valuable when a choice is necessary, since they conflict.  This paradigm is widespread, but not universal.  For many resolutions, it seems to be the most natural way to explore the topic.

On the other hand, there is the another to most resolutions, which is the “no conflict” paradigm.  This does not exclude conflict, but insists that the way to evaluate the resolution is to look at all cases and examine which side best upholds the value overall (this is not a recommended approach for “when in conflict” resolutions, however).  Establishing this paradigm is simple.  If what upholds the value best overall is what should win, then you are upholding a no conflict paradigm.

Agree or Disagree?

Naturally, these are words and ideas that one should avoid if at all possible in a debate round (I’ve heard community judges don’t really like them).  But often an inability to clash in a debate round is due to either side holding to completely contradictory theories without contrasting the theories themselves.  So what you must do is be intentional.  Either choose to look at the resolution through the lens of the real world or insist that principles come first.  Either choose to look at the resolution in situations of conflict or insist that values determine value.  Ignoring it is the only option you don’t have.

Hidden Criteria

Hidden criteria occur when a side chooses not to make explicit the way to achieve the presented value (often because it naturally leans toward their side).  These arguments are generally intentionally left unstated by the side establishing them.  

A Buffer Value

A buffer value is a value that really doesn’t communicate much (like Net Benefits as a criterion for TP).  Common choices include Societal Well-Being and General Welfare.  Both of these simply mean whichever is best for society on the whole is what ought to warrant a ballot.  The purpose behind a buffer value is to give the judge some very concrete “big” concept that overcomes any more specific points by virtue of its sheer, all-consuming awesomeness.  On top of this, like a shark, it is able to consume or “subsume” any smaller fish (or values) so that they can’t challenge it.

For example, a common choice for a value this year in NCFCA LD is Societal Well-Being.  That makes sense, since rehabilitation is all about improving society.  Beyond that, who will challenge making society a better place?  Perhaps only the Nietzschean “Ubermensch” could argue that the prospering of the individual is a greater goal than of society.

Comes out in Contentions

The hidden criterion is frequently revealed in contentions, as a debater seeks to provide the ways that the defended concept impacts to the buffer value.  This means that the hidden criterion becomes clear (hopefully) to both you and the judge.  

Returning to NCFCA LD, the most common way in which rehabilitation is said to improve society is through the reduction of crime.  Affirmatives spend two or three contentions attempting to contrast the effects of rehabilitation and retribution on crime rates (most typically through recidivism rates).  The hidden criterion is reduction of crime.

How to Challenge

The best way to deal with these hidden values and criteria is to simply not challenge them.  Believe it or not, the debater who withholds their criterion has given you a boon.  You can easily accept the value and then state a criterion (most likely your own value).  This enables you to turn the big value to your side and cut out the persuasive momentum from the other side.  

Hidden Values

Probably the most interesting argument I’ll look at in this blog post is the practice of hiding values.  This occurs when a side assumes for themselves the fulfilling of a value and uses another value to show the impacts of the assumed earlier value. This is different from a hidden criterion because instead of being a way to achieve a broad value, the value itself seeks to show the impacts of achieving a worn-out argument.

Mid-to-Late Season

Typically debaters wait until the mid-to-late season to introduce these kind of arguments because they are complicated.  They are often unintentional (a debater has an idea about how to show a new impact, but leaves the implicit link unproven.  They rely on the philosophical foundation established earlier in the season so that they can leave unstated the links between the assumed value and their own (another reason we need community judges).  The other reason is that some values just get tired out after a while, so judges appreciate other arguments.  This is very theoretical, so here’s a real example.

In NCFCA LD, it has become increasingly common for Negatives to abandon the value of justice in favor of some other point.  For example, a Negative might argue as a value “Government Legitimacy” and insist that the legitimacy of the government is to predicated on its dispensing justice, without ever stepping back to explain how retribution upholds justice.  This is because many judges are tired of hearing about justice, and also because many judges have learned to implicitly accept these links.  Whatever the precise reason, justice by any other name smells just as sweet.  The core of the Negative case is the value unstated.  

Values Show Impacts

With hidden value cases, the values are created to show the judge the impact of upholding the implicit value.  This means that the values can be either moral principles or pragmatic impacts.  Either way, they are calculated to show a judge why it matters that the unstated value is upheld.

To take the previous example a bit farther, the impact of upholding justice in the Negative mindset is to uphold the legitimacy of a government.  A government has a duty to uphold justice based on this mindset, since its own legitimacy depends on it.  

So What to Do?

It’s hard to create a whole new category on a judge’s flow for a hidden value (“Now let’s move on to look at the hidden value of human rights” will probably leave the judge recording you refuting unstated points, which probably won’t help you out).  There are a couple of ways you can go about dealing with it.

The first is to stick to the impact debate.  Simply challenge your impacts against the impacts of the other side.  This is probably the most intuitive approach.  It would generally be the recommended course, just to keep everything neater (it will better enable you to do line-by-line refutation).  Especially for the example presented above, this could get you out of the unpleasant situation of having to tell a judge that justice is not as important as something else.  

The other course is the riskier course.  It involves directly challenging the claims of the opposing debater- going after the hidden value.  You need to make it very clear how the entire case is predicated on this notion. It would involve grouping arguments to challenge the hidden value.  This would have the added benefits of wiping out your opponent’s value advocacy (“So since my opponent’s side does not uphold this idea of human rights, he also fails to uphold his value.  So the only value left standing is mine.”)  


“Hidden” argumentation can be tricky to make and even trickier to respond to.  But by keeping to the solid principles of argumentation, identifying and addressing these points, you can make sure your opponent isn’t able to get away with argument hide-and-seek.

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