One debate round last year, we weren’t doing so well. We were up against an AFF case that had responses to everything. We thought we were losing the round. That was until we found one argument that had potential – AFF was violating a Constitutional principle by infringing upon Federalism. For the rest of the round, we hammered that point and made our unofficial Standard: “Upholding Constitutional Principles.” We ended up winning the round. It is undoubtedly true that using a standard is a key element in persuasion. Here’s the How and Why of using a Standard.
First, let’s define a Standard: a value, maxim, or goal that summarizes the importance of your arguments. Other words for a Standard: Goal, Test, Framework, Thesis, Philosophy, etc.
How to Use a Standard
Step 1: Thinking of a Standard
Think of the most important and strongest advantage to your plan. What is the impact to that advantage? What is the impact to the impact? Follow the impacts to their logical conclusion. Once you get so far that it is clear that the impact is beneficial and/or tangible, you have your standard. For example, debaters often use “US strategic interests,” as their standard, but why is “US strategic interests” important? That would depend on the situation. Oftentimes it is to preserve peace by reducing hostility, preventing rogue actors (this year it is China) from restricting freedom, and benefit the US economy. Great standards for these examples would be to save American lives, uphold human rights, and increase the quality of life. If you are taking the position that free trade with China is good, a good standard would be “increased consumption,” since that’s the primary impact of trade.
Step 2: Naming your Standard
The key here is to name your standard in such a way that it appeals to the dispositions of your judges without sacrificing the truth of your argument. For example, instead of “increased consumption”, use “improved quality of life,” which is less wordy and appeals to judges better, but still remains true (since the purpose of consumption arguably is to improve the quality of life). Classical examples: rule of law, public safety, quality of life, human rights.
Step 3: Use a Criterion
It may help the judge to have a criterion so they know when your standard is upheld. For example: How do we know if American lives are upheld? When hostility is reduced. How do we know when public safety is upheld? When crime is reduced. How do we know when the quality of life is upheld? When per capita GDP is increased. You can use your creativity and look at your evidence to see what advantage it claims will be upheld from your position, and then use that as your criterion.
Step 4: Refer to your moral philosophy throughout the round
Begin your speech with a quote, story, example, or statement on how and why your standard is important. If you chose your standard right, your judge should already agree with you that we should uphold that particular standard, and you will start your speech off with the judge already agreeing with you. In the opening example, we found ourselves using rhetoric on the importance of upholding the ideas of the Constitution.
Focus your arguments on your standard. You will find that you will only need to run a couple of arguments to “win the flow”, that is, those arguments that are necessary to persuade the judge.
Impact your arguments to your moral philosophy. See this on a great way to use impact calculus.
Benefits of Using a Moral Philosophy
Using a moral philosophy in the steps outlined above will provide the following benefits:
Benefit 1. Improve your ability to use pathos as a means of persuasion. Using a moral philosophy in the way presented above opens the door for you to use emotion. Instead of sounding like a boring, robot debater, you talk about real people who stand to benefit from your position. Watch your speaker points rise as judges find you more persuasive.
Benefit 2. You will feel and look united. Too many debate rounds I see teams (both AFF and NEG, but especially NEG) throwing a bunch of arguments at the judge and hoping that some will stick. Using a moral philosophy makes your arguments cohesive and coherent.
Benefit 3. You will become more time-efficient. Instead of having to respond to every Disadvantage when you are AFF with a response taking down their link, you have the ability to concede it and say, “even if you agree with this disadvantage, we outweigh because we uphold (insert Standard).” Likewise, when you are neg, you can simply run ONE disadvantage showing how AFF fails your moral philosophy, prove the links, and say, “even if you agree with the AFF advantages, we outweigh with this single argument because we uphold (insert standard).” This (1) saves you a massive amount of time on both sides and (2) increases your ethos (credibility) because it showcases that you can be agreeable.
Benefit 4. Learn about real people. Ultimately, policies are beneficial because they benefit people. Using a standard forces you to focus on how particular policy actions affect REAL PEOPLE in REAL SITUATIONS. When focused on real people, you engage yourself in a deeper level of analysis that changes how you view the world.
Benefit 5. Be clear to judges. One of the most common complaints shared by debaters is that they “won the flow, but lost the judge.” One of the biggest reasons for this is probably that judges felt overwhelmed by the amount of information (much of it irrelevant) pushed through their ears that they just vote for what team was more impactful to them. Running 3 basic points on the importance of liberty and how you uphold it instead of 10 significant presses will be more clear and impactful to judges, especially those who have little judging experience.
Using a moral philosophy won’t just make you a “better debater,” it will help to apply debate to everyday life by helping you to connect with the audience.
Joshua Anumolu is in his fourth year of speech and debate. Last year, he was blessed to place 6th at the NCFCA National Championship in Team Policy debate. For him, competitive debate is about learning how to communicate truth effectively. Every round he lost, was a round he learned from to become a better communicator. He believes true mastery of rhetoric is accomplished when one finds their own balance between ethos, pathos, and logos. He loves to use debate as a platform to inform the audience of issues he cares about.