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I was originally asked to write about whole resolution cases – what they are, how to recognize them, how to argue against them, etc. But what I quickly came to realize is that in order for you to truly have a firm grasp on what a Whole Resolution case is there is a good bit of additional theory that needs to be discussed, otherwise you will find yourself arguing with some presuppositions you might have trouble defending. (I spent a couple hours talking in circles about this with Will Prier and our major conclusion was that this is really really complicated, so if you struggle with some of these concepts don’t be discouraged.)

I think we can all agree that one of the major questions that team policy debate poses to us is: “what is the purpose of the resolution?” Interestingly enough, that question isn’t as easy to answer as you might think (or as I, personally, initially thought).

There are two schools of thought on this – one is that the purpose of the resolution is to be affirmed/negated by the two teams debating. The other is that is the resolution exists solely as a parameter for the debate. Now you might be thinking “well isn’t it both?” but if you get into how these thoughts begin to work out when applied in a round you will see why you have to choose one or the other.

What these different schools of thought do for us is pose the question of whether we should have resolution centered debate or “parametric analysis” debate. In today’s world of forensics whether you’re looking at NCFCA, NFL, CEDA or any other forum for policy debate then you should already be familiar with parametric analysis. Parametric analysis when applied to debate makes the resolution a parameter for the debate and is what allows the affirmative team to choose one example of reform/change (thus creating the plan-focused debate we’re all familiar with) within the bounds of the resolution. Resolution centered debate, however, is what you will see if you participate in things like Lincoln-Douglas or Public Forum debate. This is where instead of having plan-focused debate, ALL of the argumentation in the round is about whether or not the resolution as a whole should be affirmed or negated – meaning that all examples in the round need to be typical of the resolution in its entirety (which is why occasionally you’ll hear LDers accusing each other of “parametricizing” the resolution).

Parametric analysis springs from the idea that the resolution establishes parameters for the debate, while, conversely, resolution centered debate comes from the idea that each side must be either affirming or negating the resolution.

Where I, personally, got lost in all of this was trying to understand how one can be affirming or negating the resolution while utilizing parametric analysis – and the thing is, you really can’t. In other words, how an affirmative team can, say, pass CAFE standards reform, and somehow then say that the entire resolution is true because CAFE standard reform is a good idea. It’s kind of a part-to-whole fallacy, because something like CAFE standards are not necessarily typical of the resolution as a whole, yet we all never really hear arguments like this within debate rounds because parametric analysis is kind of an unspoken presupposition within policy debate.

Why this presupposition exists is really another discussion entirely, but it’s also worth noting that there are some people that are against it. (This article by Nicholas J. Coburn-Palo & Minh A. Luong is what originally got me thinking about the entire issue.)

There are also two other important implications that come along with these two schools of though: Negation theory and Counterwarrant theory. (and these will let us get to the _actual_ subject at hand – Whole Resolution cases.)

Negation theory, in its most basic sense, is just the idea that the burden of the negative team is not to refute the resolution, but merely to refute whatever the affirmative team presents. This, clearly, is an offshoot of parametric analysis and what is most common in NCFCA rounds. (Sidenote: this is also how negative teams can justify things like conditional positions.)

The other, which is an offshoot of resolution centered debate, is Counterwarrant theory. “In policy debate, the Negative counterwarrant strategy claims that the Affirmative case is a single atypical example of reasoning under the resolution. The Negatives further suggest that considering other examples would lead to rejecting the idea that the resolution was generally true. Finally, they then present several alternative examples of topical Affirmative cases and plans, and demonstrate that each of these cases is, indeed, a bad idea. Each of these alternative cases gives a reason why the resolution should be rejected: a counterwarrant.”

If you’ve ever watched an LD round then you’ve seen counterwarrants in play (though, they most likely are not identified as such). What happens in those rounds is that the affirmative speaker gives a number of affirmative applications and the negative speaker then provides additional applications which prove the resolution to be false/not preferable in alternative situations. With poor debaters this turns into example-stacking, but when you get a couple of LDers that really know what they’re doing you’ll hear them arguing, usually with some kind of resolutional analysis, about which examples should be weighed the most in evaluating the resolution as a whole.

But what does that have to do with policy debate? Well *this* is where we get to talk about Whole Resolution cases. (about time, right?) The reason that I spent so much time outlining the differences between resolution centered debate and parametric analysis is because, essentially, Whole Resolution cases are merely the product of teams taking the road less traveled by and applying resolution centered thought to policy debate.

If an affirmative team decides to run a Whole Resolution case what they’re doing is rejecting plan-focused debate and instead making the debate about whether or not the resolution as a WHOLE (hence the “whole” in Whole Res) should be affirmed or negated. This is the most common way that a Whole Resolution case will be run, though it’s also worth noting that it’s possible to have a “Whole Resolution” case that still has a plan – it would just have to be a plan that is typical of the resolution as a whole (this is /far/ less common though because a) proving that is difficult and b) if the plan is there it would actually work for both resolution centered debate & parametric analysis which kind of defeats the purpose).

So, summary – how do you recognize a Whole Resolution case? First and foremost the easiest way should be if there’s a plan. If there’s no plan chances are pretty good we’re talking Whole Resolution (it could potentially be a Kritikal aff or some such thing, but if that’s the case you’ll most likely be able to tell right away). The second thing to ask yourself though is “does the affirmative case attempt to prove the entire resolution true, or are we dealing with one parametricized example?” If the answer to that question is the entire resolution, it’s Whole Res. If it’s one parametricized example then it should be business as usual for the negative team.

Alright, that’s all well and dandy but what should you do if you DO find yourself at the negative table and the affirmative team gets up there and reads a Whole Resolution case? The first thing you do is say “thank GOODNESS I read the Ethos blog,” (heh) and then you start prepping your counterwarrants. You prove that whatever the affirmative team’s justifications are, they aren’t typical of the resolution AS.A.WHOLE. – in.its.entirety. So what you’ll want to do next is bring up examples that the affirmative is overlooking that show why the resolution really isn’t preferable.

This kind of debate is definitely slanted in favor of the negative team. At this point, all the negative team need do is bring up one solid example of where affirming the resolution is bad for some reason, while the affirmative is forced to defend every single application of the resolution. So, Envrio policy – what’s the most horrible topical case you can think of? The US should make it’s environmental policy to poison every body of water in the continental US? Sure! Sounds great. Really. Whatever policy changes you can think of that are topical are fair game. All the aff team can really do is a) prove that the negative team’s examples are not topical or b) try to outweigh them somehow.

Even if you know that you, personally, will not ever be running a Whole Resolution case it’s still a very good idea to be familiar with them and to know how to explain the theory behind them in a round. You never know when another team might put you in some situation where you will need to explain this to a lay judge. Additionally, understanding the fundamentals behind Whole Resolution cases and how there are different interpretations of the function of a debate resolution will help you tremendously if you find yourself flipping back and forth between multiple kinds of debate (policy, LD, public forum, what have you).

Go debate.

-Leslie Nelson

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