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Improving Tech Skills on Framework Part I
By: Samantha Hom
For debaters looking to improve their framework skills (especially for younger debaters), figuring out how to begin can be a daunting process. Delving into the world of philosophy is one of the most interesting parts of debate, and for some, also one of the most intimidating. However, even though a crucial part of becoming a good framework debater is becoming decently versed in the canon of LD philosophy, developing good technical skills on the framework level is equally as important. Framework tech skills can be divided up into two main components – tech skills in terms of framework construction, and tech skills in terms of framework interaction (i.e. literal framework debate when you leverage your own framework against your opponent’s). This article will focus on framework construction, and a few of the essential things to do to improve your framework on a technical level. And although there are many more things you can do (and should be doing) besides the things I’m about to list, here are a few tips to get you started:
1. The framework is a syllogism…
When trying to transition to varsity, a problem that a lot of younger debaters have is that they don’t realize that the framework functions as a logical syllogism. Many debaters get too caught up in the value/value criterion model – when constructing a framework, the approach a lot of younger debaters take is to find a value and value criterion that “work” with each other, and then come up with justifications for why their chosen value criterion is “good”. There are a few reasons why constructing a framework in this matter is problematic.
First, is that many ethical theories don’t really fit neatly into this model. While it is possible to derive a value/value criterion from a particular ethical theory, often times the form of an ethical theory is much more complex than that, and forcing it into a value/value criterion becomes an oversimplification. Second, debaters who follow this method of construction tend to fall victim to making their criterion justifications impact justified. For those of you who may be more unfamiliar with this concept, when a criterion is “impact justified”, you justify your criterion by saying it leads to some other good impact. The problem with justifying a criterion this way is that it lacks a justification for why the impact it leads to is actually good. An example of this: “My value criterion is adherence to democratic principles. Prefer this criterion because societies that adhere to democratic principles tend to flourish more and have better societal welfare”. This doesn’t actually explain why it is true that we should adhere to democratic principles. All this says is that adhering to democratic principles leads to societal welfare, but this would only matter if you prove why societal welfare matters/why we care about it, which requires further justification.
So, instead of doing that, remember that the framework is a logical syllogism and construct it as such. Instead of just picking a value and value criterion and coming up with artificial reasons as to why your criterion is good, construct (and view) the framework as a logical syllogism that terminates in the truth of your standard – Premise A leads to B leads to C leads to D. Thus the standard is D. If you approach framework construction in this way, you’ll be proving why your standard (i.e. your value criterion) is true, rather than why it is “good” in terms of something else (therefore avoiding the problems of impact justifying your standard).
2. …but still give yourself outs
Even though you should be constructing your framework syllogistically, the danger to only justifying your standard via the syllogism of the rest of the framework, is that it’s possible you could lose the framework debate if one (key) part of the syllogism is taken out by your opponent. Thus, when constructing a framework, in addition to having your ethical syllogism, you should also have independent justifications for the standard. An independent justification for your standard is a justification for it that doesn’t rely on you winning the main syllogism. Independent justifications come in many forms. So, when putting your framework together, have a syllogism, but give yourself outs in the form of independent justifications, so that you have more than one way to win your framework. The idea is that you want to have lots of different types of justifications for your framework, while also telling a coherent story.
3. Know thy framework
This seems simple. This seems obvious. And yet there are so many times when debaters struggle to coherently explain their own frameworks. Knowing your framework entails a few things – (1) Understanding the content of each of the individual arguments in your framework. The easiest way to do this is to make sure you actually have read and have decent comprehension of the philosophy you’re utilizing. If a card doesn’t seem to make sense by itself, read through the article it came from for context. However, if you’re still confused about something you’ve read or carded, don’t ignore it – seek out the help of more experienced national circuit debaters (who are known for being good at framework) to see if they can help you understand it. (2) Understanding how those individual arguments function strategically for you in the round. With each argument in your framework, try to isolate the purpose(s) it has. Is it a crucial link in the syllogism of your framework that you need to win? Does it create a higher layer in the framework/set up a condition that your normative standard has to meet? Does this prove why your normative standard meets some sort of condition previously set up? Is this an independent justification for the standard? Does it explain how your standard solves for some problem? Etc. (3) Understanding how those arguments interact with each other to form a coherent framework story. Meaning, that if someone asks you what your framework says, you shouldn’t have to go through every individual argument to answer their question, you should be able to give the general thesis of it/summarize it in a sense. (4) Understanding what links into your framework and what doesn’t – i.e. to give a very basic example, if you read a deont framework, you’d better make sure you understand why util impacts don’t link (more on this later). (5) Understanding how your framework arguments (both holistically and individually) could interact with other frameworks, and (6) Understanding how to explain it in round. Explaining your framework in round doesn’t mean rereading it from your case. It means that you know your framework in and out, and feel comfortable explaining it in your own words. Although there are judges that are extremely well versed in philosophy, and will be fine with you using the same rhetoric as your authors, not all judges are the same. Some who are less fond of philosophy would probably appreciate it if you can break down a complex framework into easier to understand terms. This is particularly important if you’re reading a less common framework – even the most well versed judge can have trouble following a framework read at top speed if they’ve never heard of it before. This doesn’t mean to dumb down your framework – writing complex frameworks is good – but if you do, just make sure you know how to explain it in such a way that it doesn’t seem quite so complex. You’ll be doing yourself (and your judge) a favor. KNOW YOUR FRAMEWORK, and know how to explain it in round.
To be continued…