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Ways to Strategically Use Framework Debate by Raffi Piliero
More and more, fewer debaters are choosing to engage in framework debate, instead choosing to use preclusive strategies such as theory, or Kritiks that don’t use framework. I’m not going to claim that one strategy has merit over the other (I quite often do run critical arguments or directly topical arguments that don’t rely on complex analytic philosophy) but that framework often is a strategic tool to have available. This article will examine some important strategic considerations for winning a framework debate!
Strategic importance of framework debate:
There are a few reasons why having a framework debate can be strategic:
Reason 1: It can help move the round to a familiar territory if debating an unfamiliar position. If your opponent breaks new and it’s the beginning of a topic, you may not have heard of their plan. For example, if you’re negating vs a plan on this topic that draws advantages from US relations globally coming from a specific form of compulsory national service, and you haven’t prepped T or case turns against this, it might look like you’re stuck. However, it is likely that you’ve heard of their framework (likely a utilitarian or consequentialist framework), and in conjunction with a strong NC a framework-heavy strategy can be deadly.
Reason 2: Once you learn it, a framework applies regardless of the topic! The philosophy knowledge and strategies are relevant on any topic, since every topical argument must link to some evaluative mechanism in order to be relevant. Even Role of the Ballot arguments can be handled using framework (more on that later).
Next, into some of the important strategic considerations!
Consideration 1: Weigh
As little as debaters weigh on theory and substance, they find ways to weigh even less on framework debates. In any given round, it’s likely you’ll see Debater A extending an actor-specificity argument from their framework that was conceded and Debater B extending an ontology argument from theirs that was conceded. The judge is then left to weigh the arguments using what they think was “more conceded” instead of the debaters doing that work.
The solution is to compare arguments directly when making extensions, or in the first speech. Show why your particular justification is the most important in the context of something relevant to the framework debate. Better yet, make direct comparisons as to why it takes out the premises relevant to their framework. For example, don’t extend an argument such as act-omission distinction if you and your opponent are reading slightly different variants of util; you might wish to extend an argument about why life is more important than pleasure. When making extensions, debaters could number these cross applications and apply them to the opponent’s framework. Ideally, a debater should set themselves up for the final speech to have the ability to “collapse” to a single justification since it hopefully outweighs
Here’s a helpful example:
Debater A reads a utilitarian framework, with justifications that claim 1] Util is most actor specific 2] Pain and pleasure are intrinsically motivating 3] That there’s no act omission distinction
Debater B reads a deontological framework, with justifications that claim 1] The constitutive aims of individuals are the only ones that are motivating, which leads us to care about a practical identity and agency 2] There’s an intent-foresight distinction
As mentioned above, in most debates, Debater A will extend an argument and Debater B will extend an argument, and leave it to the judge to decide which comes first after the dust settles. However, here’s a way for Debater A to make this more clear, that both compares the internal warrants and sets up weighing.
“Extend that Util is more actor specific for ____ reason – actor specificity comes before their arguments about constitutive aims of individuals, since the topic questions what states should do and is a question of political philosophy – it also hijacks the internal link since it proves that constitutively, states should use util”
Consideration 2: Generate offense
One huge misconception is that framework arguments are purely defensive. This isn’t true, however!
There are two ways to contest an argument on the framework level; you can contest the premise and you can contest the conclusion. The premise is the assumption that an argument relies on, while the conclusion is what implication stems from that premise.
Many debaters make defensive arguments that don’t contest the conclusions of arguments. This is unstrategic because then they can’t extend these arguments in the next speech as offensive reasons to prefer their own framework. However, if you accept the premise of an argument, you can show that its premise justifies your conclusion. For example, if someone reads a framework justification with a standard of “maximizing expected wellbeing” that says util is most actor specific, the negative could say their framework links in better to actor specificity. That way, even if the affirmative doesn’t extend their actor specificity argument, the negative could still extend their responses and claim that they access this justification. Using rhetoric such as “coopt”, “preclude”, or “hijack” indicates to the judge that these are arguments that access their conclusions
Consideration 3: Dealing with Kritikal Frameworks
This is a rarely examined aspect of framework debate, but given the trends in LD debate, it’s more important than ever. Here, an important consideration is not just strategy, but packaging arguments so that they aren’t offensive/construed as such.
It’s important not to conceptualize arguments as trivializing or precluding oppression, as that is morally repugnant. Not to mention, it alienates the judge, flees from the position of common sense and provides compelling independent links into their criticism.
There are two major ways to engage the framework debate effectively. The first is by making specific arguments as to why your framework accesses their role of the ballot. Although its prominent philosopher is heavily criticized, there are many authors who claim that deontology is effective in combatting racial and gendered oppression because its notion of rights condemns racism (Arnold Farr makes claims of this nature). That way, debaters avoid linking into the criticism by evading, but instead engage on their layer. The second way is to make more macro-level arguments about framework debate that could be articulated in the context of a Role of the Ballot argument. For example, some debaters have evidence that says abstraction and/or ideal theory are helpful in fighting against oppression. This is strategic because it accesses the top level of a framework debate by offering a comparative strategy to help the oppressed, while avoiding exclusion or linking into the criticism
For example, many critical debaters will read generic structural violence frameworks that use authors such as Winter and Leighton. However, they won’t really discuss what it means to “combat structural violence”; they might not even say if it’s deontological or consequentialist. A philosophical approach might seem helpful, as it would ensure that there is a clear methodology to combat oppression.
Finally, oftentimes debaters are confused about how Role of the Ballot arguments interact with frameworks. The best approach will depend on the given round. If the Role of the Ballot is something other than evaluating the desirability of the affirmative world, then these framework tips won’t be helpful, since these for the most part assume a “traditional” model of framework. For example, if the negative is reading a reps K of your discourse in round, winning the framework debate isn’t helpful. However, if the Role of the Ballot is something like “Promoting the Best Liberation Strategy for the Oppressed”, there could be framework interaction. You could show that your framework conceptualizes what it means to promote the best liberation strategy. One could think of that ROB as just a standard, with some theoretical warrants for it (presumably, the debater running that ROB would argue that it’s most educational).
Consideration 4: Leave yourself options
Even the best framework debaters might make a mistake, or undercover something. It isn’t strategic to leave all of your eggs in one basket and not generate offense under the opposing framework.
This is important because many debaters who don’t want to necessarily have the round come down to a framework debate have started to adopt strategies such as epistemic modesty to make framework less of a factor. While these arguments are possible to defeat, it means that framework must be defended on a theoretical level which requires different skills. Impacting offense to their framework prevents this from being as likely
To combat this, it’s important to try to link some offense to the opposing framework, regardless of the side. Even if these arguments aren’t very strong and not intended to be a part of the next speech they serve the functions of a) Making the other team explicitly extend their offense, taking time b) Force them to allocate more time than you spent making the arg to prevent a later-speech collapse to just the turns c) Leave you the option of going for the turns as an easy out if the framework debate becomes extremely muddled.
Often times, it’ll seem difficult to link offense to the opposing framework. If there aren’t many turns to make that seem like they function independently under their framework, it’s often helpful to cross apply your own offense to interact with it. Usually, frameworks interact in ways that would be conducive to having your offense link to their framework in some capacity, even if it’s about taking out a fundamental premise that the argument relies on. Better, if your opponent didnt contest the contention, you might have full strength of link, which could be articulated as a tie-breaker if there is question as to whether it really links to their framework.
Consideration 5: Find the points of disagreement
This was briefly touched upon earlier, but it’s important to isolate where the frameworks really are different before beginning comparison. This includes obvious similarities like consequentialism vs non-consequentialist theories, but can expand beyond that. For example, if you’re reading a virtue framework you might get to access arguments about why aretaic theories preclude non-aretaic ones (deontic theories). But if your opponent is just reading a different branch of virtue ethics, this wouldn’t make as much sense.
Again, here’s an example to illustrate this:
Debater A reads util
Debater B reads deont
Debater A should focus a lot on the merits of using an ends-based, consequentialist approach, while Debater B should heavily criticize aggregation.
Debater A could say something like – “We both agree that freedom matters, even if you grant the fundamental thesis of their framework. However, we should maximize freedom because if all people matter, helping more people be free is the best way to achieve an intrinsic good”.
Consideration 6: Dealing with Theoretically Justified Frameworks
A theoretically justified framework is just what it sounds like – a framework warrant that appeals not to the relative truth of that ethical system, but rather external justifications in terms of fairness or education. A common example of this is when people reading utilitarian frameworks argue that it’s most consistent with ground or topic literature because it’s easy to link offense to consequentialism. While these seem daunting at first, they’re not too difficult to handle.
One important thing to recognize is that similar to frivolous theory shells, many judges won’t like cop-outs from substantive arguments, especially if those judges enjoy philosophy and framework debate. If you have a judge like this, your opponent winning that a theoretically justified framework is legitimate is an uphill battle, and you can claim that more normative justifications come first
Another important way to handle these arguments is just to answer it straight up, since a lot of the warrants fundamentally don’t make sense. All frameworks are impact exclusive, to some extent (e.g., freedom violations will link a lot more to a Kantian framework than to a utilitarian one, and extinction will link more to the latter, but not the former). With some exceptions, such as frameworks like polls or international law, most frameworks give very similar amounts of ground.
There are many different approaches that can be taken to engage on a framework debate, and the best way to get better at it is to just run it more often. Once you start running it, you’ll improve and hopefully have some fun in the process!
Raffi Piliero debated for Harrison High School for four years, clearing at the TOC twice. He's attended VBI twice and worked there once, and now debates for Georgetown University
Editor Note: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Victory Briefs.