My Debate Judging Philosophy

Debate Square, site of second debate between A...
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The first job of any speaker is audience analysis and audience adaption – therefore I will post what I personally want to see in a debate round.  Of course this philosophy is prone to be revised to match certain debaters and venues, and when spoken will not have the same amount of detail.

So Boise State (it is very likely that I will be judging you for a long time), College of Western Idaho (keep these in mind for other judges who are like me), College of Southern Idaho (what I said to Boise State applies to you), College of Idaho (consider yourself warned) and any other school in the Northwest or where ever I travel keep these things in mind.

My History:

I will never disclose what my debate history is as a judge.  As it places me or the teams I am judging in potions of the elite.  That is the place where all the bad issues about debate stem from. But since one can just go to my blog and see my successes it is no consequence to post them here.  In my three years being a debater (if you want to see a list of my awards look at the About Author part of my blog) I have earned many debate placements and speaker awards. Among those are being one of the Regional Champions in Open Parliamentary Debate at The Pi Kappa Delta Great West Regional Tournament 2008, Receiving the Top Legislative Student Award and a Superior Distinction in Legislative debate at The Pi Kappa Delta National Tournament 2009.

However all the awards I have won mean nothing more than I am just a person who can listen, think, and speak.  As a judge I only do the first two of those three.

Some Quick Comments:

1. I do not disclose my decision.  Live in the mystery that you have done well, don’t try to spoil the hour of debate for a quick decision.  First, it shows that you had no confidence in what you argued.  Second, It takes time to sort out a victor in a good debate.

2. Don’t argue with me.  I am your judge not your opponent. I will take the arguments that you state and weigh them accordingly.  I put my bias on hold as much as I can in a debate (given that some resolutions you will have an uphill fight – but that’s how the game is), so put off your biases against certain judges and their philosophies.

3. I am a judge.  Therefore I am always right.  I judged you; I did my job.  If you don’t like what I put on your ballet… tough.  Take what I write with a grain of salt however talk to your coach, learn how to accommodate differing styles of debating. It’s not my problem if you do not know how to argue properly.  To argue properly is to follow the rules of the form of decorum and debate (nothing more, nothing less).  The rules of NPDA also known as Parliamentary debate are here:  The rules of IPDA debate are here: The rules of Legislative debate are Robert’s rules of order.  Any other forms and rules thereof of debate can be found even more easily than those above.

4. I am human.  Treat me with the same respect as you would any other person and I will do likewise.  I am not a machine.  I will not purchase voice recognition software to figure out what you are saying.  I will not abide any disrespect toward this time-honored activity.  I will listen to everything you have to say and take all arguments under consideration. If I put my pen down for any reason (spewing, disrespect and so forth) nothing you say will be written down.  I will pick up my pen again when you treat me and the other team as a human again.

To further this point don’t feel that as debaters you are above anyone.  In the court system a lawyer who has been trained for years, and knows more about law than any person alive still has to rhetorically convince twelve common people.  In our representative government a representative speaks for the common people in their district.   If you cannot convince me as you would a normal human being then you are in the wrong exercise.

My Philosophy:

My philosophy falls under this maxim: Debate is a game you play with your friends.

Debate -Debate is a formal argumentation system that has been around for thousands of years.  If you do not know how Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian, Augustine, and Erasmus contributed to this craft… shame on you.  Debate has structure, techniques, styles, and approaches that can be used to strengthen your side, weaken your opponents side, and educate those who watch.  Debate topics can be in 3 areas: policy, value, and fact.  Policy asks us to change something to help society, Value asks us to question why something should be done, and Fact asks us to question the cause, truth, or validity of a claim.  If we neglect one of theses areas for the others we become lopsided as people.  Policy deals with government, Value with philosophy, and Fact with history.  I find all three to be valid ground to argue – if it’s good enough for the great minds of those listed above, it is good enough for me.  The issue with today is that the prophecy of G.K. Chesterton is becoming more and more true:

“A hundred years ago our affairs for good or evil were wielded triumphantly by rhetoricians. And just as this repudiation of big words and big visions has brought forth a race of small men in politics, so it has brought forth a race of small men in the arts. Our modern politicians claim the colossal license of Caesar and the Superman, claim that they are too practical to be pure and too patriotic to be moral; but the upshot of it all is that a mediocrity is Chancellor of the Exchequer. Our new artistic philosophers call for the same moral license, for a freedom to wreck heaven and earth with their energy; but the upshot of it all is that a mediocrity is Poet Laureate. I do not say that there are no stronger men than these; but will any one say that there are any men stronger than those men of old who were dominated by their philosophy and steeped in their religion? Whether bondage be better than freedom may be discussed. But that their bondage came to more than our freedom it will be difficult for any one to deny.”

Game – This area falls under the topic of sportsmanship.  The differing nature of sportsmanship ship and gamesmanship is thus: a sportsman is one who holds the event above everything else.  He will strive for victory, but will remember that the event is greater than the man.  He will win with graciousness and lose with honor. A gamesmen is one who holds victory above all else.  He will strive for victory over the broken dreams of others.  He will cheat, twist the rules, to gain a chunk of wood and metal but lose what that trophy is for.  He will use every underhanded trick to manipulate others.  I will in every case reward the Sportsman and penalize the Gamesmen.

Play – Yes, debate is a game and a game that is played. Being a game it is more pure than in real life.  In real life there are consequences for taking certain positions.  In real life there is politics, backroom deals, and many other under-handed issues.  Don’t bring this elements of the real world into the round.  Maintain your decorum. This can be done for me in the following ways:

Authority: If the debate is about energy, assume I am the Secretary of Energy.  If the debate is about an International issue, assume I am the Secretary of State.  In essence assume I am the person that can actually make a lasting decision with your case (this also applies to Value and Fact cases).  Treat me and the round as you would to those people in positions of honor. If you do not respect me, I cannot respect you.

Dress: Although this is implied in the above paragraph it seems as though some competitors have forgotten this basic fact of Ethos.  If you are wearing jeans and a t-shirt – it hurts your credibility.  If you are dressed as a prostitute – it hurts your credibility.  If you are wearing a costume – it hurts your credibility. If you can’t afford a suit or some debate suitable attire – at least try.  I will not hold a ‘try’ against you.  Remember, that a lack of Ethos negates any Logos and Pathos.

Style of speech: Talk to me, speak to me.  Don’t don’t read your notes and wag your arm up and down.  Convince me with all of your style, tone, articulation, gestures, and other non-verbals.  Talking fast means to me that you are losing and I will try to figure out why.  Reading your notes to me without eye-contact means to me that your case in canned (other team ask questions then!).  Show your confidence in your speech and stance.

Respect: Decorum is a huge thing for me.

Firstly, Show respect for the other team.  Call them ‘the honorable Government team’, or ‘the honorable opposition team’, or call them by their titles (Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition, and so forth). Show respect for me.  Call me ‘Mr. Speaker’, ‘Mr. Adjudicator’, not ‘Judge’.  Additionally tell me how to vote, but don’t tell me how to take notes.Show respect for the audience.  Do not call them the ‘Peanut Gallery’ as this is an insult, it’s the equivalent of calling them ‘ground-lings’.  Call them the ‘Audience’ or even better ‘Members of Parliament’ – it tells them that they are your equals.

Secondly, take time on your greetings and the ‘thank you’s’- this is where you can impress me as a human and show respect to your opponents.

Finally, don’t tag-team or speak when your partner is speaking it shows a lack of respect for the person who you have spent time together. Don’t spew (speak fast with little or no articulation), it shows a lack of respect to any human being. Respect my authority (see the Authority paragraph above) and respect the other team.

Friends –  The maxim of true debate is: “You enter as equals, debate as rivals, leave as friends”.  Even Lincoln and Douglas became fast friends after their debates. Treat your opponent as a friend. So show off your wit.  Humor is a valuable rhetorical technique.  Wit and humor when used rightly are powerful things not to be forgotten or used lightly.  Be creative and witty in your case, don’s just give me the party line but give me your own argument. Be  doubly creative in your rebuttals – of course tell me why you won with voting issues, but be creative with analogies, illustrations, stories, and other techniques.

Whatever field you as students may enter when you graduate you will use all the techniques you have used.  The more variety you learn in debate and rhetorical techniques the better you are off as a person.  It’s like how that famous proverb goes “Watch out for the person whose only tool is a hammer as he will try to nail everything; doubly watch out for the person whose only tool is a screwdriver”.  More seriously this question posed by G.K. Chesterton also has relevance:

“Now, in our time, philosophy or religion, our theory, that is, about ultimate things, has been driven out, more or less simultaneously, from two fields which it used to occupy. General ideals used to dominate literature. They have been driven out by the cry of “art for art’s sake.” General ideals used to dominate politics. They have been driven out by the cry of “efficiency,” which may roughly be translated as “politics for politics’ sake.” Persistently for the last twenty years the ideals of order or liberty have dwindled in our books; the ambitions of wit and eloquence have dwindled in our parliaments. Literature has purposely become less political; politics have purposely become less literary. General theories of the relation of things have thus been extruded from both; and we are in a position to ask, “What have we gained or lost by this extrusion? Is literature better, is politics better, for having discarded the moralist and the philosopher?”

Tactical comments:

Although many wise debaters will take and extrapolate what I have said above into the debate round, the foolish blunder in without thinking – as the proverb goes “Fools rush in where angles fear to tread”.  In order to be more specific here are my thoughts on the three areas that many debaters want to know about.

Topicality– I believe that topicality is a shield to protect the debate round against abuse, not as a sword to destroy the debate round.  If there is abuse (and you support your claim) and you raise a topicality issue – great job!  the debate is over! You win! (See my point of Debate). The formal rules and burdens were broken and/or not upheld.  However if you call topicality and there is no abuse (or you do not support your claim, or you drop the issue) then I will hold it against you.  You may even lose on this issue as you shifted the ground of the round away from the resolution. (See my point of Game). Topicality is a very valuable tool to defend yourself – but just as you would not pull the fire alarm if there was not a real fire don’t cry abuse if there is none.

Counter-Plan – If the opposition really want to take on the burden of proof go ahead.  Remember that as an Opposition team you are giving up presumption, which is quite a boon! Don’t give that up for something that makes the round more messy and harder for you to debate.  As a tool it is handy, but should only be used in rare cases. (See my point in Debate) Furthermore to me as a judge it seems very lazy and abusive for the Opposition team to have a “plan plus” or a “plan minus” (if you don’t know what these are count yourself blessed – but know how to defend yourself against them). If you do run these abusive strategies count the debate a loss – as there is no one opposing the resolution and the ground loss is very abusive.  Counter-plans are a tool that should be used rarely but serve their purpose in those scanty times.

Kritiques – Right off the bat let me say that Kritiques are lazy, abhorrent to decorum, and generally show me that you do not know how to defend yourself without calling the other team names (see my point in Decorum and Friends). Kritiques are based off faulty premises and faulty philosophies (see here and here).  The issues that happen in the real world (calling those who oppose you racist, sexist, and so on) is an insult to debate itself and should never enter any round.

The same issue I brought up with Topicality is here as well: I will hold Kritiques against you.  In fact if you are Government don’t set up a Kritique in the first constructive- you will lose if you do! That is very abusive!  If you are Opposition don’t show that you are lazy and like to call people names … just debate the issue.

Some exceptions to this rule for me: if the other team violates decorum by swearing, using racial slurs, words of intimidation, or intentional hate speech; then by all means call the other team on it.

Closing thoughts:

I am not a hard judge.  In fact I am a very benevolent judge. Treat me with respect, treat the other team with respect, treat debate itself with respect.  Impact your arguments,  give me a criterion for the round (or I’ll use my gut to decide), and above all be individuals that are both beautiful and just.

Remember in all you do speak with passion, debate with integrity, and live with honor.


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