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The immortal TR thread
This post may also turn out to be a little long, so if you're sick
of the TR thread, you might want to go on to something else. This
response took a little time to compose because I have bowed to the
pressure of all and done something I was hoping that I wouldn't have to
do. Yes, I'm actually going to quote sources. The reason this makes me
uncomfortable is that, as I have said before, I like to see the writers
on the list put forth their original thoughts. Being involved in debate,
we know that if you spend enough time in research, you can find almost
anything you want :). In light of some of the recent posts regarding
intelligence, qualifications, publishing etc, I think that it's
depressing that your original thoughts hold so little credibility if they
don't echo what someone who's been published has said. And that's what
I've found regarding the TR thread. I was hoping to find some earth
shattering revelations in the articles that would open my eyes to how
I've been mistaken. But what I found is that a lot of the critiques of
the paradigm are saying almost the exact things I've been complaining
about.This will be expanded later (I bet you can't wait :). I also think
that Mr. Roskoski overlooks some of the main complaints I have about the
paradigm, which I didn't find referred to in the literature (which is not
saying that they don't exist, as I have not yet done a very thorough
search). So, in this post, I will try to claim a little bit of
credibility by quoting real, live "experts."
- please take some of the above facitiously. I am not trying to
disparage what these published experts (on both sides of the issue) have
accomplished. I certainly realize that they have put a lot of hard thought
and work into these works, and I respect that.
Claims such as Mr. Whitney's that tabula
> rasa labels are misapplied, or that tabula rasa people exert peer pressure etc.
> are not relevant to the merits of the philosophy. The philosophy exists
> independent of its advocates and the mistakes or misbehavior of the advocate
> does not discredit the philosophy.
I'm afraid that I can't agree with your assessment here, Matt.
These things are relevent to the discussion of TR, or any philosophy. If
a philosophy is going to have any use, it must be able to be applied in
the real world - somehow. For us, it's in the debate world. For
example, there is the philosophy of Democracy. In its philosophical form
its pretty equitable and spiffy. But when the philosophy is applied to
the real world, we see some drawbacks. It was a lot easier to say "All
men are created equal," then it was to register Blacks to vote in Alabama
in the sixties. In our democracy, minorities can be disenfranchised by
gerrymandering, money helps you win, being a white male helps you win,
being a member of one of the two major political parties help you win -
and the list goes on. But in the philosophy, everything is wonderful and
we all have an equal say. Now, if we were going to critique our
"Democracy," couldn't you point to the inequities and try to fix them?
You may respond that we don't have a true democracy, and you would
certainly be correct. But if we were going to make things better, we
would have to critique the application of the philosophy, and how we
don't meet it, and not the philosophy itself. This is what I've been
doing in my past posts. I agree that on paper, it looks like a great
philosophy. But when you get humans trying to implement the theory,
there are problems. These are the problems I am trying to address. I am
trying to discover a way that we could perhaps come closer to meeting the
TR paradigm. I will give some possibilities at the end of this post.
If we only look at the philosophical aspects of the theory, and what
actually happens is irrelevent, then I will, advocate a new philosophy
right here. We can call it the Brotherly Love paradigm. At the end of
the round, the judge will sit back, thoughtfully gaze at their flow, and
empty their mind. Their bodies will then be infused with the brotherly
love that fills the world and they will receive divine guidence regarding
the win/loss decision. After receiving this advice, the judge will fill
out their ballot. Now, personally I think that this is a pretty
unworkable philosophy in the real world. But wouldn't it be great if it
could happen? It sure looks good on paper. Do you think people would
come up with critiques of it after it's been tried a while? I do, and
rightfully so. Same thing with the TR philosophy.
> DEBATE IS NOT ABOUT TRUTH SEEKING
> Before I explain the implications of my claim, I would do well to warrant it.
I have no problems with your warrants.
> However, debate is not
> about finding truth. Debate is about providing a competitive environment in
> which students can hone research and argument skills. Debaters generalize and
> carry the general skills with them when they leave debate.
On one level you're correct. Debate is not about finding Truth in
the substantive sense. This is probably because there are few (if any)
Truths. Truth is an individual consideration, and we are all influenced
by our own beliefs. What is "True" for a pro-choice person, is not
"True" for a pro-life person. But there are other truths we can strive
for. As you mention above, we are trying to learn the best way to
argue. I claim that the TR paradigm (as it is used now) is actually a
detriment (sometimes) to this search.
> For an advocate to win a debate based on an
> untrue claim, two things must happen. One, the advocate must be able to
> present the untrue claim and explain it's application in such a manner as to
> warrant a ballot. Two, the opponent must be incapable of refuting either the
> untrue claim or the implications drawn from it. When the untrue claim then
> carries the ballot, a lesson is taught. That lesson is "fend for thyself."
You actually refer to a potential problem with the TR approach
here. If judges are not going to intervene in any sense of the word,
there is potential for "untrue" claims to win. This can go another step
and say that fabricated evidence, or positions, can legitimately be
argued with TR. "...an excellent team that had fabricated evidence might
be able to win the argument that fabrication is legitimate. In that
circumstance, the tabula rasa judge would seem to have no alternative but
to accept the argument and allow the evidence fabrication to go
unpunished (Rowland, 1984)." Matt, I am not, in any way, trying to imply
that you would tolerate, or advocate, the fabrication of evidence. But,
if you are a true TR judge, what would you do in this circumstance? If
you throw it out because it's fabricated, you intervene. If you allow
it, it raises all sorts of ethical questions about debate and its
utility. You can call me interventionist if you want, but if it's shown
that the evidence is fabricated, THEY LOSE!!!
Also, more than one lesson can be "taught." True, one lesson may be
to fend for yourself. But this can also lead to problems with the TR
paradigm. If a debater is outspread (is that one word?), "untrue" claims
have that much more propensity to win. If the opponent can't keep up,
they can't "fend." Because they can't keep up, the refutation, if any,
will be minimal. If there is no refutation, there is a likelihood that
the "untrue" claims will be supported minimally, if at all. This does
not help in the pursuit of "learning to argue." It is also what I have
been referring to all along as the TR paradigm allowing for a minimal
burden of proof. A "problem with the tabula rasa debate perspective is
that it discourages debaters from building well constructed, adequately
evidenced arguments. Because tabula rasa critics evaluate arguments
based solely on what the debaters say about them, a poorly constructed
unimportant argument which is claimed to be 'absolute,' and a well
constructed truly crucial argument may achieve equal results. A debater
can often win a weak argument by presenting so many reasons for it that
one of the reasons slips by unrefuted. The problem is all the more
serious because it is easier to build weak arguments and claim they are
absolute than it is to build and support good arguments (Rowland, 1984)."
Rowland (1984) also claims that one of the functions of debate is to
teach. It should teach people how to function better in society through
analysis and refutation skills. But by teaching how to win "untrue"
claims, this may actually backfire. Dempsey & Hartman (1986) claim that
"the most prevelent criticism leveled at debate today, however, is that
the oral skills which generate the most victories have the least
relevence to the needs of real world communicators."
> No debater who relies on untrue
> claims and long lists of one or two word responses will be consistently
It is interesting that you claim this, but later show the example of
the team UMKC defeated in finals of Nationals used a low-probability
scenario (China disad). Strange, I would think it would take some
success to get to the finals at Nats. I will deal with this more
specifically under the low probability section. But Rowland (1984) does
point out that "tabual rasa encourages debaters to make extreme claims
and support them with as many psuedo reasons as possible." Professor
Ulrich himself is not completely tabula rasa. He admits that new
arguments shouldn't be allowed in 2AR. He also claims that claims need
to be supported by reasons. First, this is a bit interventionist, but
reasonable. The problem comes in, as Rowland points out, as to what
constitutes a reason? This is where the psuedo reason comes in. As
Rowland claims, if a statement is preceeded by the word "because," it
becomes a reason under Ulrich's interpretation. If the judge requires
more, it would be interventionist. But on the other hand, Ulrich has
already intervened to the extent of requiring a reason in the first
place, why not a good reason? Ulrich disputes this by saying that few
arguments are actually dropped, and that the responses are grouped. I
agree with Rowland's assessment that Ulrich underestimates the drops.
But even if he doesn't, that is irrelevent, as we are discussing the
philosophy (according to Matt). The philosophy would still allow it.
But as Rowland (1984) responds, "it is not enough for a debater to group
6 or 7 psuedo reasons together and make 2 or 3 responses. The other team
can note that the 2 or 3 responses do not directly deny the psuedo
reason. The 2 or 3 responses can't be enough, because when a debater
makes two responses to 6 or 7 arguments, he or she must inevitably rely
on generic claims such as 'no link,' or 'not causal.' Such claims do not
get at the specific psuedo reasons presented in support of the original
claim. Thus the tabual rasa judge has little option to throw out the
generic response when the original psuedo reason is extended."
This must also be combined with the fact that it is easier to make a
claim than it is to refute it, as there is an extra step in refutation.
The advocate must list their claim and reasons, but the opponant must
list the original claim, the original reasons, and refute each one.
> LOW PROBABILITY SCENARIOS ARE NEITHER PLENTIFUL NOR PROBLEMATIC
> Mellema claims that there are two - one can either believe that the
> risk is sufficiently small to justify taking it, or one can believe that the
> expected gain is so great as to override the risk (Mellema 3).
> Schell (and others) have pointed out that
> If extinction is the impact,
> then no risk is small enough to justify taking it.
What a surprise, I don't agree here either. First, I would like to
see the Schell analysis explicitly explained within a debate context.
There were posts earlier (by you Matt?) asking about the application of
Schell and if it meant that high impact scenarios are legit. It asked
about the concept of infinity and its limits. Basically, we need to look
at what criteria we are using to measure the infinite. I will begin by
saying that I'm no mathematician, and I'm sure there are explanations as
to why odd numbers are as large as whole numbers (as a set). But this is
what I mean that it must be put in a nonmathematical context. I would
take the position under systems theory that a subset is by definition
smaller than the whole set. If odd numbers are a subset of whole
numbers, the set is larger by definition.
I also think that a team could show that virtually any action has
some (perhaps microscopic) risk in resulting in our extinction - but
according to you, the size of the risk is irrelevent. So this means that
humans should take absolutely NO ACTION, because it may result in their
extinction. But of course, this means that we couldn't eat or drink
either, because that's action. So no matter what humans do, they risk
extinction. This only lends credence to the probability stance that I
take, which will be dealt with below.
> Imagine scenarios being written by all kinds of people with all kinds of talent
> about all kinds of situations. They will vary - a profound insight. If you
> evaluated and placed them in a spectrum that ran from ridiculous to
> inconsequential, they would probably fit the normal distribution shown in (a
> bell-curve). The vast majority would be feasible and credible. (Grose 228).
I think that this depends on the topic. I'm not sure I heard a
round this last semester where there wasn't a nuclear war in some form.
An American team had an affirmative that had six nuke wars in the IAC
alone. Yet, doggone it, I haven't seen any of them. I've also been
involved in debate in some form or other for 22 years. I've literally
heard about thousands of global devestations, yet we're still here.
> One is the denial
> which inevitably accompanies futuristic speculation.
For being debaters, we sure forget about induction a lot. You're
right. After I've heard thousands of ways we will be destroyed, and not
a single one of them comes true, it tends to make me skeptical. This is
what I was referring to when I spoke of the shift in the burden of proof
that the TR paradigm allows. We bypass presumption by using the TR
philosophy. If you can get it out there in a form that the other team
drops, or otherwise doesn't defend, it is assumed to be true. You also
speak about limitations of cognitive time resulting in our
underestimations of the scenarios. But Lexis/nexis tells us that the
brink is in a week. What am I supposed to think when that week goes by
and I'm still here.
Lastly, certainly not all experts agree with your analysis,Matt. As
Allen & Burrell (1992) point out, "if an event probability is zero, or
near zero, the entire argument's probability will be near zero."
> Finally, I would like to point out that multiple link levels don't necessarily
> correspond to reduced risks. Recognized authorities on risk analysis reject
> the concept that multiple link levels are necessarily reductive of the end
> probability. Gawlak and Byrd note that frequently chains with thirty-three or
> more causal steps can be perfectly legitimate (Gawlak & Byrd 41).
I have never said that causal chains with multiple link levels are
automatically bad. 33, 50, or 100 steps. It doesn't really matter. I
agree, they CAN be legitimate. You miss the point of my critique in
this. I was pointing out that a lot of our causal chains fall prey to
the fallacy of equivocation. If this is the case, it doesn't matter if
it's one, or one hundred steps. If the fallacy is there, it should be
rejected. "If the opposer or nonbeliever can find a fatal flaw with any
of the links in a sequential argument, then the argument should be rejected
(Allen & Burrell, 1992).
It is starting to get to be time to go home and have dinner with the
kids. Let me wind up with a couple of things. First, you misunderstand
my application of probability use. I am not saying that it is something
I, or anyone else, consciously does. I will explain further in the next
Second, as usual, the defenders of TR ignore the complaints about
the effect of the subconscious mind. About the only responses are, "well,
we're human," and "we try not to." These are not responses when the
effect is to invalidate the philosophy. I will go into much more detail
Third, There is very little I disagree with in your second post,
Matt. But there are a couple of minor things I want to make clear.
Fourth, in the next post, I will give some possible suggestions for
strengthening the TR philosophy for us all. I will include some
additional critiques of the paradigm here, as well as aspects not dealt
with by Matt from my original postings.
And I will cite some more real, live experts! Stay tuned. If you've
read all this, you may need a hobby.
Sincerely, Mark Whitney
Allen, Mike & Burrell, Nancy, "Evaluating the Believability of Sequential
Arguments, Argumentation and Advocacy, Winter, 1992, 135-144
Dempsey, Richard & Hartmann, David, Emergent Voting Criteria and
Judicial Impotence of Critics, Journal of the American Forensic
Association, Winter, 1986
Rowland, Robert, Tabula Rasa: The Relevence of Debate to Argumentation
Theory, Journal of the American Forensic Association, Fall, 1984
Rowland, Robert, A Response to Ulrich, Journal of the American Forensic
Association, Fall, 1984
Ulrich, Walter, Debate as Dialectic: A Defense of the Tabula Rasa
Approach to Judging, Journal of the American Forensic Association, Fall
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