Rock On! Debate LD #7: Building LD Cases with Coach Marcus Viney

Become a great builder... case builder in LD that is... right here, right now.


Episode 7 Resources:

Episode 7 Handout
Download PDF • 58KB

Episode 7 Transcription:

My name is Marcus Viney, Head Coach of Cheyenne East, and this is, Episode 7: Building LD Cases!

This time we’re talking about building LD cases (and some of you are like finally). There are three basic parts of an LD case: value, criterion, and contentions. Often debaters will include other things like observations, definitions, and subpoints, but it’s helpful to focus on the simple parts first. A “value” is something we believe is supremely important, like justice or safety; a “criterion” is a standard for achieving a value, which we will talk about more in a bit; and a “contention” is a claim that supports your side of the resolution. The value-criterion-contention structure may seem strange at first, but once you see the underlying logic behind it, it all makes sense. Behind every LD case, there are two elements, one empirical, and one philosophical. Here “empirical” means facts we gain from experience or research, and “philosophical” means truths we gain from reason or intuition. Let’s look at an everyday argument to make this clear. Let’s say I’m debating the tiny LD resolution “punching people is wrong,” and I affirm with the argument “because punching people causes suffering.” This would be my empirical element because it’s a claim we know from experience (and one I know from having two brothers). What I haven’t stated is the philosophical element that allows me to draw the bigger conclusion; namely, “anything that causes suffering is wrong.” Taken together, we have what’s known as a syllogism, a simple kind of argument with two steps: Anything that causes suffering is wrong; punching people causes suffering; therefore, punching people is wrong. Voilà!

When we apply this to an LD case, we can see that the philosophical element is expressed in the value-criterion structure, and the empirical element is found in the contentions. Let’s use an old LD resolution to build another example: Resolved: The United States’ use of targeted killing in foreign countries is unjust. Basically this resolution is asking whether it’s wrong for us to use drone strikes to kill people in other countries (which we do). A common negative argument is that targeted killing is just because it prevents terrorist attacks, while a common affirmative argument is that it’s unjust because it inevitably kills innocent people. Focusing on the affirmative, we can see the empirical element, “drone strikes kill innocent people” (which again, is true), and this is clearly calling out to be coupled with a philosophical element like “anything that kills innocent people is unjust.” Taken together, we find again a simple syllogism: killing innocent people is unjust, targeted killing does this, therefore, the resolution is true. You might be wondering how the value and criterion fit with that first step. In LD, that claim contains two ideas at once: first, justice is important, and second, we can’t have justice without protecting innocent people. If we put all these ideas together, we can create a punchy little LD case, where the value is justice, the criterion is protecting innocent people, and the contention is targeted killing, kills innocent people. When you first begin, I recommend using a syllogism to plan your cases.

Like many people (even experienced debaters), you may still be wondering about what exactly the criterion is. As we said before, the criterion is a standard or rule we follow to achieve our value, but you’ll hear competing metaphors for how the criterion should work. Some people say the criterion is like a benchmark test where something passes or fails. Others say it’s like a measuring stick where the more of something we have the better, while others still argue it’s more like a lens we look through to evaluate something properly. Imagine we’re debating about whether Dumb and Dumber is a good movie. To make an argument either way, we have to provide a criterion that helps establish what makes a good or bad movie. One person might argue it’s a bad movie because it didn’t win any important awards. Here, being “award-winning” is presented as a pass-fail test. Another person might argue that it’s a good movie because it makes people laugh more than the average comedy, which would be more of a measuring stick test. Finally, someone might argue that what we really need to do is look at the movie through the lens of middle-school humor, and by this test, it gets superb ratings. In my mind, any of these metaphors is an acceptable way to argue, so don’t let anyone bully you into using one type of criterion only. The real test is whether it makes sense to you.

One activity for practicing LD-flavored arguments is “What’s Most Important?” where two debaters clash for 30 seconds each on what’s the most important thing in different contexts, like “a can of beans or a hat on a camping trip” or “cake or a card at a birthday party.” Another activity is “Tiny LD” where two debaters build tiny cases with value-criterion-contention structures, and debate in a tiny format outlined on the handout for this episode. Finally, there’s an exercise called “Case Roast” where you build an LD case on old or new resolution and others question it relentlessly. An outline for a basic LD case is also included in the handout. That’s enough for now; we’ll talk to you next time.