So a lot of you have probably heard experienced debaters talking about theory. Perhaps some of you may have been unfortunate enough to have to go against it during a round. However, unless you debate in the national circuit you probably are not going to have to go against it. Nevertheless, it is always nice to know what theory is (I have hit theory in lay tournaments as well).My two cents: It's probably wise to ask your judge if they vote on theory before running it; lay / novice judges are extremely unlikely to follow your argument, and some will find it tiresome to "debate about debate." Regardless, it's essential to understand in contemporary LD, even if you never run it. Thanks for sharing, Mr. Siddiqi.
To begin, a quick definition of theory. Many of you may be wondering - what is theory? I cannot stress this enough; theory is nothing more than an argument with a different format (which we will go over later). A difference is that theory is not exactly resolutional. In other words, it is not an argument about the resolution, but about something that you have done. Also, the stakes in theory are often higher – when someone runs it, they usually run it with the argument that it is a reason to reject the opponent and vote for the theory-runner.
But, when does one run it? Theory is meant to be a check on abusive cases in debate. If someone is being ridiculously unfair, it is good to run theory. Unfortunately, however, several (annoying) debaters run theory whenever they get the chance.
So how does one run theory? What is it made of? Currently, theory has a complicated format; it is comprised of four parts (you need to remember these):
A – Interpretation – This is the rule that you think that there is in debate.
B – Violation – This basically says that your opponent violated this rule.
C – Standard – This answers the question: Why is that violation bad? What does it cause? Link your standard to the voter (see below) here.
D – Voter – This should be either fairness or education. You MUST explain why (1) it is important and (2) why this theory shell comes before the substantive (the resolutional arguments) debate (i.e. why to vote for you here).
An example of a case in which I ran theory is at a recent tournament. The affirmative was a novice debater who simply said mid-speech “The negative has the burden to argue that drugs are good.” You can probably see why that is abusive. So, below is the theory shell I ran.
a) Interpretation – The affirmative can not put any extra-topical burdens on me.
b) Violation – The negative has imposed the burden of arguing that drugs are good, which is not implied in the resolution.
c) Standard – Ground [my standard]. Under this burden, I have to defend this burden AND negate the resolution, while all he has to do is affirm. This is a clear argument disparity and thus unfair [link to voter].
d) Voter – Fairness is a voter because debate is a competitive activity. If debate ceases to be fair, then no one will debate. Vote him down because he is committing an act that will lead to the extinction of debate if left unchecked. This comes before substance because if the substance is unfair and skewed, you can not vote here.
Added: For another perspective, go to this link, and scroll down to Chad Henson's post titled "SO WHAT IS THEORY, ANYWAY?"
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