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The Art of Debate

An Intro to LD



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Lessons > 2. More Advanced Material >

1. The Basics
2. More Advanced
1. Refutation
3. An
Introduction to
4. Responding
to Theory
3. Advanced
4. Moving Forward
Other Forms of
Business Plan

4. Responding to Theory
Even though theory debate
should only be used when
your opponent is actually
1 Counter-interpretations
being unfair or
2 Dealing with the Violation
uneducational, that won't
3 Standards
always be the case. Many
4 Voters
people use theory as a
strategic tool in order to layer
4.1 Answers to Voters
the debate and overall
4.2 RVI
increase their chances of
winning. Even if their use of
theory is justified, you want
to have the tools to be prepared to beat back the argument and still
win. With theory becoming a more prominent feature in LincolnDouglas debate, knowing how to adequately deal with it is more
important than ever. In addition to understanding the structure of
theory, there are a variety of tools you can use to efficiently deal with


The first step in responding to theory is to establish a counterinterpretation. This competing interpretation is a rule that you believe
is acceptable for debate that you do not violate. The key component of
picking this rule is that it should be competitive with the original
interpretation. What I mean by that is that it should be impossible for
both rules to be enforced at the same time. If they could both be
enforced, then your compliance with this rule does nothing to
undermine your compliance with the other. However, if they are
competitive and you show that your rule is better, it's irrelevant
whether you satisfy the other rule or not.
In general because you only care about compliance with your rule and
not whether someone is violating it, it's ok to have your rule be
permissive rather than prohibitive like interpretations should be in
general. Again, this mean you can (and should) state as your rule that
you may define the death penalty as X. Doing so makes your position
sound more reasonable and believable.

Dealing with the Violation

Responding to the violation is most applicable

when you don't actually




Responding to the violation is most applicable when you don't actually

violate the rule set out by your opponent. If it is actually the case that
you do not violate or it is possible that you don't, then you should
absolutely make the "I meet" argument, which is basically that you meet
all of the rules presented. This can often be enough to dismiss a theory
debate as it doesn't matter how good the rule is supposed to be if
nobody is breaking it.
Alternatively, you can argue that your opponent is also breaking that
rule. In that case, you would not lose because your opponent won the
theory debate because the reasons given as to why you should lose
also serve as adequate reasons as to why they should lose. These
arguments tend to be much rarer as it would require a fairly large
blunder to make such a mistake, but mistakes like this do occasionally

The way you respond to the standards is the exact same way that you
respond to other arguments. You should be making both offensive and
defensive responses to these arguments, as the only way they differ
from normal contentional arguments is that they deal with different
When responding to theory, in addition to just beating back their
standards, you can also offer competing standards by which to
compare your arguments. It is worth noting that this strategy is only
acceptable if you have a counter-interpretation. Without one, there is
nothing to compare to, and so putting forth new standards will often
not do much by the way of improving your chances of beating back the

When responding to the voter section, there are generally two methods
of doing so: answering the voter directly and using an RVI.

Answers to Voters
Responding to the voter directly while one of the least successful ways
to deal with theory is worth mentioning. The principle is that if you can
demonstrate that things like fairness or education should not be voters,
then that's enough to dismiss the truly bad implications of theory. The
problem with this rationale is that most everyone has come to accept
that fairness and education are good things. Thus, taking this approach
will be an uphill battle. However, there are advantages to such an
approach, as these types of arguments are fairly basic and can be made
in large quantities, overwhelming an opponent.

The RVI, or reverse voting issue, is one of the mostcontroversialissues
when it comes to responding to theory. Essentially, an RVI makes the
argument that because theory is a no-risk issue for the person running
it, they should be punished if they lose theory. When most people run
theory, the person running it will never lose because of theory, only the
person defending against it can lose. As a

result, the RVI is an attempt




person defending against it can lose. As a result, the RVI is an attempt

to level the playing field.
A lot of the difficulties with running this argument are the inherent
prejudices people have regarding the argument. Many people think that
inherently the RVI is not a valid argument. The reason for this is that
the claim boils down to an argument like, "I should win because I was
fair". This claim in general has trouble, but there are many judges who
accept the RVI, and if you respond well to its objections it can be

Created: May 31, 2011 Last Edited: June 1, 2011

Nikhil Bhargava


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