First off – there are generally two kinds of argument, or debate, that can occur:
Positive Debates – Arguments over facts.
(E.g. Does God exist?)
Normative Debates – Arguments over what ‘ought’ to be.
(E.g. Should Capital Punishment be implemented?)
Tackling these two types follows roughly the same method but require different processes.
FOR NORMATIVE DEBATES
- Root out the key point(s) of dispute – for example, in the debate “Should Capital Punishment be implemented?”, two arguers may disagree over the likelihood of capital punishment to act as a deterrent for potential criminals. (In this case, we have effectively reduced a normative argument into a positive argument, as is the case in many occasions. Here, we can simply refer to the methodology of Positive Debates.)
- When it is a case, not of facts, but rather values (E.g. equality vs. utility), then it is up to the arguers to convince each other that both of them agree on just one value (namely, theirs), by posing theoretical situations and asking the other as to what outcome they would prefer the most. (E.g. Arguer A believes that the value of life can be used as an argument against Capital Punishment, whereas Arguer B contests that the value of criminals’ lives is degraded once they commit crimes – that they deserve to die).
- If each arguer’s response is consistent with their value, then their case stands (honesty withstanding) but if they are inconsistent, then unless the arguer in question can properly outline the difference between this theoretical situation and the situation of the debate, the case is negated. (E.g. Arguer B answers that if he were given the choice to shoot and execute a known murderer, he says “no”).
- If each opponent remains consistent and they still disagree as to a question of values, the debate is no longer fit to continue and a draw must be called.
FOR POSITIVE DEBATES
- Root out the key point(s) of dispute – for example, two arguers may dispute over motion, “Capital punishment had been successful as a deterrent against crime”.
- Choose one to focus on. Although when there are few, all of them have to be addressed.
- Once the position of each of the arguers on this key point has been established, gather reasons for why they take those positions. For example – “In the US, states without the death penalty have had consistently lower murder rates, resting at an 18% difference in 2011” or “Dr. Michael Summers of Pepperdine University concluded that ‘each execution carried out is correlated with about 74 fewer murders the following year’”
- Afterwards, gather each arguers’ rebuttal against these reasons, for example, “This is because states which have implemented the death penalty have done so because of their naturally higher rate of crime as compared to other states” or “Correlation does not prove a direct relationship between the two – instead, we can resort to reasoning: those who commit murders do not expect to get caught, and so won’t consider their potential punishment. It won’t make a difference”.
- Continue this process, with each arguer rebutting each other’s rebuttals using evidence to measure the reliability of these arguments, for example, gathering statistics for the states’ crime rates before the death penalty or interviewing criminals about their respective murders and what they were thinking at the time.
– If an arguer can’t make a case against a certain rebuttal, then that will be a strike against him, and his argument will only stand if he has a made a point which his opponent could not contest as well, in which case, no conclusion can be reached.
– If a rebuttal does not contain sufficient evidence, then that point of argumentation will have to be kept on hold until evidence can be gained.
– If all evidence gained supports Arguer A, then he will win the argument. If some but not all evidence supports Arguer A, then he will have to draw rebuttals to any arguments that Arguer B has drawn which this opposing evidence supports.
– If all evidence does support Arguer A, then he has effectively won the argument until Arguer B can create a sufficient rebuttal and provide evidence for that as well.