Paradigms and Principles: Are “I Meets” Always Terminal Defense?

A. Is an “I meet” argument always terminal defense on theory?

An “I meet” argument is an answer to theory which claims that there is no violation – the debater has complied with the rule proposed by the interpretation. For example, if the 1NC runs theory arguing that the AC may not employ contingent standards, and the 1AR argues correctly that the AC does not employ contingent standards, there has been no violation and the affirmative debater should not lose on theory.

If an “I meet” argument is conceded, judges will almost universally regard it as terminal defense – defense sufficient to defeat the theory position entirely such that it has no weight in the decision calculus. (See Jake Nebel’s article from yesterday for good reasons why the debater running theory should have the burden of proof that there is in fact a violation.) This is an exception to the general rule, because we often say that terminal defense is impossible or rare – there is almost always a possibility that the impact claimed by a debater will happen despite a defensive argument.

There are cases where treating “I meet” arguments as terminal defense is easy – for example when the argument is conceded. If offending debater did not in fact do anything objectionable, then she should not lose on theory. However, the decision becomes more difficult when the “I meet,” argument is contested. Suppose in the example above that the negative argues that an ambiguous part of the AC could be reasonably interpreted as a contingent standard, so the Aff does not meet the interp. Now the judge must conclude that there is some probability that the affirmative violates and some probability that she doesn’t. If the judge concludes that the affirmative debater is marginally ahead on the “I meet” argument (e.g. the affirmative case is reasonably clear but not entirely unambiguous), is it still appropriate to treat the “I meet” as terminal defense? If not, does it make sense to force debaters to defend an objectionable practice which they are simultaneously claiming they have not used?

  • Rebar Niemi

    Paradigmatically I consider extended I meets that solve the abuse claim/violation to be 100% terminal defense. Non I meet defense on theory does still run into the problem of "risk of a violation," but I meets are considered direct takeouts to the violation in my world.I think that if the theory initiating debater wants to argue that the I meet doesn't solve the violation, the onus is on them (like Jake says) to articulate why the violation is more likely to be true than false.

  • When I wrote that the person running theory has the burden to prove the violation, I didn’t mean to imply that this burden was to prove 100% credence. I meant to criticize two common practices: (1) the claim that *any* risk of a violation is sufficient, and (2) the habit of under-explaining the violation and citing new reasons in the NR or 2AR in response to an “I meet.” I agree with PDVE that sometimes the violation has to be vague. But that doesn’t imply that any risk of a violation is sufficient, or that a debater can start with a vague violation argument and make it clearer as the round goes on.So, is a successful “I meet” enough to completely disregard theory? I can’t see how you could vote on any argument that has literally no link. I don’t think your real question is whether an “I meet” counts as terminal defense. I think your question is actually this: how do we decide who wins the violation debate if we have divided credences? Do we say there is a sufficient link if it is more likely than not the case that there was a violation? Should we carry this mitigation to the impact level on the rule comparison?

    I agree with Peter that the answers to these questions may change from round to round. But, whatever those answers are, if a debater wins an “I meet” (however much credence that requires), a successful “I meet” seems to make the impacts of theory irrelevant. To test this view, can you think of any case where the judge should evaluate theory even though the violation is more likely to be false than true?

    • Adam Torson

      Good point of clarification – I didn’t mean to imply that your argument about the burden of proof on theory took a stance on the degree of certainty the judge must have that a violation took place.The rest I generally agree on. As to the question in the last sentence – I could see an argument suggesting that vagueness should be interpreted against the drafter (a common rule of construction in the law for vague contracts). Taking Peter’s topicality example as a jumping off point, the neg might argue that the AC had the duty to run a clearly topical aff, and if they obfuscated they gave the neg little choice but to run topicality; so, even if after more thorough explication it turns out that the violation is more likely false than true (the case is probably topical), we should nonetheless assume that it is not.

      Whether or not that argument is persuasive will of course be dependent on the situation, and I can’t think of a more concrete scenario at the moment, so perhaps it would never come up – but something to think about.

  • I think violation-risk arguments can be persuasive in topicality debates. Here is why: language is notoriously vague. In saying this, i'm not just asserting that language is ambiguous and/or polysemous. I'm claiming that many parts of speech (e.g. predicates, determiners, modifiers) are unclear in such a way that they cannot be made more clear. That is, there are parts of speech that have inevitable borderline cases.So, given vagueness and its pervasiveness in our language, it is often unclear whether or not a 1AC is topical. This unclarity is not solely due to a debater's lack of articulateness either. It is partly due to the slippery nature of meaning. As such, I think violation-risk arguments can be persuasive in a topicality debate because a debater will never be able to prove "with certainty" that the 1AC is topical. Violation-risk arguments thus leave it up to the judge to make the call on whether the 1AC is topical or not and since topicality is standardly thought to be a gateway issue that frames the case debate, a judge should resolve a topicality debate, when possible, before evaluating the case debate.This brings into view the real problem with violation-risk arguments. They invite judge intervention. But this in turn gives the affirmative some leeway in answering topicality. If the affirmative points out that violation-risk arguments invite intervention and the affirmative then goes on to argue that the threshold for determining that the 1AC is non-topical should be high precisely because language is vague, then I think most judges can be convinced not to vote on violation-risk arguments on topicality.There are, of course, rejoinders to this variant of a reasonability argument. The most obvious of which is that "I meet"-arguments are also riddled with vagueness. But that is just to say that the threshold for both non-topicality and topicality should be determined on a round-by-round basis. In turn, this gives us the conclusion that the status of "I meet"-arguments as terminal defense within topicality debates should also often be decided on a round-by-round basis.(For those reading at home that want to know more about vagueness, see the SEP article and check out this anthology <a href="” target=”_blank”>

  • Anonymous

    Having lost on risk of a violation twice last weekend, I am probably biased here, but I dont think there is ever a situation where this argument makes sense. If the neg reads a theory shell that Aff must not cause extinction during AC, I hope that there isnt a judge who would vote neg on the shell if the aff just makes an I meet response and move on, and yet this is how the argument has been explained to me to function. The reason terminal defense typically doesnt exist is that its impossible to predict the future with 100% confidence. Risk of offense makes no sense when evaluating whether a speech given in the past violated some side constraint. If you understand what the interpretation and violation are, you can resolve the debate with certainty. If there is ambiguity about the interpretation or violation, I am of the opinion that the onus is on the debater running theory to clarify what the interp and violation are.