L. Paul Strait Talks Metatheory, Practical Wisdom, and Pragma-Dialectics

L. Paul Strait, co-author of “The Scope of Negative Fiat” and “Academic Debate as a Decision-Making Game,” and the most carded author in LD theory debates, visited the VBI Advanced Seminar on Thursday. He offered some advice on the use of theory in LD. Strait argued, among other things, that

  • LD provides a unique opportunity for debaters to apply ethical theories as the grounding for procedural arguments in debate;
  • LD is a game that aims to cultivate practical wisdom and decision-making skills in everyday life; 
  • “Drop the debater,” in general, detracts from the sincerity, reasonableness, and objectives of debate theory;
  • Arbitrariness is an overlooked disadvantage to common theory interpretations in LD; and
  • Although bad theory arguments crowd out substance, good theory debate is one of the best ways to promote the virtues that debate is supposed to inculcate.  

“By learning how to compare values in the context of a resolution,” Strait explained, “you’re learning a procedure that you can apply in your own life.” Debate, on Strait’s view, is more about a process of thinking than a body of information: “Theory arguments involve an inherent appeal to rationality.” 

Strait discussed how students might apply his theories to common theory debates in LD, including the disputes over necessary but insufficient burdens, skepticism triggers, and presumption.