Improving Tech Skills on Framework Part I

By: Samantha Hom

For debaters looking to improve their framework skills
(especially for younger debaters), figuring out how to begin can be a daunting
process. Delving into the world of philosophy is one of the most interesting
parts of debate, and for some, also one of the most intimidating. However, even
though a crucial part of becoming a good framework debater is becoming decently
versed in the canon of LD philosophy, developing good technical skills on the framework level is
equally as important. Framework tech skills can be divided up into two main
components – tech skills in terms of framework construction, and tech skills in
terms of framework interaction (i.e. literal framework debate when you leverage
your own framework against your opponent’s). This article will focus on
framework construction, and a few of the essential things to do to improve your
framework on a technical level. And although there are many more things you can
do (and should be doing) besides the things I’m about to list, here are a few
tips to get you started:

1. The framework is a syllogism…

When trying to transition to varsity, a problem that a lot of
younger debaters have is that they don’t realize that the framework functions
as a logical syllogism. Many debaters get too caught up in the value/value
criterion model – when constructing a framework, the approach a lot of younger
debaters take is to find a value and value criterion that “work” with each
other, and then come up with justifications for why their chosen value
criterion is “good”. There are a few reasons why constructing a framework in
this matter is problematic.

First, is that many ethical theories don’t really fit neatly
into this model. While it is possible to derive a value/value criterion from a
particular ethical theory, often times the form of an ethical theory is much
more complex than that, and forcing it into a value/value criterion becomes an
oversimplification. Second, debaters who follow this method of construction
tend to fall victim to making their criterion justifications impact justified.
For those of you who may be more unfamiliar with this concept, when a criterion
is “impact justified”, you justify your criterion by saying it leads to some
other good impact. The problem with justifying a criterion this way is that it lacks a justification for why
the impact it leads to is actually good
. An example of this: “My value
criterion is adherence to democratic principles. Prefer this criterion because
societies that adhere to democratic principles tend to flourish more and have
better societal welfare”.  This doesn’t actually explain why it is true that we should adhere to democratic
principles. All this says is that adhering to democratic principles leads to
societal welfare, but this would only matter if you prove why societal welfare
matters/why we care about it, which requires further justification.

So, instead of doing that, remember that the framework is a
logical syllogism and construct it as such. Instead of just picking a value and
value criterion and coming up with artificial reasons as to why your criterion
is good, construct (and view) the framework as a logical syllogism that
terminates in the truth of your standard – Premise A leads to B leads to C
leads to D. Thus the standard is D. If you approach framework construction in
this way, you’ll be proving why your standard (i.e. your value criterion) is true, rather than why it is
“good” in terms of something else (therefore avoiding the problems of impact
justifying your standard).

2. …but still give yourself outs

Even though you should be constructing your framework
syllogistically, the danger to only
justifying your standard via the syllogism of the rest of the framework, is
that it’s possible you could lose the framework debate if one (key) part of the
syllogism is taken out by your opponent. Thus, when constructing a framework,
in addition to having your ethical syllogism, you should also have independent justifications
for the standard. An independent justification for your standard is a
justification for it that doesn’t rely on you winning the main
syllogism. Independent justifications come in many forms. So, when putting your
framework together, have a syllogism, but give yourself outs in the form of
independent justifications, so that you have more than one way to win your
framework. The idea is that you want to have lots of different types of
justifications for your framework, while also telling a coherent story.

3. Know thy framework

This seems simple. This seems obvious. And yet there are so many
times when debaters struggle to coherently explain their own frameworks.
Knowing your framework entails a few things – (1) Understanding the content of each
of the individual arguments in your framework. The easiest way to do this is to
make sure you actually have read and have decent comprehension of the
philosophy you’re utilizing. If a card doesn’t seem to make sense by itself,
read through the article it came from for context. However, if you’re still
confused about something you’ve read or carded, don’t ignore it – seek out the
help of more experienced national circuit debaters (who are known for being
good at framework) to see if they can help you understand it. (2) Understanding
how those individual arguments function strategically for you in the round.
With each argument in your framework, try to isolate the purpose(s) it has. Is
it a crucial link in the syllogism of your framework that you need to win? Does
it create a higher layer in the framework/set up a condition that your
normative standard has to meet? Does this prove why your normative standard
meets some sort of condition previously set up? Is this an independent
justification for the standard? Does it explain how your standard solves for
some problem? Etc. (3) Understanding how those arguments interact with each
other to form a coherent framework story. Meaning, that if someone asks you
what your framework says, you shouldn’t have to go through every individual
argument to answer their question, you should be able to give the general
thesis of it/summarize it in a sense. (4) Understanding what links into your
framework and what doesn’t – i.e. to give a very basic example, if you read a
deont framework, you’d better make sure you understand why util impacts don’t
link (more on this later). (5) Understanding how your framework arguments (both
holistically and individually) could interact with other frameworks, and (6)
Understanding how to explain
it in round
. Explaining your framework in round doesn’t mean rereading it
from your case. It means that you know your framework in and out, and feel
comfortable explaining it in your own words. Although there are judges that are
extremely well versed in philosophy, and will be fine with you using the same
rhetoric as your authors, not all judges are the same. Some who are less fond
of philosophy would probably appreciate it if you can break down a complex
framework into easier to understand terms. This is particularly important if
you’re reading a less common framework – even the most well versed judge can
have trouble following a framework read at top speed if they’ve never heard of
it before. This doesn’t mean to dumb down your framework – writing complex
frameworks is good – but if you do, just make sure you know how to explain it
in such a way that it doesn’t seem quite so complex. You’ll be doing yourself
(and your judge) a favor. KNOW YOUR FRAMEWORK, and know how to explain it in

To be continued…