The Role of the Judge

By David Branse

1) Introduction

This paper offers an interpretation of the correct role of the judge. My claim is that educational appeals should not play a role in the judge’s decision calculus. This applies to both critical roles of the ballot and theory voters.

To clarify, my view allows for the judge to foster education out of round. In fact, it is probably preferable to have judges motivate students to pursue the educational opportunities that debate offers.

My ultimate view is that the role of the judge and ballot is to vote for the debater who best defends the truth or falsity of the resolution. The aff burden is to prove the resolution true; the neg’s burden is to prove it false. This certainly doesn’t forbid judges from voting on education voters in theory shells or K roles of the ballot. The judge can still be tab. I argue just that the right answer to the question “should the judge vote on education impacts?” is no. Debaters can certainly be winning the opposite though.

My claim is that the judge does not have the jurisdiction to reject an argument proving the truth of the resolution for its lack of critical education nor to prioritize a set of arguments for their educational value. I will refer to this as the truth-testing paradigm.

The judge is given one explicit obligation: vote for the better debater (or, on some ballots, the “winner”). This article tries to establish what that means.

2) Establishing the Importance of Rules

To determine who is better at something requires normative assessments about the rules of the activity – the winner of a competitive activity is the one who follows the rules and procedures to victory. The better soccer team is the team that scores more goals according to the rules of soccer and the better chess player is the person who achieves checkmate by moving their pieces in accordance with the rules of chess. Any competitive activity’s evaluation of the “better participant” is constrained by the rules that govern the activity.

The constraining role of an activity’s rules can answer a couple of common claims for education’s value and the judge as an educator.

First, a common reason to view education as “a voter” is a combination of the following:

Argument 1: A) education is valuable, and B) debate is a unique space to provide that education.

To see how this claim is mistaken consider the follow example:

It seems apparent that two claims are true: 1) exercise is valuable, and 2) soccer is an activity structured in such a way that can easily facilitate exercise. This, however, does not seem to be a strong enough reason to make the claim that: “the referee should be a facilitator of exercise”. Intuitively, if one team scored more goals than another team that happened to hustle far more, the proper response is to reward the goal-scoring team the win. There doesn’t seem to be a compelling reason to promote exercise just because exercise can easily be promoted.

This is because pragmatic benefits are constrained by the rules of the activity. Exercise or education should not be promoted at the expense of the rules since the rules are what define the activity. LD is only LD because of the rules governing it – if we changed the activity to promoting practical values, then it would cease to be what it is. As soon as referees reward teams that hustle more with the win, the game is no longer soccer, but some new sport that rewards hustle rather than goal scoring.

At best, the claim in Argument 1 merely justifies why the rules of debate should change; however, that does not bear any claim to who should win a round.

A much stronger claim made for education is as follows:

Argument 2: Debate was designed to be educational

At first glance, this argument seems intuitive. If debate was designed to be educational, then surely our rules should just be to promote that educational objective. This, however, incorrectly understands the nature of activities. Once again, an example will help illustrate this problem:

Although the rules of chess were probably designed to provide an intellectually stimulating game (and for the sake of argument, let’s assume they were), this does not tell you how to play the game. Imagine that a player makes an illegal move and argues that it should be allowed because it will make the resulting position more intellectually challenging. The proper response is to forbid it. Internal rules of an activity are absolute. From the perspective of the players, the authority of the rules are non-optional. The argument the player made could only be a reason to reform the rules outside the round.[1]

Even if debate was designed to be educational, if the rules of debate don’t mandate voting on education, then the judge does not have the jurisdiction to do it. In fact, rules probably shouldn’t exclusively actualize the reason for their instantiation. If chess rules said, “be intellectually stimulating” instead of “move pieces certain ways”, the resulting game would end up being less intellectually stimulating. In the same way, if debate should be educational, a rule of “promoting (or voting on) education” is probably counter-productive. The process of saying something is educational so we should be bound to talking about it limits the range of arguments available. Education arises after the fact: the process itself provides education; we receive value from truth testing. I will elaborate on this argument in more detail in later sections.

Thus, from an internal perspective – the perspective of an agent involved in the activity – rules are more important than the purpose of creating the rules in the first place. Within the debate, the judge is bound by the established rules. If the rules are failing their function, that can be a reason to change the rules outside of the round. However, in round acts are out of the judge’s jurisdiction.

In fact, I also disagree with Argument 2 since debate was probably created just as a competitive activity. Soccer provides exercise, but schools fund it simply because it is a fun, competitive activity. I view debate in a similar way. This, however, is not relevant to my final argument.

3) The Rules of the Game

With the importance of rules established, the question arises: what are the rules of the game?

There are of course no natural rules of debate. There is nothing analytically contained within the concept of debate that dictates that certain specific rules must be attached to the activity. There are, however, rules that we have chosen in setting up this debate activity in particular ways. These rules – however arbitrary – govern debate.

There are three features of debate that I think are truly constitutive of our current model of debate – three features that define the fundamental rules we have chosen for Lincoln-Douglas Debate.

  • Speech times
  • A resolution
  • An “affirmative” and a “negative”

I think these rules (rules 2 and 3 specifically) make the case for the judge’s decision calculus being “truth testing” rather than “educational value”.

First, the resolution delineates a topic for discussion. A truth-testing model coheres with this view of a resolution: the resolution is the rule that sets the grounds for the adjudication of truth and falsity claims. In contrast, educational claims seem unable to explain this feature of debate.

Of course, advocates of education could claim that the resolution is a starting point for critical discussion. This, I think, does not go far enough. The role of the judge as an educator seems to regard the resolution as merely a helpful tool not a constitutive feature. If the educational potential of the round could be improved by shifting away from the resolution, the education view would say to shift away. The role of the judge as an educator renders evaluative words like ought and justice irrelevant. In fact, education could potentially dictate disregarding the resolution all together (anything is possible when the round is guided by a practical consideration); however, everybody believes that the resolution is at least significant for the debate. The resolution, in fact, offers one of the only constitutive guidelines for debate. Most tournament invitations put a sentence in the rules along the lines of, “we will be using [X Resolution].” Thus, discussion confined to the resolution is non-optional.

I don’t believe that this is the strongest argument in favor of the truth-testing model, but I think it does offer at least a persuasive reason to adopt it. Common usage seems at least a reason to err on the side of truth testing when viewing what debate means; however, I think the second argument is much more compelling.

Second, the delineation of an “affirmative” and a “negative” establishes a compelling case for a truth testing model. These titles establish unique rules for the debaters receiving them. The roles of these debaters are not to be abstract “debaters” or “advocates”, but to be an aff and a neg. Their obligations are contextualized by their roles.

  • “affirm”[2] is defined as “to prove true”
  • “negate”[3] is defined as “to deny the truth of”

Thus, the burden of the debaters in the round are contextualized clearly within the scheme of truth testing. They are not educator one and educator two, or advocate one and advocate two, but two debaters constrained by the rules of their assignment – to uphold or deny the truth of the resolution. Thus, the “better debater” can only be defined in terms of the duty of the debaters. As I established before, the standard of assessment is contextualized by the role. A trumpet player would not be the better trumpet player for playing the flute and a soccer player would not be better at soccer for scoring a touchdown. Thus, judging the quality of the debaters requires a reference to their roles. The better aff is the debater who is better at proving the resolution true. The better neg is the debater who is better at denying the truth of the resolution. The ballot requests an answer to “who did a comparatively better job fulfilling their role”, and since debaters’ roles dictate a truth-testing model, the judge ought to adjudicate the round under a truth testing model of debate. The judge does not have the jurisdiction to vote on education rather than truth testing.

These roles of debate are also unique to Lincoln-Douglas, not required parts of “debate”. For example, American Parliamentary Debate (APDA) lacks the features necessary to derive truth testing. Parliamentary debate uses “Prime Minister” and “Leader of the Opposition.” These roles are divorced from the debaters’ attitudes towards a given proposition. A good Leader of the Opposition does not intrinsically have to prove a certain proposition false. In addition, a resolution is not constitutive. In APDA, the PMC picks the topic, which is contestable through a formal, in-round mechanism. These restrictions aren’t universal – the point of our restrictions is to define OUR activity.

Practical disadvantages to a truth-testing paradigm miss the point. Nothing established so far is in tension with those arguments. My argument is only that from the internal perspective, the perspective of a judge in a round, the judge is constrained by the few practice rules given to us.

Perhaps soccer would be better served as an activity where goals are less important than hustling – that is fine. My point is only that to adopt that perspective requires changing the rules. Maybe the role of the judge should be to be an educator, but until the rules are changed externally, that is irrelevant to a judge in-round.

4) The Perspective of the Judge

Throughout the article I have made reference to the fact that if the rules of debate should be changed to enforce education, then that can only motivate out-of-round behavior not in-round behavior. In this section, I intend to further flesh out that distinction – both by summarizing arguments from previous sections and by explaining some new ones.

Imagine a judge watching a round where the aff is decisively proving the resolution true, but the neg is engaged in far more educational practices. Also, imagine that this judge reaches a decisive conclusion in round – he or she comes to truly believe that the rules of debate should be educational, and that we should reform our current model of debate. The judge believes that there is true tension between what the rules of debate explicitly advocate and what they ought to advocate. This judge should still not vote for the neg for jurisdictional reasons.

There are two preliminary reasons I find this view persuasive:

First, bindingness: the practice rules argument I’ve sketched out illustrates this point. Once a judge commits to a round in accordance with a set of rules, the reasons within the round are different – the rules are absolute and non-optional. When a person signs a contract, if they come to regard the terms of the contract as problematic, this is not a reason to disregard the contract. It might only be a reason to try to renegotiate it. A decision about the practicality of the contract cannot, in itself, generate a reason to disobey the terms of the agreement.

Second, arbitrariness: A maxim that provides the judge with the authority to vote on their perceived assessment of the activity’s goals seems to only emphasize the arbitrary, subjective elements of debate. There would be something deeply objectionable about the referee deciding to declare the better exerciser winner. Impositions of practical judgments seem to just be unfair ex post facto rules that step outside the judge’s jurisdiction.

This is especially true with debate – education claims may seem somewhat intuitive, but there is no reason imposing practical judgments ends there. For example, one judge could come to believe that debate is a unique space to construct value judgments, and therefore the best debater is the one who best establishes a philosophy to win the round. Even though debate is a unique space for philosophical argumentation, no debater would feel comfortable for a judge voting on the AC framework when the neg won contention level offense beneath that framework.

Every judge will have different value judgments, and so the role of the judge in each round would oscillate. This emphasizes judge intervention, and destroys the chance for debaters to predict each other’s arguments and thus engage with them. Very few people are comfortable viewing debate as an activity with oscillating rules where judges cannot be held to any predictable standard.

In that case, how should the judge act if they have reached a conclusion about debate’s practical purpose? The answer can only be action outside the round. Judges should advocate for changing the rules of debate. One potential option is for tournaments to explicitly include that judges should take the perspective of educators and then explain how they can provide education to give debaters a chance to engage. Perhaps tournament rules should write a section about a threshold for education or a description of how judges can intervene. Or they could describe the extent education can play in a critical role. This will solve the aforementioned issues with education because it will give the judges the jurisdiction to act on educational issues in a predictable way.

I, however, do not defend this approach. I believe that education should not become a rule for debate. This argument is independent and will be clarified in the next two sections.

[1] Example used from: Terry Nardin “International Ethics and International Law”. Review of International Studies, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Jan., 1992), published by Cambridge University Press

[2] Variations of: Dictionary.com – maintain as true, Merriam Webster – to say that something is true, Vocabulary.com – to affirm something is to confirm that it is true, Oxford dictionaries – accept the validity of, Thefreedictionary – assert to be true

[3] Variations of: Dictionary.com – deny the truth of, Merriam Webster – deny the truth of, Vocabulary.com – deny the truth of, TheFreeDictionary – to deny the truth of