Revisiting the Toulmin Model in debate

In novice debate and any introduction to argumentation course students are taught the Toulmin model. In short the Toulmin model states that “Arguments must follow logically and therefore contain a claim and warrant”. Novice debaters are taught this with an emphasis because they prolific for their ability to advance claims but struggle to explain their warrants (AKA when you ask parents why are you grounded? Because I said so).

The discussion about analytical arguments (quals indicts, etc) being insufficient to win debates stems from a failure of the Toulmin model (in a debate context) and from debaters who unconsciously stick to it to the T(oulmin). Layne, Ellis and Rajesh were all like “but guys we make the analytical args and judges don’t vote on them” and then Roy, Scott, Whit and others are like you don’t make them well and the conversation ended.

Being the revolutionary debate mind that I proclaim myself to be, I am going to explain my revision of the Toulmin model which I can guarantee will give you 5-10 more wins next year. The revision sounds simple but is oh so devastating. The revision states this “Arguments must follow logically and therefore contain a claim, warrant and implication.”

The reason the Toulmin model is insufficient as written is because if both teams advance an argument with a claim and warrant absent some reason to prefer, one cannot resolve the issue. Take for example a LOST politics Uniqueness debate.

Neg: LOST will pass, Senate Republicans recently jumped on board due to some concession
Aff: LOST won’t pass- Obama has backed off support because moderate democrats won’t give him the votes.

Who wins? The aff or the neg? Both teams have read equally good (or poor) evidence on the issue which advances a claim and warrant and both have come up with 2 completely different expected results? When judges talk about unresolved issues or the need to intervene it is usually due to the failure of debaters to implicate their arguments

My revision of the Toulmin model is something some debaters do from round to round but do not do enough on a consistent basis. The implication component is not like plan causes nuke war judge, but rather a reason to prefer their argument over the other teams. If in the LOST example the aff were to expand their argument to “LOST won’t pass Obama has backed off support because moderate democrats won’t give him the votes, prefer this because there are more moderates who have backed off then republicans who currently support LOST so there are still not enough votes to pass LOST”, the aff would be in much better shape then the initial explanation

By providing that extra “spin”, “analysis”, “jive” or whatever other adjective you decide to label it with debaters are not just making a good argument but telling the judge how they should evaluate contested issues in the debate. Its one thing to say “our evidence is from a prof theirs isn’t prefer it”. It is another thing to say “If this debate comes down to the sustainability of capitalism then you should decide it solely based on the authors quals because in the context of the sustainability of capitalism a professor of economics with a PHD in the field and years of research and studying is more qualified then a message board card.” In both examples the warrant is the same, our evidence is more qualified then yours but in the second one the debater has implicated the reason quals are important.

The 2NR and 2AR are about producing distinctions which will win you the debate, your extension of claim and warrant will only get you so far. This implication component is particularly important for the aff on disads and the negatives on advantages. It is one thing to be able to extend a smart defensive argument on a lame disad or bad add on, but when implicated well these arguments are no longer “just defense” but TOTAL Takeouts to the disad that diminish the probability of the da drastically (see my older post on defense for more on tht) The next time you extend a analit or defensive arg ask yourself if you’ve explained what the judge should do with this argument if you win it. If you have not then do not expect this argument to get full weight.

For those skeptics (see almost all hs debaters) Scott is right when he says bully judges, tell them how to decide. Debate just isn’t about who can read the best and most cards in the alotted time. Be smart with your arguments and take your debating to the next level. Whether a judge includes in their philosophy or not if they vote on defense or analyticals or what not is kind of irrelevant. If a 2nr or 2ar is full of distinctions, reasons to prefer and well implicated arguments any decent judge will reward that.

6 thoughts on “Revisiting the Toulmin Model in debate

  1. Brian Manuel

    Oh Roy you’ve uncovered the mystery of effective argumentation. Claim, Warrant, Impact – what could I have done without you!!!

    It is a good word of advice though. I think more so than debaters not making “impact/implication claims” is that debaters don’t understand what constitutes an impact. Also how to effectively utilize that in a round. That’s what this seems to focus on.

  2. Bill Batterman

    I agree that debaters are often (wrongly) taught that an argument consists only of a claim and a warrant. That is not the Toulmin model: it has six parts. From Chris Werry, a professor at San Diego State:

    1. Claim: the position or claim being argued for; the conclusion of the argument.
    2. Grounds: reasons or supporting evidence that bolster the claim.
    3. Warrant: the principle, provision or chain of reasoning that connects the grounds/reason to the claim.
    4. Backing: support, justification, reasons to back up the warrant.
    5. Rebuttal/Reservation: exceptions to the claim; description and rebuttal of counter-examples and counter-arguments.
    6. Qualification: specification of limits to claim, warrant and backing. The degree of conditionality asserted.

    The way I teach this to beginning debaters is to focus on the claim, warrant, and grounding. Without grounding, a warrant is just another claim. Many times in debates, the only grounding (or backing) that a piece of evidence offers is its appeal to authority. Even when a card has “warrants,” it rarely has any data to support them (that portion of authors’ arguments tends not to get cut/included in debate evidence).

    Once students understand this, I think it becomes easier to conceptualize evidence comparison as something a little more sophisticated than is typically encountered in a debate. The issue of the impact of a given argument is also very important, but students need to understand how to make an argument before they can really impact it.

    I probably wouldn’t be able to prevent myself from giving out 29.5s like candy to debaters that intelligently applied the Toulmin model to indict their opponent’s arguments/evidence. If you’re a debater and you’re reading this, do some reading and develop an understanding of it. When you’ve done that, we can talk about how to deploy criticisms of the Toulmin model in your debates and I’ll really know I’ve died and gone to debate heaven.

  3. Paul Mabrey

    Tomato, tomato; Potato; potato.

    First, nice job with this blog. I like the name 3nr and have enjoyed the posts and comments so far. I hope that all three of you keep up the good work. I am really impressed with how often you have been able to post, I like the depth and variety of issues you are engaging.

    Second, revisiting the Toulmin model. Roy, you identify a place for all levels of debaters to improve and in a relatively easy fashion. I would like to identify what I think are two issues being conflated, what you call implication or impact and comparison.

    I believe you are spot on in diagnosing the problem of impact. Too many debaters assume that a judge or opponent knows or understands the impact to a particular argument on a particular flow. The debaters who are able to highlight or identify that argument and impact it in relation to the larger debate happening are, I believe, the debaters who are winning more rounds and earning higher speaker points. The recent trend in overviews structured by magnitude, timeframe and probability are evidence of this. And by recent I mean something like the last 5-7 years.

    But impact is not the same as comparison. The next step after extracting the impact of an argument (based on data, claim, warrant, whatever) is making the comparison or distinctions that you allude to.

    I think this is a place where debates are won and lost and where speakers earn their points, ethos, etc. Comparison is the spin that enables a judge to explain your overview distinctions back to the debaters as the judge’s reason for decision. Drawing distinctions is the work that most judges end up doing that we would prefer not to do in order to decide a debate.

    I do not believe it is because we are lazy but because we and the community perceive a judge’s act of drawing distinctions or comparisons as subjective intervention. Maybe so but a necessary evil in deciding a debate overflowing with arguments, evidence and impacts but little to know comparisons or evaluation. Our comparisons are not entered into the debate by the debaters but we must employ some reasoning or motivation for preferring one argument, impact, framework or piece of evidence over another.

    All and all, a great discussion. Impacting and comparing arguments is what we tell or coach debaters to do but is never as well done as we would like or as good (we think) as what we could have done. 🙂

  4. rcjh

    By providing that extra “spin”, “analysis”, “jive” or whatever other adjective you decide to label it with debaters are not just making a good argument but telling the judge how they should evaluate contested issues in the debate.
    You left out “nuance”

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