Conditionality Gone Wild: A Judging Hypothetical

In the quarterfinals of this past weekend’s New Trier Season Opener, a negative team extended two counterplans with contradictory net-benefits in the 2NR and justified doing so because the affirmative “conceded the thesis of conditionality.” Having already discussed this hypothetical with several debaters and judges, it is clear that it is both interesting and confounding. Read the blow-by-blow below the fold and chime in with your thoughts.

The affirmative case argued that the Supreme Court should strike down marriage promotion policies in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program on the grounds that they violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. They argued that this was necessary to solve Patriarchy/Domestic Violence, Racism, and Commodification.

The 1NC included (among many other things) two counterplans: the first had Congress remove marriage promotion from TANF and had the Supreme Court rule on class-based affirmative action on Equal Protection grounds—the net-benefit was the Hollow Hope DA; the second had the Supreme Court strike down marriage promotion restrictions based on substantive due process—the net-benefit was an equal protection bad DA.

Both counterplans were conditional. The affirmative initiated a “conditionality bad” argument in the 2AC but did not extend it in the 1AR.

The 2NR extended both counterplans and both net-benefits.

Several questions to consider:

1. Is it theoretically legitimate to extend both counterplans in the 2NR?

2. How should the judge evaluate the debate? Should s/he compare each counterplan and net-benefit to the case while pretending that the other counterplan and net-benefit do not exist?

3. Does the status quo remain a logical option? Can the judge kick one counterplan or both counterplans and independently weigh one or both of the net-benefits against the case?

4. What does the 2AR need to say in order to win?

25 thoughts on “Conditionality Gone Wild: A Judging Hypothetical

  1. Whit Whitmore

    Couple of Issues:

    What form of conditionality is good? Is the NEG allowed conditional advocacies only or are all NEG arguments conditional. The standard argument, of course, is that the NEG should be allowed conditional advocacies, but that hasn't stopped many a 2N from agruing that all arguments should be conditional. Whether the opposing net benefits go away is obviously important to the decision.

    I don't think this is an example of egregious abuse of NEG conditionality. In fact, I think it is a rather unstrategic use of conditionality. I've only seen a few (one actually) debaters who had the requisite speed and technical ability to pull off a 2NR that involved going for multiple strategies. By not kicking one of the CPs, the 2N is failing to take advantage of any strategic time trade offs that were garnered by the conditionality of the positions. While having to answer two CPs in the 2AR might seem odd or scary, there is only a possibility that the 2A will get to do more analysis on key arguments in this world because the 2N literally made no move to collapse the debate.

    Obviously the 2N in this situation is going to have to rely on arguments like "the other net benefit links 'just as much' to the plan as the counterplan." A good 2AC/1AR would have made life difficult for the 2N by making "net benefit A links more to CP B than the plan" args. These arguments are good for the 2AC/1AR to make even if you aren't expecting/anticipating the 2N to go for both CPs because it is a way generate offense and force the 2N to take more care when kicking arguments.

    Is the Status Quo still a policy option? This is an area where the neg can get some exploitative advantage, but it is no different from any other conditional CP round. Generally most judges won't do the work for a debater in determining whether the disad alone is sufficient to prove the status quo superior if the NEG has 'gone for' a CP in the 2NR. IF the 2NR is REALLY good on impact calculus (disad outweighs and turns the case), THEN I would consider looking into that possibility if asked to by the 2NR. Basically they would have to say something like "even if you don't think the CP is competitive, or theoretically legitimate, etc….weigh the disad as a net benefit to the status quo." However, in this world AFFs get a lot of leeway in terms of talking about why portions of the AFF that were made irrelevent by the CP (advantages solved) are bigger than the DA. I also think a 2AR appeal to limit the amount of work done for the NEG is this situation would persuasive.

  2. Whit Whitmore

    …also, if the negative made the stock condo answer that "a stable 2NR checks abuse" then they are liars and don't meet their interpretation of conditionality, which would warrant an affirmative resurection of the objection.

  3. Nick Bubb

    A couple of questions about the specific aspects of each of the counterplans involved:

    1) How does the equal protection bad counterplan end up solving the racism advantage? One would think that the link story for racism is "an equal protection ruling" – so it would seem that this policy option would at least be conceding the racism impact.

    2) It's interesting that the proposed alternative justification for a court ruling is still a 14th amendment ruling. While equal protection and substantive due process are different jurisprudences, they both run through the 14th amendment. It'd be hard for me to imagine having evidence that is uniquely conclusive that says a ruling under one aspect of the 14th amendment (equal protection) is terrible and at the same time support using a different 14th amendment justification. It'd make more sense to use a 10th amendment ruling (e.g. marriage rules are defined by the state, the federal government can't incent one definition over another – similar to one way that people argue we should over turn DOMA) or something else.

    Also: what's the warrant for conditionality good in this case? I think that would weigh heavily in how I evaluated these claims.

  4. Britain Kennedy

    1. Yes, it’s completely in my opinion, I’ve done the same thing.

    2. The judge should compare each CP to the case while pretending the other doesn’t exist, this is the very thesis of conditionality that went conceded. In a 1 CP 2NR the judge can ignore the CP and go for the squo, why not ignore the CP and go for another.

    3. Once again for the reasons above, I believe the judge can.

    4. I really don’t think the 2AR should be allowed to do any work on condo bad just for the fact that they conceded it obviously. However, I think a sufficient amount of defense and impact calc could pull the ballot. Just not a good idea to not extend condo bad through the 1AR with two counterplans out there. They put themselves in that spot.

  5. Ellis

    I tried to answer these by number but all the questions are related so here goes

    Assuming the 1ar actually conceded whichever of these interpretations is good, I think legitimacy depends on how the neg phrased their interpretation in 1nc CX/2nc. There are basically two ways to answer the "what's the status" question:

    A) "The counterplans are conditional," most commonly meaning we can decide which one we go for and kick them in any speech
    B) "The status quo is always an option." I don't know where this started but I've seen some teams (i.e. Pace, Kinkaid) take advantage of this. You can make the argument that "the status quo is always an option" means it's literally always something you can weigh against the plan, so in other words the judge and not just the 2N can "kick out of counterplans." Whit said something similar to this but I don't know if saying all arguments are conditional under this interpretation makes sense–for example, the neg can't kick out of new impacts that they accidentally read that help the aff, even if the 1ar concedes the thesis of conditionality. Unless the 1N in CX literally says "all neg arguments are conditional," there's not really a logical connection from the status quo always being an option to scratching arguments after they were read being okay. Still, to get back to my original point, it's probably fine to offer multiple conditional worlds that might be better than the aff/perm and say if any of these are preferable to the plan we win as long as the neg's interpretation comes close to implying that. If you just say the CP is condo or whatever, the community norm is that only you get to kick said CP.

    So how to decide? If the status quo is always an option, the neg probably wins. If any of these worlds are superior vote neg.

    In the scenario I'm describing, the 2AR has to prove the aff is better than the status quo AND that the counterplans either don't compete or aren't as good as the aff. Sounds like an uphill battle (maybe that's why this form of conditionality could be illegitimate) but like Whit said, it's almost impossible to competently extend this kind of strategy.

    Side note–who did Bill vote for in this debate?

  6. Bill Batterman Post author

    I voted aff because I didn't think either counterplan represented an opportunity cost of the plan given that counterplan #1 linked to net-benefit #2 and counterplan #2 linked to net-benefit #1. The negative didn't weigh net-benefit #1 or net-benefit #2 against the case and did not extend any case defense in the 2NR, so I presumptively refused to evaluate "DA outweighs the case". I also refused to conduct strategic comparisons on behalf of the negative (bracketing off net-benefit #2 when evaluating counterplan #1 or bracketing off net-benefit #1 when evaluating counterplan #2) because I think that doing so incentivizes a truly awful style of negative debating. I think I would be comfortable with a 2NR extending a CP and arguing that "even if" the counterplan didn't solve or was disadvantageous, the net-benefit/DA still outweighed the case, but I would need some very explicit and very thorough explanation for that to seem persuasive.

    For what it's worth, I sat out for the aff. One of the other two judges voted on one of the counterplans and net-benefits and the other voted on DA outweighs the case (rejecting both counterplans).

  7. Pingback: The 3NR » Podcast Number 3

  8. Tyler Snelling

    @Bill Batterman

    I'm not intending to ridicule the judge that voted for the disad outweighs the case (rejecting both counterplans).
    But this seems like an awful spot for the affirmative to be in because it gives the negative 3 worlds to be able to go for at the end of the debate. Should be noted that i think conditionality can be legit to test the affirmative as long as the number of conditional arguments has been slimmed down into the 2nr.

  9. gulakov

    "in the 2nc.. they did actually make the 2nr condensation checks argument"
    -Podcast III 22:40

    This implies their theory of conditionality is that 2nr defines the world of advocacy. (There seem to really be only two definitions of conditionality: either it justifies hypotesting-like multiple worlds or the 1nc is a broad attack from all ideologies and 2nr will condense to the most salient one; I think most people, myself included, like the latter.) It may not be an explicit definition but it is the only thing in a speech that's close to defining which way they lean, and that's better than deciding it after the round since it almost entirely determines who wins. The 1ar can claim to not have extended theory solely because the block made that claim (so new 2ar args would be justified). The neg failed to do what they promised, which doesn't warrant an automatic loss, but it means you should hold them to it by evaluating the two counterplans as a single advocacy, like a multi-plank counterplan (I don't think extending something like 2 advantage CPs in the 2NR is necessarily abusive, logically it's not different from a two-plank CP.) But in this case the 2nr multi-plank counterplan has no net benefit, so there is no preferable opportunity cost and the aff should win.


    If the 2nr goes for a conditional CP with a NB without saying anything odd like "revert to squo if cp isn't competitive", does the 2ar have to only win that the perm solves the NB (it's Perm do CP) or also that case outweighs the NB? Can the judge kick the conditional CP if the aff wins the perm? In the 2NR, is it okay to say "revert to squo if they win perm/theory" and how about "revert squo if cp doesn't solve"?

  10. Scott Phillips

    Upon further review, I don't think this 2NR arg is as important as any of you all. It's not a legally binding contract- its a defensive argument. You all are acting as if when the aff says "we meet" on T and they don't actually meet that they are lying. If the 2NR isn't stable or coherent, then a stable 2NR didn't check- that's it.

  11. Roy Levkovitz Post author

    at a minimum the 1ar should have to say we aren't going for conditionality, concede the arg 2nr checks they'll only go for one world if they don't its a vi.

  12. Bill Batterman Post author

    I think the critical point of contention is that different individuals have different conceptions of "conditionality". Scott described the two major versions well in the podcast and I think Gulakov described them well in comment #8: "There seem to really be only two definitions of conditionality: either it justifies hypotesting-like multiple worlds or the 1nc is a broad attack from all ideologies and 2nr will condense to the most salient one; I think most people, myself included, like the latter.)"

    For me, my presumption is that the latter definition is THE definition of conditionality. This is the only sensible starting point if the affirmative parametricizes the resolution by defending a single topical plan. Unless the negative defends hypothesis testing (and I'm pretty sure Marquette is the only team still reading Whole Rez), I don't think it makes sense to begin from the assumption that conditionality should be defined within that paradigm (instead of the policymaking paradigm — Unger won out over Zarefsky, after all).

    Within the policymaking paradigm, the "thesis of conditionality" is that the plan must be preferable to the status quo in order for the judge to vote affirmative EVEN IF the plan is preferable to another potential course of action. I think it is most sensible to presume, therefore, that the extension of two counterplans in the 2NR ought to be evaluated as if a single, multi-planked counterplan had been extended.

    In order to interpret conditionality differently, the judge must accept the hypothesis testing paradigm — at least for the purposes of resolving theoretical arguments about each side's respective burdens. That, to me, doesn't make sense.

  13. Scott Phillips

    Explain why the following is not true:

    Your interpretation prevents the neg from reverting to the SQ- that is not a "stable" advocacy in the 2NR. Thus the CP must be advocated if gone for. If the negative can say "vote for either A or B" and that is stable, why not "a or b or c"

  14. Faber

    The analogy to a we-meet arg seems flawed here. ‘2nr condensation checks’ isn’t a no-link, it’s an impact takeout, so it corresponds better to something like “in-round clash and literature base check abuse”. Further, I don’t think your interpretation of falsehood for the argument is accurate. The argument would be disproved if the 2nr condensed and yet that condensation did not check abuse. But making the argument really does commit the neg to condensing in the 2nr, because it is functionally an interpretation of what conditionality is ok – ie, if the 2nr still had multiple worlds, that would be abuse of conditionality, but if the 2nr condenses, that will check any abuse, so it’s ok. *proof at bottom* (Jason Wright gives a good explanation and analysis of this aspect of ‘theory impact-defense as interpretations’ at ).
    I’ll repeat that: the 2nc on 'condo good' made an argument that means “If the 2nr does not condense, that is abusive”. If the 2ar simply references this argument, the judges cannot evaluate the 2nr conditionally. If the 2nr specified a preference for one CP over the other, it's probably fair to compare that to the plan. If not, the judges compare plan to a 2-plank CP.

    Absent this or similar argumentation defining conditionality, I agree that “A or B or C” is the same logical structure as “A or B”. Unclear what happens if the 2nr doesn’t give the preferred order of CPs, ie doesn’t specify which is A and which is B.

    But whatever happens in determining what advocacy is being compared to plan, both neg and aff advocacy have to be subjected to every argument that is made in the final rebuttals. So it doesn’t really make sense to do what the 1st on-top judge did and insulate the CPs from the non-corresponding net-benefits.
    All of which amounts to “notwithstanding throwing the 2ar for a loop, this is a very astrategic use of conditionality, even if theoretically defensible”.

    [edited in] Sort-of-technical proof: Symbolically, the argument can be " C –> ~A", with C = 'condensation in the 2nr' and A = 'negative is abusive'. So the only way it is a false statement is if C and A are both true, ie the 2nr condenses and the neg is still abusive. We can't determine anything about truth value of the argument in the cases where the 2nr doesn't condense. However, a more complex analysis shows that this argument is really not just the correlative relation that '–>' implies, but actually a causal relation. I don't recall the logical operator for causation, but for argument's sake, let's define >> as the causation operation, pointing from the cause to the effect. Now, unlike the conditionality operator (pun intended), the causality operator is not biconditional (, both true or both false) with its contrapositive (switch operands and negate operands). It is biconditional with its inverse. So saying 'C >> ~A' also logically commits the neg to defending '~C >> A', that failure to condense in the 2nr is abusive. [/edit]

  15. Bill Batterman Post author

    @Scott: [Your interpretation prevents the neg from reverting to the SQ- that is not a “stable” advocacy in the 2NR. Thus the CP must be advocated if gone for. If the negative can say “vote for either A or B” and that is stable, why not “a or b or c”]

    Because counterplans are fundamentally a defense of the status quo given the logic of policymaking.

    Aff says "plan is better than SQ."

    Neg says "plan is worse than SQ – (a) it makes SQ worse (normal DA) and (b) it forecloses possibility of adopting a better plan (CP aka opportunity cost DA)."

    If the 2NR extends two counterplans, they are extending two opportunity cost DAs to the plan ("b" above). Those disadvantages cannot be evaluated independently of one another just as they cannot be evaluated without reference to the status quo ("do neither/nothing" is always something a decision-maker could/should consider when weighing their options).

    It is the same as if the negative had extended two "normal" DAs: disadvantage #1 cannot be considered in isolation from disadvantage #2. Imagine this scenario:

    1AC: establish a public option.
    2NR: Climate Bill Bad DA – economy impact; De-Dev

    When evaluating the Climate Bill Bad DA, the judge does not bracket off consideration of the negative's De-Dev arguments. Similarly, the judge does not bracket off consideration of the negative's Climate Bill Bad DA when evaluating the De-Dev arguments.

    Bracketing off consideration of one opportunity cost DA when considering another opportunity cost DA is illogical: it requires the judge to remove from consideration portions of the neg's case (arguments that the negative has made in their final rebuttal).

    On the other hand, determining that the status quo is preferable to the plan does not require the judge to remove from consideration portions of the neg's case BECAUSE THE CP(S) ARE DEFENSES OF THE STATUS QUO.

    If either or both of the following things is true, my interpretation doesn't make sense:

    A. Counterplans are neg advocacies, not opportunity cost disadvantages of plan adoption.

    B. The resolution (or, in a bastardized version, the plan) is a hypothesis being tested and the neg burden is simply to disprove the resolution (or plan).

    I don't think those things are true.

  16. Bill Batterman Post author

    And just so it's clear: "If the negative can say “vote for either A or B” and that is stable, why not “a or b or c."

    They *can* say that — but the arguments they have advanced in support of A and B are relevant to the consideration of whether to choose C (and so on).

  17. Scott Phillips

    I guess you lose me at "cp defends SQ". The opp cost DA model breaks down because there is no uniqueness- the sq will not result in the CP.It seems the fiat of the CP makes a cp distinct from a disadvantage. Kicking a cp is the neg relinquishing that fiat, there is no similar part to a da so the neg can not use conditionality to kick a da.

  18. Whit Whitmore

    @Scott…When a team says "stable/collapsed 2NR checks abuse," I think that is a clarification of their interpretation of conditionality. There is an implicit promise that the 2NR will only be selling one story. It's just like if a team said "condo is o.k., because we only read one CP" and then proceded to counterplan out of an add-on.

  19. Bill Batterman Post author

    @Scott Phillips

    This probably should be a feature-length article; for now, the best I can do is provide a couple of seminal articles about opportunity cost theory.

    Basically, the counterplan provides a reason that the plan forecloses a superior alternative course of action. Therefore, the judge should choose to endorse the status quo because it does not foreclose that option. The plan is the focus of the debate – the question the judge must answer is whether the plan is superior to the status quo. If, by endorsing the plan, the judge forecloses a superior alternative, then s/he should reject the plan and hold open the possibility of enacting the alternative instead. The judge does not actually enact the alternative — s/he simply votes yes/no for the plan.

  20. Faber

    @Scott Phillips
    True, a team saying "lit checks" without lit doesn't lose the debate round. Which is not a response to my argument, b/c I didn't say that the 2nr's failure to condense was a VI. As you say, it clearly isn't.
    However, (as the remaining 3 paragraphs of my original post argued,) it would be logically consistent for the neg to argue that when the 1ar says 'lit checks', the aff is making an argument functionally analogous to an extremely unlimiting counter-interpretation, and that it is mutually exclusive with most or all of the standards arguments supporting the literal counter-interpretation. IE, there can be flow-level/"big picture" consequences rather than just argument-level consequences to making such an argument as "lit checks" (even if the neg rarely calls the aff out on it), and similarly there can be such for this '2nr condensation' arg. It can affect their ability to win the conditionality of the CPs, the way the 'lit checks' arg could affect the aff's ability to win the counter-interp.

    Also called "I made the claim Whitmore just made, but I gave a highly technical warrant rather than an easy-to-understand analogy".

  21. Scott Phillips


    My original point was "not a vi" which you argued against by saying my analogy was flawed. If you don't disagree with that, I don't know why we disagree. The point "defense can be used for unreasonable positions" is obvious and irrelevant.

  22. Scott Phillips


    I held off on responding before reading your articles, but they confirmed my initial impulse- your conception of opportunity cost theory definitely means you should have voted negative.

  23. gulakov

    <blockquote cite="#commentbody-1010">
    Bill Batterman :
    This probably should be a feature-length article; for now, the best I can do is provide a couple of seminal articles about opportunity cost theory.

    That'd be interesting, I have these two questions:

    How is an advantage CP, an agent CP, or any other CP that competes via net benefits, solely a op-cost disad? If the perm is legitimate, it proves the plan doesn't foreclose this possibility; the NB link can't be used to prove a link to this op-cost DA, it just proves a link to the NB. At first I thought that CPs that compete via NBs are op-costs via NBs, since plan causing extinction forecloses the possibility of an alternative policy which may be better, but this view doesn't account for deontological net benefits. That's why I thought the CP is evaluated with the net benefit, with the 2NR extending a single world of advocacy which in its entirety is an op-cost.

    If the CP is solely an op-cost disad and defense of the squo, shouldn't the judge kick this op-cost disad upon determining it is not superior to the plan because it doesn't 'outweigh' with better solvency or better NB (if the 2nr extends two disads, and the first doesn't outweigh or doesn't link, you'd evaluate the second disad versus case)? If so, doesn't this mean the 2NR gets a risk-free ability to extend a CP without worry that the 2AR perm would solve the NB link or win on NB links to CP? Doesn't this effectively double 2NR speech time, since the aff has to answer both the world of the CP and of the squo while the 2NR need only talk about one? Do you inherently characterize conditionality this way, or would you if the 2NR said you should?

  24. gulakov

    <BLOCKQUOTE cite="#commentbody-1004">
    Bill Batterman :If either or both of the following things is true, my interpretation doesn’t make sense:A. Counterplans are neg advocacies, not opportunity cost disadvantages of plan adoption.

    <blockquote cite="#commentbody-1010">
    This probably should be a feature-length article; for now, the best I can do is provide a couple of seminal articles about opportunity cost theory.

    Basically, the counterplan provides a reason that the plan forecloses a superior alternative course of action. Therefore, the judge should choose to endorse the status quo because it does not foreclose that option.

    I think the Branham article characterizes counterplans as advocacies. I think he conceptualizes it as a forced choice between two different worlds. The counterplan is a reason to vote for the alternative world, not for the status quo. I don't think Branham ever talks about the status quo. I think that Branham characterizes the unique benefits to advocating world of the CP as the opportunity costs.


    “Counterplan advocacy implicitly stipulates that the true cost of the affirmative plan lies in the foregone benefits of an available alternative. […] Counterplan advocacy represents the effort of the opposition to isolate the best available alternative and calculate the degree to which its probable benefits will be sacrificed by adoption of the affirmative plan. As will later be explained in more detail, the opposition need not demonstrate that the counterplan itself is precluded (although this is one means through which competition may be established), but rather that its benefits are sacrificed to some measurable extent by implementation of the affirmative proposal. […] While the counterplan does represent a cost of the plan, to deem it a disadvantage seems at first glance to represent a confusion of what economists have termed "pain costs" and "opportunity costs." In fact, however, these concepts are ultimately related. […] Any advantage uniquely gained by one policy represents a disadvantage to a competing policy. Similarly, a disadvantage unique to one policy is a comparative advantage attributable to a competing policy. The argument that benefits attributable to one course of action represent an opportunity cost or "disadvantage" to another depends upon the demonstration that the two policies are, in fact, competitive. […] In both contemporary debate theory and policy analysis, the two prevailing models of competition are those in which the two policies are functionally exclusive or in which adoption of a single policy offers "net benefits" (Lichtman and Rohrer, 1975) over adoption in combination with a competing policy. Opportunity costs may exist on either basis.”

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