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Argumentation and Advocacy

ISSN: 0002-8533 (Print) 1051-1431 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rafa20

A General Theory of the Counterplan

Allan J. Lichtman & Daniel M. Rohrer

To cite this article: Allan J. Lichtman & Daniel M. Rohrer (1975) A General Theory of the
Counterplan, Argumentation and Advocacy, 12:2, 70-79, DOI: 10.1080/00028533.1975.11951070

To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/00028533.1975.11951070

Published online: 23 Jan 2018.

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A GENERAL THEORY OF THE COUNTERPLAN

Allan J. Lichtman and Daniel M. Rohrer

INTRODUCTION ceptance of one is tantamount to rejec-


NCREASINGLY, the practice of aca- tion of the other. This formulation has

I demic debate is being integrated


wiLh modern methods of policy analy-
obvious relevance to formal debate
where an affirmative advocate is charged
sis.1 Debaters and coaches now employ with upholding a particular policy posi-
such sophisticated behavioral concepts tion and a negative advocate may defend
as systems models, statistical inference, the present system or propose a "counter-
and cost-benefit analysis. 2 Unfortunately, proposal" or "counterplan." But the rel-
formal debate theory tends to lag be- evance of this study extends beyond the
hind the actual practice of competitive boundaries of formal debate to all vari-
debate. More effort is required to synthe- ants of policy dispute_3
size traditional argumentation theory Traditional theory approaches the
and the techniques developed by con- problem of recognizing competitive poli-
temporary scholarship for the analysis cy suggestions through its analysis of
of public policy. the counterplan response to proposals
The present study uses concepts drawn for changing the status quo_ Paradoxi-
from decision theory to establish criteria cally, standards set forth by theorists
for identifying competitive policy pro- wedded to traditional concepts of argu-
posals-that is, policy suggestions which mentation may serve both to confuse the
rival each other to the extent that ac- conscientious advocate and to restrict
unreasonably the scope of argumenta-
*We wish to thank James J. Unger of tion_ This article sets forth new criteria
Georgetown University for his invaluable criti- for competitive policy proposals that
cisms of earlier drafts of this paper.
Allan J. Lichtman is an Assistant Professor
derive from a model of academic debate
of Historv at The American University, and based upon contemporary techniques of
Daniel M. Rohrer is the Director of Forensics
at Boston College. policy analysis rather than from the tra-
1 Bernard Brock, James F- Klumpp, James ditional "problem-solution" approach.
W. Chesebro, and John F. Cragan, Public These criteria assist in clarifying coun-
Policy Decision Making: Systems Analysis and
Comparative Advantages Debate. (New York: terplan theory, serve to reconcile debate
Harper & Row, 1973), p. 3; "Implications of a practice and theory, and help reveal the
Systems Model of Analysis on Argumentation
Theory," ]AFA, ll (1974); Klumpp, "Debate full scope and power of the counterplan
as a Paradigm for Comparing Alternative as a tactic of argumentation_
Policy Options," Paper Tead at Speech Com-
munication Association of America Convention,
Chicago, Ill., Dec. 30, 1974.
TRADITIONAL THEORY
2 Allan f. Lichtman and Daniel M. Rohrer,
"Presumption and Burden of Proof: A Reevalu-
ation," Issues, 7 (1974); "Beyond Presumption The traditional theory of the counter-
and Burden of Proof: New Rules for Policy plan is based upon the old "problem-
Decisions," Issues, 8 (1974); these articles are
reprinted in an anthology edited by David
Thomas and published by National Textbook 3 Formal debate is distinguished by the fact
Company in the summer of 1975; similar ver- that competing advocates are charged with
sions appear in: Robert Branham, ed., The the responsibility to affirm or negate a particu-
New Debate: Readings in Contemporary Debate lar debate resolution. In this type of argumenta-
Theory (Wash., D.C.: Information Research tion, negative counterplans must, of course, lie
Associates, 1975). outside the boundaries of the debate resolution.
GENERAL THEORY OF THE COUNTERPLAN 71

solution" approach to policy analysis. the negative select the terrain by initiating the
According to Brock, Klumpp, et al., the arguments . . .5
"problem-solution" approach entails a
This exegesis of the counterplan was
five-stage process of analysis: " (1) (Dis-
useful so long as policy analysis was dom-
covery of) a felt difficulty, (2) location
inated by the "problem solution" ap-
and definition of the difficulty, (3) sug-
proach and argumentation by the cor-
gestion of possible solution, (4) develop-
responding "stock issues" of need, prac-
ment by reasoning of the bearings of the
ticality, and disadvantages. But it pro-
suggestion, (5) further observation and
vides little assistance for the practicing
experiment leading to its acceptance or
debater or the real-world- advocate in an
rejection. " 4
era when policy analysis is increasingly
In this view an advocate advancing a
based upon the new insights of decision
counterplan assumes the validity of the
theory and when debaters increasingly
problems cited by the affirmative presen-
confront formats, such as the compara-
tation. But rather than admit that the
tive advantages or criteria case, in which
affirmative plan offers an optimal solu-
there is no clear dividing line between
tion to these problems, the negative de-
the traditional stock issues. 6 Moreover,
bater argues for the adoption of a
counter-proposal which differs from both
5 Douglas Ehninger and Wayne Brockriede,
the present system and the debate reso- Decision by Debate N.Y.: Dodd, Meade, (1963),
lution. To sustain this strategy the nega- 243-44; see also: Roger E. Nebergall, "The
Negative Counterplan, ST, 6 (1957), 217-20;
tive must contend that its counterplan Wayne N. Thompson, "The Effect of a Counter·
plan Upon the Burden of Proof," CSS], 13
provides a better solution to the prob- (1962), 247-50; Glen E. Mills, Reason in Con-
lems under indictment than does the t:roversy (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1964), 69, 178;
Austin J. Freeley, Argumentation and Debate
affirmative proposal. In fact, the negative (Belmont, C.A.: Wadsworth, 1971), 236-239;
is virtually required to admit the affirma- Roy V. Wood, Strategic Debate (Skokie, Ill.:
National Textbook Company, 1958), 28-30, 121-
tive "need" or "problem" and to restrict 24; C. William Colburn, Strategies for Educa-
its argumentation to other areas of the tional Debate (Boston: Holbrook, 1972), 157-
59; Arthur N. Kruger, Modern Debate (N.Y.:
affirmative case. Consider the presenta- McGraw-Hill, 1950), 38-40, 55-56, 140, 365.
tion of Douglas Ehninger and Wayne 6 For examples of such formate see: L. Dean
Fadely, "The Validity of the Comparative Ad-
Brockriede, two of the nation's most re- vantages Case," ]AFA, 4 (1967), 28-35; Bernard
spected authorities on debate theory: L. Brock, "The Comparative Advantages Case,"
ST, 15 (1967),118-123; James W. Chesebro, "The
. . . the negative may present a counterplan. Comparative Advantages Case," ]AFA, 4 (1958),
If he employs this kind of case, he can admit 57-63; David Zarefsky, "The Traditional Case-
'Comparative Advantage Case' Dichotomy: An-
that serious problems inherent in the present other Look," ]AFA, 4 (1969), 12-20; John F.
policy demand a change of some sort, but argue Cragan and Donald C. Shields, "The 'Compara-
that his counterplan would be superior . . . tive Advantage Negative,'" ]AFA, 5 (1970), 85-
91; David A. Thomas, "Response to Cragan
When a counterplan is advanced, the "need" and Shields; Alternative Formats for Negative
Approaches to Comparative Advantage Cases,"
issue drops out of the controversy and issues
]AFA, 7 (1972), 201-206; Allan J. Lichtman and
are raised in the other two stock issues. Which Daniel M. Rohrer, "Role of the Criteria Case
of the two proposals is more practicable? Which in the Conceptual Framework of Academic
of the proposals en tails the fewest serious dis- Debate," Parts I-V, Issues, 3 (1970), reprinted
in: Donald R. Terry, ed., Modern Debate Case
advantages? Techniques, (Skokie, Ill.: National Textbook
. . • the affirmative selects the ground of Company, 1970), 20-61; Clark D. Kimball, "Is
There a Rationale Criteria Case?" Issues, 4
argumentation in the stock issues of "need" (1970), 11-16, reprinted in: Terry ed., Modern
and "remedy", and the negative adapts his Debate Case Techniques, 62-78; James W. Chese-
arguments to those the affirmative has initiated. bro, "Beyond the Orthodox: The Criteria Case,"
Only in the "disadvantages" stock issue may ]AFA, 7 (1971), 298-315; David A. Thomas, "The
Criteria Case," Issues, 4 (1971), 1-]; .John D.
Lewinski, Bruce R. Metzler and Peter L. Settle,
4 Brock, et. al., 3. "The Goal Case Affirmative," ]AFA, 9 (1973),
72 JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN FORENSIC ASSOCIATION

conventional theory needlessly restricts pretation of the debate resolution, the


the set of permissible counterplans to outcome of a debate hinges upon wheth-
those which provide superior solutions er or not a rational decision-maker
to the problems set forth in the affirma- would support adoption of the affirma-
tive case. A clearer and more cogent tive plan and hence adoption of the
theory of the counterplan can be devel- proposition as well.7 A negative victory
oped through a model of argumentation is warranted only if the affirmative plan
that incorporates both modern methods is rejected.
of policy evaluation and the contempo- The process of policy argument in-
rary practice of academic debate. herently requires a comparison of policy
systems to determine their relative mer-
DEBATE AS A COMPARISON OF
its.8 Decision theory posits that a policy
PoLICY SYSTEMS
proposal (which unlike proposals of fact
Counterplan theory exemplifies the or value requires action to be taken) can
most fundamental defect of the tradi- be tested only by comparison with al-
tional approach to argumentation. The ternative policies. A course of action is
conventional wisdom focuses our atten- affirmed because it is better than all
tion upon particular problems and their other possibilities and rejected because it
solution. It neither enables us to en- is not as good as at least one other pos-
vision the full range of alternative policy sibility. Inevitably, the rejection of one
actions nor provides criteria for choosing policy or course of action means the
among them. adoption of another policy or course of
Both the logic of comparative advan- action. Even doing nothing or suspend-
tages and of contemporary decision ing judgment is a form of action and
theory indicate that policy argument is thus a policy. A negative team cannot
an attempt to select the best policy from merely adopt the position sometimes
the range of available options. The com- known as "straight refutation"-a simple
parative advantages format, routinely denial of arguments raised by the affirm-
'employed by practicing debaters, focuses ative team. In order for comparison to
argument upon a balance between the take place it must defend one or more
benefits and costs generated by all as- alternatives to the policy system advo-
pects of the affirmative plan and of the cated by the affirmative. A judge cannot
policies defended by the negative. Com- decide whether or not to adopt a given
parison may focus, for example, on the policy system without knowledge of
extent to which alternative policies other options.
achieve desired objectives, the time span The insight that actions or policies
required for their operation, the re- must be evaluated on a comparative
sources they expend, and their probable basis is formalized by Riker and Orde-
side-effects. Affirmative teams must ad- shook in their standard treatise on de-
vance policies whose acceptance entails ductive theories of politics:
affirmation of the debate resolution,
whereas negative teams are free to sup- 7 For clarity, we assume throughout that
port any non-resolutional alternative. the affirmative plan is topical and that the
counterplan is not.
Assuming, of course, that an affirmative 8 A discussion of the controversial question
proposal is indeed a reasonable inter- of whether a negative team may, in a single
debate, de~end multiple alternatives is beyond
the scope of this article. The criteria we pro-
458-63; Allan J. Lichtman, Charles Garvin and pose for identifying competitive counterplans
Jerome Corsi, "The Alternative-Justification do not depend upon the response to this ques·
Affirmative," ]AFA, 10 1973), 59-69. tion.
GENERAL THEORY OF THE COUNTERPLAN 73

A person adopts one alternative rather than Decision theory stipulates that the net
another if he believes that the net benefits of benefits of any policy system are a func-
the chosen activity exceed the net benefits of
any alternative activity. Thus, if we let B denote tion of both the probability that the sys-
the benefits of an activity and C its costs, and if tem will achieve results and the value
we identify alternatives by subscripts, then al- placed upon those results. A rational de-
ternative i is preferred to alternative k if cision-maker seeks a policy which pro-
Bi-Ci> Bk-Ck and alternative i is chosen if
vides the greatest chance of obtaining
this inequality is satisfied for all perceived
alternatives to i . . . This condition is fre- the most desirable consequences. This
quently simplified incorrectly by asserting that precept is succinctly stated by Victor A.
an activity is chosen if the chooser believes Thompson of the University of Illinois:
that the benefits of the activity exceed its
costs . . . Bi> Ci. Observe, however, that there It is generally accepted that in the empirical
may be other activities for which the discrep- world we never have certainty .•• we either
ancy between costs and benefits is greater, in have probabilities or no knowledge at all. Thus,
which case these alternative activities are pre- between an alternative and each consequence
ferred and i is not chosen.9 is a number expressing the probability (P) of
the consequence occurring . . . Our utility
Debate propositions generally propose yardstick comes next and includes our goal.
With this vardstick comes next and includes
alterations in the status quo or present our goal. With this yardstick we choose the
system that can be concretized in vari- alternative that, considering the probabilities,
ous ways. 10 The combination of the al- gives us the best ratio of plus values to minus
values, or of accomplishment to cost, which
tered and unaltered features of the pres-
means the same thing.l2
ent system constitute the new affirmative
policy system. Affirmative teams seek to
Thus, policy disputes pivot upon the
demonstrate that the future operation
two issues of prediction and evaluation.
of their policy system promises greater
The best policy is chosen on the basis of
net benefits (benefits minus costs) than
attempts both to determine the proba-
the future operation of negative alterna-
bilities of possible policy outcomes and
tives: the status quo, the status quo with
to assess the value of those results. Once
repairs, or counterproposals that do not
the focus of analysis is shifted from the
fulfill the debate resolution. 11
comparison of "problem-solutions" to
the comparison of alternative policy sys-
9 William H. Rinker and Peter C. Orde-
shook, An Introduction to Positive Political tems it is possible to understand the
Theory (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, substantive deficiencies of traditional
1973), 46-47.
10 If an affirmative actually supported an theory and to formulate sound criteria
existing program, the negative would obviously
be required to advance a counterplan; the for the identification of competitive and
criteria we su~~;gest for identifying competitive non-competitive counterplans.
counterplans would remain the same. Even if
the wording of certain propositions technically
permits an affirmative team to defend aspects
of the status quo, it may be wise for academic ject the statement can only be based upon a
debate to consider a "fairness rule" restricting wmparison of the net benefits of the proro-
this practice. sition with the net benefits of possible alterna-
tives. It is not adequate to examine in isolation
11 A critic might suggest that if we view
the net benefits of the affirmative plan itself.
the resolution as a normative statement simply
to be affirmed or denied, it might be possible 12 Victor A. Thompson, "Decision Theory,
to reject the resolution on its merits without Pure and Applied," General Learning Press
the comparison of policy alternatives. Yet, as (1971); see also, Kurt W. Back, "Decisions under
Riker and Ordeshook's formal model clearly Uncertainty," The American Behavioral Sci-
demonstrates, the problem with this contention entist, 4 (1961); Howard Raiffa, Decision Anal-
is that so long as the normative statement is, ysis (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1968); R.
in effect, a call for action (as every policy propo- Duncan Luce and Heward Raiffa, Games and
sition must be) the decision to accept or re- Decisions (New York: Wiley, 1957).
74 JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN FORENSIC ASSOCIATION

CoMPETITIVE AND NoN-CoMPETITIVE posing the elimination of criminal pen-


CouNTERPLANs alties for possession of marijuana with a
Legitimate counterplans must not ful- counter-proposal of comprehensive
health insurance. Even if the program of
fill the affirmative resolution, but they
health insurance has greater net bene-
must be genuinely competitive with the
fits than the decriminalization of mari-
affirmative plan. Adoption of a counter-
juana use, the affirmative could argue
plan must be tantamount to rejecting the
that adoption of the counterplan does
policy system offered by the affirmative
not preclude adoption of the affirmative
team and hence rejecting the debate res-
plan or render it undesirable. The af-
olution as well. A counterplan may yield
firmative could then claim that it has ful-
greater net benefits than an affirmative
filled its responsibility of upholding a
plan without providing reasons for re-
policy system whose affirmation entails
jecting the affirmative plan. It may be
affirmation of the debate resolution.
possible to adopt both plans and achieve
greater net benefits than would derive Traditional theory suggests that a legiti-
from adoption of the counterplan alone. mate counterplan is one which proposes
Using more familiar debate terms, this an alternative solution to the particular
statement expresses the argument that problems cited by an affirmative case. If
adoption of the affirmative plan gener- the negative solution proves more prac-
ates an "additive advantage'' over adop- tical and entails less serious disadvan-
tion of the counterplan alone. Under tages, both the affirmative plan and the
such circumstances a rational decision- debate proposition should be rejected.
maker would opt for both the affirmative Not only may this criterion generate con-
plan and the counterplan. An affirmative fusion, but it also fails to rule out all
victory would then be mandatory since non-competitive counterplans and ex-
the negative team would not have ful- cludes important categories of genuinely
filled its responsibility of opposing the competitive counterproposals.
debate proposition; it would have justi- It is logically possible that a negative
fied only adoption of a non-competitive policy system can prove to be a superior
counterplan in addition to the policy means of achieving affirmative goals
system fulfiling the proposition.Is without warranting the rejection of the
Assume, for example, that a negative affirmative policy system. The best way
team responds to an affirmative case pro- to secure common goals may be the
simultaneous adoption of both the af-
13 It is assumed, of course, that decisionmakers firmative plan and the negative counter-
being addressed have the power to put a plan. Assume, for example, that an af-
counterplan into effect. An individual or gov-
ernmental unit can reasonably be asked to firmative team proposes a program of
reject a particular policy if an alternative public work in order to combat long
promises greater net benefits. If, however, a
counterplan must be adopted by another in- term unemployment. The negative team
dividual or unit of government, the initial demonstrates that because significant
decisionmaker must consider the probability
that the counterplan will be accepted. Debate numbers of unemployed Americans will
propositions often affirm that a particular policy reject public employment, a counterplan
should be adopted by the federal government.
Even if adoption of this policy by the indi- of job creation subsidies to business is
vidual state governments would be more bene- a better way of handling the problem.
ficial, a reasonable critic would still affirm the
r~solution if state adoption were highly un- Further analysis might reveal, however,
likely. The federal government should refrain
from acting only when the net benefits of
that unemployment is dealt with most
state and local action, discounted by the proba- effectively through the adoption of both
bility that such action will occur, are greater
than the net benefits of federal action. the affirmative public work program and
GENERAL THEORY OF THE COUNTERPLAN 75
the negative program of business subsi- and the affirmative plan is subject to
dies. Again, in this instance, the negative argumentation in the debate.
will have failed to warrant rejection of First, a counterplan is competitive
the affirmative proposal. with an affirmative plan if the two pro-
The key to a new theory of the coun- posals are mutually exclusive. Clearly if
terplan is the demonstration that a it is impossible for the counterplan and
counterplan is not competitive with an the affirmative plan to exist simultane-
affirmative plan if simultaneous adop- ously, adoption of the counterplan
tion of the plan and counterplan yields means rejection of the affirmative plan.
greater net benefits than adoption of If two policy systems cannot coexist, a
the counterplan alone. To identify com- decision-maker must choose between
petitiYe counterplans it is necessary only them. In the debate context, an affirma-
to specify the conditions under which tive team cannot claim that simultane-
adoption of both the plan and counter- ous adoption of the plan and counter-
plan does not yield greater net benefits plan is superior to adoption of the coun-
than singular adoption of the counter- terplan alone if the option of simultane-
plan. Fortunately these conditions can be ous adoption is unavailable.
stated precisely. A counterplan can fulfill this criterion
A counterplan is competitive with an of mutual exclusivity without tacitly
affirmative plan if it satisfies either of conceding affirmative criticisms of the ex-
two criteria. The first criterion is that isting order, and without even dealing
the plan and counterplan are mutually with the problem areas of the affirmative
exclusive. The second criterion is that case. Assume, for instance, that an af-
simultaneous adoption of the plan and firmative advocate proposes that all
counterplan, though possible, is less de- American troops be withdrawn from
sirable than adoption of the counter- Europe in order to reduce our balance of
plan alone. These criteria shift the de- payments deficit. The opposition might
fining characteristics of compeuuve offer a counterplan which proposes that
counterplans to the negative policy sys- America's European forces be supplied
tem itself and away from the problem with chemical and biological weapons in
it seeks to resolve. This shift in the defi- order to provide a genuinely credible de-
nition of a legitimate counterplan means terrent against Soviet aggression. This
that an advocate may claim advantages counterproposal is not designed to cope
in any problem area he chooses, as long with the balance of payments problem
as his counterplan is a genuine rival of that concerns the affirmative. But it still
the affirmative proposal. Moreover, in at- competes with the affirmative plan be-
tempting to demonstrate the greater net cause the affirmative and negative pro-
benefits of his proposal, the negative is posals cannot coexist. The U. S. cannot
free to criticize any aspect of affirmative simultaneously strengthen and eliminate
case development including its indict- her European troops. Thus the decision-
maker is forced to choose between the
ments of the status quo. By supporting
affirmative proposal and the negative
a counterplan the negative argues in ef-
counterproposal. The negative would
fect that the present system plus the al-
support its counterplan by arguing that
terations it suggests are superior to the the advantages of establishing a credible
present system plus the alternations sug- deterrent outweigh the advantages
gested by the affirmative. Any aspect of achieved by the affirmative attempt to
the comparison between the counterplan reduce the balance of payments deficit.
76 JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN FORENSIC ASSOCIATION

The negative would not be obliged to could respond, however, that the simul-
concede the significance of the inflation taneous adoption of both programs is less
problem cited by the affirmative. On the desirable than the adoption of just the
contrary, it would be in the negative's weapons procurement program. It might
best interest to minimize this problem in argue that whereas the economy could
order to create a more favorable com- withstand the expenditures entailed by
parison between the counterplan and either program, the expenditures result-
the plan. 14 ing from the adoption of both programs
A counterplan is also competitive with would lead to runaway inflation and
an affirmative plan if simultaneous adop- economic collapse. Thus if the negative
tion of both the counterplan and the af- could prove that its weapons procure-
firmative plan, though possible, is less de- ment program has greater net benefits
sirable than adoption of the counterplan than the affirmative program of health
alone. In this instance the outcome of insurance, it would warrant rejection of
a debate pivots on a one-to-one compari- the affirmative plan. Again, in seeking to
son of the net benefits achieved by the minimize the advantages flowing from
plan and counterplan. If the counter- the affirmative plan, the negative could
plan proves superior to the affirmative attack the affirmative rationale as well as
plan then only the counterplan should question the practicality of the affirma-
be adopted. The affirmative plan should tive plan and propose plan disadvan-
be discarded because the adoption of the tages15
counterplan alone is preferable either Some may fear that this second cri-
to adoption of the affirmative plan alone terion will unduly tempt negative teams
or to simultaneous adoption of the plan to concoct counterplans that permit
and counterplan. them to ignore the affirmative case. Yet
Again, to fulfill this second criterion, the negative has the difficult task of prov-
a counterplan need not concede any as- ing that the counterplan alone is more
pect of the affirmative analysis or even desirable than the counterplan and the
deal with the problem areas identified by affirmative plan taken together. Even
the affirmative. Assume in this case that when both proposals entail substantial
the affirmative proposes a program of expenditures, it does not necessarily fol-
national health insurance costing ap-
15 One might argue that by permitting op-
proximately $20 billion. The negative possing teams to offer policy proposals in dif-
responds with a counterplan calling for ferent problem areas we risk the creation of
situations in which there are, in essence, two
the procurement of a new weapons sys- affirmative teams and no negative team. Yet re-
tem involving similar costs. The affirma- gardless of a counterplan's substance, affirma-
tive and negative teams have distinct respon-
tive might reasonably argue that since sibilities. The gol of the negative team is not
adoption of the weapons procurement to justify adoption of its conterplan, but to
justify rejection of the affirmative plan. If the
program does not preclude adoption of affirmative plan were not rejected, an affirma-
national health insurance, it is not a tive victory would be mandatory, irrespective
of the disposition of the counterplan. Given the
competitive counterplan. The negative three options in a counterplan situation, adop-
tion of the counterplan only, adoption of the
14 In a debate where the negative does not affirmative plan only, and adoption of both the
advocate a counterplan, traditional theory countcrplan and the affirmative plan. a neg-
would permit the negative to argue as a dis· ative victory would result only from selec-
advantage that withdrawal of our European tion of the first option. As we have already
forces would undermine our deterrent against indicated, the negative must be prepared to
Soviet aggression. The crucial difference, of demonstrate that its counterplan is superior
course, is that the disadvantage would be not only to the affirmative plan, but also to
argued with respect to the status quo rather a combination of the counterplan and the
than with respect to the situation prevailing affirmative plan. (See note 15 for discussion of
after adoption of the counterplan. a possible fourth option).
GENERAL THEORY OF THE COUNTERPLAN 77
low that, if highly desirable, they should firmative problem area. The conven-
not both be adopted. After all, cuts tional wisdom essentially recognizes two
could be made in less desirable programs. forms of argumentation. First, there is
Thus the negative has a strong incentive the situation in which one advocate ad-
to clash with the affirmative proposal in vances a new policy system and the op-
order to minimize the benefits and maxi- position defends the status quo. Second,
mize the costs of the proposal. The af- there is the situation in which both
firmative has a similar incentive to clash teams recognize problems in the status
with the negative counterplan. In cases quo and offer alternative means of cop-
where the affirmative spends large sums ing with these problems. If, however,
for a relatively small net advantage, it is competitive policy proposals deal with
legitimate for the negative to use the distinct areas of concern, then advocates
counterplan strategy to propose alterna- would be simultaneously arguing for
tive expenditures. Indeed, the formula- new policy and defending the present
tion of both criteria serves as a check on system.
the irresponsible use of a counterplan In this instance, the debate would
strategy; they identify for judges and ad- pivot on a comparison of the present sys-
vocates illegitimate counterplans that tem plus affirmative alterations and the
are not genuinely competitive with af- present system plus the alterations sug-
firmative proposals. gested by the counterplan. The operative
The two criteria proposed in this comparison would be first, affirmative
study define only the acceptability or plan vs. aspects of the present system un-
legitimacy of a counterplan. They are altered by the counterplan, and, second,
not necessarily dispositive of the out- counterplan vs. aspects of the present sys-
come of a debate. If the affirmative team tem unaltered by the affirmative plan.
can show that simultaneous adoption of In developing these comparisons, of
its plan and a counterplan is possible course, advocates would have to consider
and more desirable than adoption of the the ways in which the affirmative plan
counterplan alone, it has established suf- and counterplan interact with ostensibly
ficient reason for not rejecting its pro- unaltered features of the status quo.
posal regardless of the net benefits of the Adoption of the counterplan may under-
counterplan. If, however, the negative mine the ability of the existing order to
demonstrates that simultaneous adop- achieve the goals sought by the affirma-
tion of the two plans is either impossible tive plan, whereas adoption of the affirm-
or less desirable than adoption of the ative plan may undermine the ability of
counterplan alone, it has simply restored the existing order to achieve the goals
the normal comparative process. The sought by the counterplan. Moreover,
debate then pivots upon a comparison of adoption of these plans may undermine
each individual proposal. Only if adop- the ability of the status quo to achieve
tion of the counterplan alone proves goals not explicitly considered by either
superior to adoption of the affirmative the affirmative or negative case. This
plan alone is the negative team assured latter type of interaction would be ex-
of victory. pressed as plan disadvantages, which may
Traditional paradigms of argumenta- be directed against both affirmative and
tion, however, do not encompass the negative proposals.
type of advocacy that may result from Assume, once again, that an affirmative
the presentation of a competitive coun- proposal of national health insurance is
terplan that does not address the a£- opposed by a competitive counterplan
78 JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN FORENSIC ASSOCIATION

(criterion #2) advocating adoption of a firmative plan vs. present system plus
new weapons system. In seeking to mini- relevant aspects of the counterplan and
mize net benefits of the affirmative plan, counterplan vs. present system plus rele-
the negative advocate would assume the vant aspects of the affirmative plan. In
traditional role of the negative arguing addition to the roles described m the
that the status quo could achieve affirma- previous paragraph, when plans do not
tive goals, that the affirmative plan could overlap, debaters would also assume the
not achieve these goals, and that the roles of advocates in a conventional
plan would produce significant disadvan- counterplan debate. Each would attempt
tages. In maximizing the net benefits of to demonstrate that, in areas of over-
its counterplan the negative would then lap, his suggestions offer a superior
assume the role of the traditional affirm- means of coping with existing problems.
ative, arguing that adoption of the new
weapons system would yield significant CoNCLUSION
advantages which cannot be realized un-
This new theory of the counterplan
der the status quo. The affirmative would
generates criteria for legitimate counter-
now assume the role of the traditional
plans that can clearly guide advocates
negative, arguing that the advantages of
through every argumentative situation.
the counterplan can be obtained without
A negative team offering a counterplan
the new weapons system, that the weap-
must be prepared to demonstrate either
ons system would not even achieve these
that the affirmative and negative plans
advantages, and that it would generate
are mutually exclusive or that adoption
serious disadvantages. A reasonable de-
of both plans is less desirable than adop-
cision-maker would opt for whichever
tion of the counterplan alone. Similarly,
plan proved to have greater net benefits
an affirmative seeking to argue that a
vis-a-vis the present system.16
counterplan is not competitive must dem-
Debate becomes even more complex
onstrate both that the affirmative plan
when a counterplan partly overlaps the
and the counterplan can co-exist and
affirmative problem area. In this in-
that adoption of the affirmative plan
stance the operative comparisons are a£-
and counterplan is superior to adoption
of the counterplan alone. Of course, if
16 Although unlikely in practices, an inter-
esting theoretical problem would arise if ad- an affirmative debater believes that a
vocacy in a debate demonstrated that the re- negative counterplan is not competitive,
tention of existing policy were superior to
adoption of the affirmative plan, adoption of he must explicitly discuss this issue and
the counterplan, or adoption of both plan not expect the judge to invent the argu-
and counterplan. If both affirmative and neg-
ative proposals were rejected in favor of main- ment for him.
taining the status quo, the affirmative would
not have fulfilled its burden of warranting The theory also enhances the strategic
affirmation of the debate resolution. Yet one value of the counterplan approach to
might argue that, in academic debate, a negative
team forfeits its option to defend the status quo negative argumentation. Since negative
whenever it advances a counterplan. Thus a teams need no longer concede the affirma-
negative victory would be justified only if
advocacy demonstrated that the counterplan tive rationale or address the same prob-
should be chosen in preference either to the lem areas as the affirmative case, they
affirmative plan or to the affirmative plan and
counterplan combined. In contrast, one might can draw upon a much richer store-
claim that it would be perfectly legitimate for
the negative (as long- as it avoids substantive house of potential counterplans. Freed
contradictions) to defend in either/or fashion from the artificial constraints of tradi-
both the present system and a counterplan.
As noted above, the question of multiple nega- tional theory, debaters can far more cre-
tive options deserves far more extended discus-
sion than can be offered in this article. atively design competitive alternatives to
GENERAL THEORY OF THE COUNTERPLAN 79

affirmative policy systems. As long as able budget guidelines. And each day,
they are indeed competitive, the adop- every one of us must choose between
tion of negative counterplans can be spending our time on such ranges of ac-
justified by any aspect of their compari- tivities as attending a concert or social
son with the affirmative proposal. Thus gathering, reading, working, sleeping,
the new theory provides advocates far and eating.
greater latitude in the type of argumen- The importance of defining the char-
tation they may employ in support of acteristics of rival policy systems extends
a counterplan. They need not regard as to every forum in which policy alterna-
sacrosanct affirmative indictments of the tives are evaluated. It is essential that
existing order, and can criticize the af- advocates and policy-makers be able to
firmative case at every level of analysis. 1 7 distinguish between competitive and
The types of policy comparisons rend- non-competitive policy systems. First, if
ered possible by the present revision of advocates do not comprehend the proper
traditional counterplan theory brings criteria for identifying competitive poli-
this theory into closer correspondence cy systems, they may mistakenly exclude
with policy-making in the real world. Di- from consideration important policy al-
verse varieties of decision-makers are ternatives. Second, cognizance of these
frequently obliged to choose between criteria helps decision-makers to avoid
competing policy systems designed to the adoption of contradictory or redun-
achieve different objectives. In each in- dant policy systems. Third, knowledge of
stance, the policies are competitive be- the criteria avoids useless argumenta-
cause they satisfy one of the two criteria tion over policy systems that are not
set forth above. Government officials genuinely competitive.
must continually choose between gearing This attempt to formulate a new
fiscal and monetary policy to the reduc- theory of the counterplan based upon a
tion of inflation or unemployment. Leg- systems model of policy dispute has im-
islators must regularly decide between portant implications both for academic
different types of programs (perhaps as debate and the actual formulation of
distinct as a program for the procure- policy. It clarifies untapped potential of
ment of a new missile system and a pro- the counterplan for competitive debate.
gram of comprehensive health insurance) and provides a rational basis for assess-
that cannot all be funded within reason- ing the legitimacy of counterplam. It
thus helps decision-makers to discover
for each situation the full range of policy
17 This argument does not imply that we
advocate the presentation of trivial counter- alternatives, to avoid meaningless argu-
plans; under our theory negative teams would ments, and to ensure that the process of
still have to shoulder normal burdens of proof.
~Ioreover, the demonstration that a counter- argumentation produces the best possi-
plan is competitive with an affirmative plan is
not itself a trivial matter.
ble policy choices.

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