Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Uniqueness in Disadvantages

The disadvantage is an argument presented by the negative (or opposing side) which explains why a proposal made by the affirmative results in some kind of negative consequences.  In policy debate, for example, the disad (or DA as it it often abbreviated) is comprised of three principle parts; uniqueness, link and impact. So naturally, the affirmative will attempt to diminsh the disad by trying to show it is not unique, it does not link in the way claimed by the negative or the impact is not really a bad thing after all.

Though the uniqueness and link evidence are usually presented separately, it is important to realize they are very closely connected.  The link is the evidence that shows how the argument is related to the affirmative plan or some aspect of the affirmative case. The best way to explain it is by way of example. Suppose the negative wants to prove the affirmative plan will alienate China which results in war with China. The negative will first claim the relationship with China is cooperative, in other words, there is no alienation in the status quo. Then the link evidence will prove the plan will upset the current situation and alienate China. Thus, the negative side establishes that before the plan, everything is going along well, but because of the plan, China will become alienated.  The uniqueness of the argument is seen in the claim that in the status quo, the relationship between the two countries is good.  Obviously, if the affirmative can show China is already feeling alienated, then the negative can not uniquely claim that the plan is what alienates China. Uniqueness, in policy debate terminology, is the current situation that will be uniquely altered by enacting the plan.

The next part of the disadvantage argument is typically the impact which is the negative consequence that will arise as a result of the change to the status quo which results uniquely from enacting the plan. In the example given previously, the negative consequence is war between the U.S. and China.  In time order, there is a chain of causes and effects:
  1. First there is the status quo (China and U.S. have a good relationship).
  2. Some event occurs (the plan is enacted)
  3. The event results in an effect (it alienates China)
  4. That effect becomes the cause of an impact (the first effect causes another effect, namely, the alienation of China leads to war)
So we can see an impact is a double cause and effect.  A cause results in an effect. That effect, in turn is a cause leading to another effect.  Enacting the plan results in alienation. The alienation leads to war.

The Implied Uniqueness
Notice how the first effect must uniquely arise from the cause, in this case, the alienation of China must uniquely result from the enacting of the plan.  As I shall discuss in more detail below, there must a unique relationship between cause and effect before one can claim causality.  Because there is a unique relationship between cause and effect, it follows the subsequent cause and effect must also be unique in order to establish causality.  In the example being discussed, enacting the plan uniquely alienates China. Therefore the alienation of China must uniquely lead to war.  This second, implied uniqueness is overlooked by debaters and coaches because disads are not typically recognized as cause-effect relations. This implied uniqueness represents another opportunity for the AFF to turn the link which results in the impact.

Cause and Effect
Any time there are two events and the second event is a consequence of the first it may be possible to claim there is a cause-effect relationship between the two events as long as certain criteria are met. Cause-effect; also known as causality, is a philosophical idea that is observed in many different kinds of applications.  The principle criteria state the effect must follow the cause in time, without intervening causes or effects and there must be a one-to-one relationship between the cause and effect. In other words, there must be a uniqueness whereby there is no other cause which gives rise to the effect.  If the effect does arise from other causes it is only because there is a common quality about the causes which uniquely gives rise to the effect. Because of this uniqueness, it can be said whenever the cause occurs the effect will follow.  Such a cause-effect relationship, therefore is unique and deterministic.  There is another kind of cause and effect relationship which is not deterministic but instead, probabilistic. In this kind of relationship, one may say every time this event occurs there is such and such probability a certain unique effect will arise.  I suggest obtaining Peter Unger’s,  “The Uniqueness in Causation”, American Philosophical Quarterly, July 1977 for a good explanation of the uniqueness quality fo the cause-effect relation.

Now, one need not fully comprehend the complexities of causality to understand that a debate disad is a cause-effect relationship. Therefore there must be uniqueness between the cause and effect. Since a disad is actually a two-step cause and effect relationship where some aspect of the plan is a cause resulting in an effect and this effect is interpreted as a cause resulting in the disadvantage, there must be uniqueness in each step.

Breaking-Down the DA - A Practical Example
There are of course, several ways to defeat the disadvantage that are repeated in policy debate lectures throughout the country: claim non-unique, uniqueness overwhelms the link, turn the link, or turn the impact and I leave it the ambitious to review the ways this is typically accomplished.  In my opinion, recognizing the double cause-effect relationship of the typical DA introduces other ways to attack the uniqueness claims and potentially expose a weakness and defeat a DA. 

The following practical example is extracted from the DDW 2011 Russia Disad evidence:

No space militarization now, Foust, 2011 (uniqueness)
Russia perceives exploration as military threat, Kislyakov, 2011 (link to the plan)
Russia militarization risks extinction, Rozoff, 2009 (impact)

Examining the DA as a sequence of cause-effect relations in time order:
There is no militarization of space (explicit uniqueness)
The plan is enacted and increased space exploration begins (cause)
Russia sees increased exploration as a military threat (effect)

Russia does not currently see the US as military threat (implied uniqueness)
Russia sees exploration as a military threat and militarizes in response (effect)
Russia militarization risks extinction (cause)

Notice in the first sequence of cause-effect, the NEG establishes a norm (there is no militarization in space), then provides a warrant that a significant increase in space exploration would be perceived as a military threat. AFF can undo the uniqueness evidence by any contrary evidence which shows there has been an ongoing militarization of space.  Additionally, since the NEG did not establish a threshold, AFF can claim the U.S. has been exploring space for nearly 50 years and since Russia has not militarized yet, the claim is empirically denied.

But notice, in the second sequence of cause-effect, the NEG has implied a norm that Russia does not currently see a military threat coming from the U.S.  We can see this uniqueness as necessary because we must establish that Russia’s perception of increased U.S. exploration is the unique cause which results in Russia’s militarization.  The AFF can attack the implied uniqueness by presenting evidence that Russia already sees a threat from the U.S. but has not militarized so the NEG can not uniquely claim the plan changes anything since Russia is already threatened.

By exposing the implied uniqueness, NEG can improve the DA:
No space militarization now (uniqueness)
Russia is concerned but not threatened by current U.S. capability (exposed uniqueness)
Further exploration will push Russia from concern to alarm (threshold/brink)
Russia perceives increased exploration as a military threat (link)
Russia militarization risks extinction (impact)

When a DA is viewed as a double cause-effect relationship, sometimes additional opportunities for exploiting the underlying uniqueness can be exposed.  This provides an additional avenue of attack for the AFF.  We can also see the NEG can strengthen the DA by explicitly exposing the underlying uniqueness and reduce the opportunity for AFF to claim non-unique or turn the link.


  1. This was very well written even though I only came here because I forgot what uniqueness was!

  2. I agree this was very helpful with regards to understanding what different arguments were in debate. Maybe you should include info on the internal link

    1. Soon, I will be updating many of my older articles. I do like the idea of going more in-depth on the kinds of arguments. Also I definitely need to expand my policy debate area in particular since I have been ignoring it for some time.


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