Warrant Links Revisited
Warrant links are not commonly analyzed by debaters in any genre. I would venture to say policy debaters very rarely think about the links in their evidence, especially when pulling cards from camp cases and shoving them into the case file. Warrant links, or at least what I call warrant links, are crucial to establishing a logical consistency in cases. In CWIL - part 2, I introduced three ways debaters can recognize faulty warrant links:
The link may be untrue
The link may be an assumption
The link may be missing or hidden
While I showed a few examples of these three problems, I feel it is appropriate to examine the concepts in more detail. I encourage you, therefore, to read the article on logic in debate here.
The Logical Basis of Warrants
Very quickly, let us recall a classic syllogism is a logical conclusion derived from a major premise and a minor premise. Applying some of the work of philosopher, Charles S. Pierce, we declare the major premise is a general rule expressing the predicate of the conclusion and the minor premise is a particular case of the rule, describing the subject of the conclusion. We have stated in CWIL - part 1 the claim must be true so the warrant which supports it must be true. In the same way, a syllogism (conclusion) is true if the premises it is based upon are true. For the sake of analysis, I will define a warrant as the major and minor premises so let me distinguish between the warrant data and warrant link. I equate the claim to the syllogism and the warrant data to the major premise. Using Pierce's terminology, the claim is the conclusion and the warrant data is the general rule. The particular case, or minor premise, we define as the warrant link since it specifically connects the rule to the conclusion; hence, the data to the claim.
To be sure, chances are you will not be able to search the web and confirm the relations I am establishing. They are my extrapolations based on, what to me, is a bit of common sense and deep thinking about how to analyze arguments. Application of these relations is not always assured, since arguments can be extremely complex and convoluted, but in general terms, I think the ideas have validity conceptually which may be all that is required to figure out some new ways first of all, to write stronger cases and secondly, to challenge opponent cases.
What Exactly Are Warrants?
Warrants are probably greatly misunderstood by some debaters. I have heard, for example, one debater ask another, "what is your warrant for that?" and based on the accepted answer it was clear to me, either both of them, or me did not understand what a warrant truly is. I am going to go out on a limb and say, I do have a pretty good idea of what warrants are and it was the debaters who didn't get it. At its most basic a warrant is an assurance that something is true. Many debate manuals say it is the reason to believe the claim is true. Typically in debate, claims are supported by some kind of evidence. Evidence can be based on common knowledge which are things everyone knows based on experience or direct observation or evidence which is not common knowledge, so it comes from authorities, experts and other credible sources. Common knowledge or credible evidence from experts are not warrants. Both sides can usually agree the evidence is sound and valid. The difference between the Affirmative and Negative in debate, is how the evidence is applied in support of the claims. So the warrant is an explanation of how the evidence supports the claim and it is the warrants which are often disputed rather than the evidence. (Exceptions of course, are outdated evidence or non-credible evidence - but no problem, you won't have these in your case, right?) In short the warrant is the logic which validates the claim. At least we hope it is logical.
To illustrate, we make the claim, debaters are mortal. We observe that mortal is defined as subject to death. Our evidence, based on observation, states all things have a finite existence and every living thing eventually dies. We construct a syllogism. As a general rule, humans are living things and since living things have finite existence, humans are subject to death. Specifically, we apply the general rule to the specific case of debaters by observing, that every debater we have known was categorically human. This is also supported by common knowledge. As a result, our claim that debaters are mortal is based on the warrant that humans are subject to death, i.e. mortal and debaters are human, ergo, debaters are mortal. It is logical and true and so we deem it a good warrant. Hopefully you see that the logical warrant constructs a general rule from the data and then applies a specific example which links the claim to the general rule:
EVIDENCE -> WARRANT -> CLAIM
THE RULE THE CASE
Why So Serious?
By now you are thinking, why does this need to be so complex? Well, in practice, it really isn't quite that complex. I have gone into painful but I think necessary detail in order to establish a theoretical basis behind these ideas so we can discover ways to exploit inherent weaknesses in an opponent's case and especially in a place where it is not so obvious. In reality, one would be unlikely to breakdown the logic behind how they write a warrant but I did so in order to show the process which the mind can be trained to do almost automatically. But let's be real. Quite often, debater's warrants are not so logical and if not it may be possible to exploit the faulty warrant to one's advantage.
A Lincoln Douglas Example
Following is extracted from an actual LD case arguing that juveniles who commit violent crimes should be tried as adults. The debater was arguing in this contention, the claim that by holding juvenile offenders to a different standard threatens the power which holds society together.
First the evidence:
Parkin, Frank.Tutor in Politics and Fellow of Magdalen college (Oxford), MAX WEBER, 1986. p.71.
This is the leitmotif that runs through all Weber’s political sociology. Societies and their lesser parts are held together not so much through contractual relations or moral consensus, as through the exercise of power. Where harmony and order apparently prevail, the threatened use of force is never altogether absent. Inside the velvet glove is always an iron fist. The terminology of violence, coercion, and force is as natural to Weber's sociology as the terminology of moral integration is to Durkheim’s.
Then the warrants:
A society would not exist without an exercise of power. Violent crimes are defined by the implementation of laws which are the exercise of power. When a Juvenile commits these violent crimes they have defied that power. By allowing separate systems for juveniles and adults it is demonstrated that juveniles are above the ‘power’ that hold society together.
First, the debater gives a one sentence summary of how the card should be interpreted, basically, societies are held together by the exercise of power. Most people can look at the evidence and more or less agree it is an adequate summary of the card. But now the debater must link the evidence to the intended conclusion and this requires a warrant and it is the warrant which creates conflict in the debate.
The next sentence is actually two premises, minor and major which setup an implied conclusion:
The implementation of laws are an exercise of societal power (major premise)
Violent crimes are defined by the implementation of laws (minor premise)
Violent crime laws are an exercise of societal power (implied conclusion)
Granted, the conclusion is not exactly in a classical form but I think I have conveyed the general sense of what the debater wanted to convey and it is probably the conclusion the judge would naturally be drawn to on the basis of the two premises.
Now, the debater wants the judge to reach the conclusion that if juveniles are allowed to somehow avoid the exercise of power that violent crime demands, it threatens the cohesiveness of society. So to reach that conclusion, a link must be constructed which takes the judge from the premise that violent crime laws are a necessary exercise of societal power, to the idea that avoidance of the power is bad for society and here, perhaps is where the logic goes slightly askew because the link which enables us to reach that conclusion is missing, and this exposes the opportunity for the opposing debater to attack the warrant. Here is one possible way the link could have been provided:
Violent crime laws are a (necessary) exercise of societal power.
(missing minor premise - the warrant link)
Separate juvenile laws against violence are not an exercise of societal power.
In order to complete the syllogism, the minor premise must show that a separate juvenile system of laws governing violent crime are not an exercise of societal power and really, the warrant should go even farther and show that because it is not an exercise of power, the advantages of the exercise of power are not realized, so that is harmful to society. Nothing in the evidence, or the warrants enables the judge to reach the desired conclusion. Because the link is missing, the opponent could attack the leap in logic.
Avoiding Trouble With Warrants
To be sure, it is quite difficult to do this kind of case analysis in round under the pressure of a limited prep time although it is not impossible. Probably an effective strategy is to probe the warrant claims for consistency during the cross-x. Chances are, when the case is read, the judge and the opponent are probably already wondering, how did the case warrants get from point A to point B? We can conclude the debater should write their cases so as to avoid these kinds of problems in the first place. Warrant links are often untrue, assumptions or missing altogether in cases so it pays to do a detailed analysis well before the case is actually read in a rounds.
There is much more I can go into, including many examples from actual cases I have read but I think going through this one exercise demonstrates the concepts of Warrant Links and their purpose in cases. Evidence, as such, is rarely disputed. After all, what high-school debater has the expertise to question the veracity of a recognized expert on a topic. It is the interpretation and application of the evidence that leads to debate. If I write a case, I decide what points I want to make, then I find evidence to support the points and I explain how the evidence proves my points. The warrant is that explanation so it better be logically sound. If not, I can expect trouble. Either the opponent is going to undermine the warrant or the judge will simply fail to see it my way, or both.