Practical Argumentation
by George K. Pattee
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To handle refutation successfully, either in written argument or in debate, one must know what to refute and what to leave alone. The general rule governing this matter is: Refute only those arguments which are essential to the proof of the other side. All trivial ideas, even all misstatements which if refuted would not destroy any fundamental process of an opponent's proof, should pass unnoticed. To mention them means waste of time and effort. It is not uncommon for a debater to make trivial errors intentionally, in the hope that his opponent will consume valuable time in refuting them and thus allow his main argument to go unscathed. When this stratagem succeeds, the one who made the mistakes can acknowledge that he was wrong in those unimportant details, and yet show that his fundamental arguments have not been overthrown. While arguing on a political question, an intercollegiate debater once laid considerable stress on an opinion expressed by Woodrow Wilson, "President," as he stated, "of Harvard University." His opponent, of course, might have held this statement up to ridicule, but such an exposure would have been impolitic, in that it would have in no wise impaired the value of Mr. Wilson's opinion as evidence. Another debater, not so wise, once spent considerable time in correcting an opponent who had said that the Steel Trust was formed in 1891 instead of in 1901, as was the case. As these dates had no vital bearing on the question at issue, the error should have been allowed to pass. The temptation to point out the flaws that are most obvious is always great, but unless by so doing one can knock out the props on which an opponent's proof rests, such an attack accomplishes nothing.

Another common error in refutation consists in "answering one's self." A person is guilty of this fault whenever he misstates an opponent's argument, either because he does not understand it or through design, and then refutes this misstatement. The folly of such procedure is made apparent by merely calling attention to the fact that the original argument has been garbled but in no wise refuted, An opponent can convict the one who has "answered himself" either of unpardonable ignorance about the subject or of downright dishonesty.

To guard against these errors of refuting unimportant details and of "answering one's self," it is always well to reduce an opponent's argument to the form of a brief. If the argument is in print, this task is comparatively simple; if the argument is oral, the task will be harder but will still present no serious difficulties to one who is used to drawing briefs. When all the ideas have been arranged in the form of headings and subheadings, and the relation between the ideas has been indicated by means of numbers and letters, then the arguer can quickly decide what points he ought to refute and what ones he can refute.

It goes without saying that the headings marked with the Roman numerals contain the most important ideas, and should, therefore, be overthrown as far as possible. There are three ways of disposing of them: one way is to state that the headings are false and then bring on new proof to show their falsity; the second way is to call attention to the subheadings with which the opponent has bolstered up the main headings, and then, by proving these subheads false, allow the main heads to fall to the ground; the third way is to admit that the subheads are true and then show that the inferences drawn from them are unwarranted.

To illustrate: A part of an argument on the affirmative side of the proposition, "Resolved, That students in American colleges should be excused from final examinations in all subjects in which they have attained a daily grade of at least eighty-five per cent.," might be reduced to the following brief form:—

I. This rule would be of great intellectual benefit to college students, for

A. They would master their work more thoroughly, because

1. They would study harder during the term.

The first method of overthrowing the heading indicated by (I) would be to attack it directly. This attack might consist of opinions of prominent educators who, on theoretical grounds, do not believe an intellectual benefit would result from the adoption of such a rule; of the opinions of educators who have tried the rule and declare that it is an intellectual detriment; and of a course of reasoning which would show that this system would rob the students exempted of the great intellectual benefit that is derived from the preparation for an examination and from the taking of an examination.

The second method would be to show that (1) is not true; therefore (A) would be false, and (I) would be left entirely unsupported.

Under the third method the arguer would admit the truth of (1), but would deny that the truth of (A) is established by it; therefore (I) would be unsupported.

Whenever a subheading is attacked, it is always very essential to show that the attack is made simply because this subheading serves as a foundation for the main heading. In this particular argument, refutation according to the second and third methods might read about as follows: "The contention of the affirmative that the eighty-five per cent. rule should be adopted because it would result in an intellectual improvement among college students, rests on the supposition that students would study harder during the term, and for that reason would more thoroughly master their subjects. This reasoning is erroneous because, in the first place, as I will show, but very few students, if any, would study harder during the term; and, in the second place, even if they did, those exempted would not have mastered their work so completely at the end of the year as they would have if they had taken an examination."

From the preceding, it is apparent that refutation consists of discrediting evidence and attacking reasoning. The ways to overthrow evidence will be considered first.


It is taken for granted that the evidence mustered by the opponent is sufficient, if not overthrown, to establish his side of the discussion. Of course, if enough evidence for this purpose is lacking, one has only to call attention to this fundamental weakness in order to overthrow the argument then and there. The rules, therefore, for testing evidence assume that the opponent has cited facts that, if not combated, will establish his case.

These tests are the same as those given in Chapter VI; a hasty review of them, however, may be serviceable at this point.

I. Tests of the sources of evidence.

A. Is the witness competent to give a trustworthy account of the matter?

B. Is the witness willing to give an accurate account?

1. Does he have any personal interest in the case?

C. Is the witness prejudiced?

D. Does the witness have a good reputation for honesty and accuracy?

II. Internal tests of evidence.

A. Is the evidence consistent (a) with itself, (b) with known facts, (c) with human experience?

B. Is it first-hand evidence?

C. Can the evidence be classed as especially valuable?

1. Does it consist of hurtful admissions?

2. Is it undesigned evidence?

3. Is it negative evidence?

III. Test of argument from authority.

A. Is the witness an acknowledged authority on the subject about which he testifies?

To overthrow or weaken argument from authority, one may either discredit its source or bring to light some inconsistency in the statement itself. Usually the former method alone is possible. To accomplish this result, one may show that the witness spoke from insufficient knowledge of the matter, or was prejudiced, or had some personal interest in the case. Counter authority will also be of assistance. The following quotation taken from a college debate furnishes the student a good example of how to handle this sort of refutation.

"The argument has been advanced that the South does not need the foreign laborer, and this argument has been supported by the words of Mr. Prescott F. Hall. We would call the attention of the audience and the judges to the fact that since Prescott F. Hall is Secretary of the Immigration Restriction League, it would be to his interest to make this assertion. Why do not our opponents refer to impartial and unprejudiced men, men like Dr. Allen McLaughlin, a United States immigration official, who makes just the opposite statement?"


I. Induction.

A. Have enough instances of the class under consideration been investigated to establish the existence of a general law?

B. Have enough instances been investigated to establish the probable existence of a general law?

II. Deduction.

A. Are both premises true?

B. Is the fact stated in the minor premise an instance of the general law expressed in the major premise?

III. Antecedent probability.

A. Is the assigned cause of sufficient strength to produce the alleged effect?

B. May some other cause intervene and prevent the action of the assigned cause?

IV. Sign.

A. Argument from effect to cause.

1. Is the assigned cause adequate to produce the observed effect?

2. Could the observed effect have resulted from any other cause than the one assigned?

B. Argument from effect to effect.

1. Do the combined tests of argument from effect to cause and from cause to effect hold?

V. Example.

A. Is there any fundamental difference between the case in hand and the case cited as an example?


A fallacy is an error in reasoning. The preceding part of this chapter has already suggested tests that will expose many such faults, but there are a few errors which, because of their frequency or their inadaptability to other classification, demand separate treatment. This book follows the plan of most other texts on argumentation, and treats these errors under a separate head marked fallacies. To detect a fallacy in another's argument is to weaken, if not to destroy, his case; to avoid making a fallacy in one's own argument means escape from humiliation and defeat. Hence, a knowledge of fallacies is one of the most essential parts of a debater's equipment.

The classification given here does not pretend to be exhaustive; it does, however, consider the most common and insidious breaches of reasoning that are likely to occur, and the following pages should be studied with great care.


1. MERE ASSUMPTION. Begging the question means assuming the truth of that which needs proof. This fallacy is found in its simplest form in epithets and appellations. The lawyer who speaks of "the criminal on trial for his life," begs the question in that he assumes the prisoner to be a criminal before the court has rendered a verdict. Those writers who have recently discussed "the brutal game of football" without having first adduced a particle of proof to show that the game is brutal, fall into the same error. An unpardonable instance of question-begging lies in the following introduction, once given by a debater who was attacking the proposition, "Resolved, That the federal government should own and operate the railroads in the United States":—

"We of the negative will show that the efficient and highly beneficial system of private ownership should be maintained, and that the impracticable system of government ownership can never succeed in the United States or in any similarly governed country."

Private ownership and government ownership may possess these qualities attributed to them, but the debater has no right to make such an assumption; he must prove that they have these qualities.

2. ASSUMPTION USED AS PROOF. Such barefaced assumptions as the preceding usually do little damage except to the one who makes them. They are not likely to lead astray an audience of average intelligence; on the other hand, they do stamp the arguer as prejudiced and illogical. But when assumptions are used as proof, hidden in the midst of quantities of other material, they may produce an unwarranted effect upon one who is not a clear thinker, or who is off his guard. If, without showing that football is brutal, one calls it an extremely brutal game, and then urges its abolishment on the ground of its brutality, he has used an assumption as proof, and has, therefore, begged the question. The debater who stated, without proving, that vast numbers of unskilled laborers were needed in the United States, and then urged this as a reason why no educational test should be applied to immigrants coming to this country, furnished an example of the same fallacy.

3. UNWARRANTED ASSUMPTION OF THE TRUTH OF A SUPPRESSED PREMISE. The student is already familiar with the enthymeme. The enthymeme constitutes a valid form of reasoning only when the suppressed premise is recognized as true. Therefore, whenever an arguer makes use of the enthymeme without attempting to establish a suppressed premise whose truth is not admitted, he has argued fallaciously. This is a third method of begging the question. To illustrate: In advocating the abolishment of football from the list of college athletic sports, one might reason, "Football should be abolished because it obviously exposes a player to possible injury." The suppressed premise in this case would be: All sports which expose a player to possible injury should be abolished. Failure to prove the truth of this unadmitted statement constitutes the fallacy.

4. ASSUMPTION EQUIVALENT TO THE PROPOSITION TO BE PROVED. It is not surprising that a man carried away with excitement or prejudice should make assumptions that he does not even try to substantiate, but that anyone should assume the truth of the very conclusion that he has set out to establish seems incredible. Such a form of begging the question, however, does frequently occur. Sometimes the fallacy is so hidden in a mass of illustration and rhetorical embellishment that at first it is not apparent; but stripped of its verbal finery, it stands out very plainly. The following passage written on the affirmative side of the proposition, "Resolved, That the college course should be shortened to three years," will serve as a particularly flagrant illustration:—

It is a well-known fact that in the world of to-day time is an essential factor in the race for success. No young man can afford to dawdle for four long years in acquiring a so-called "higher" education. Three-fourths of that time is, if anything, more than sufficient in which to attain all the graces and culture that the progressive man needs.

It is evident that the "argument" in this case consists of nothing more than a repetition of the proposition.

5. ARGUING IN A CIRCLE. Another phase of begging the question consists of using an assumption as proof of a proposition and of then quoting the proposition as proof of the assumption. Two assertions are made, neither of which is substantiated by any real proof, but each of which is used to prove the other. This fallacy probably occurs most frequently in conversation. Consider the following :—

A. "The proposed system of taxation is an excellent one."

B. "What makes you think so?"

A. "Because it will be adopted by the legislature."

B. "How do you know it will?"

A. "Because it is a good system and our legislators are men of sense."

This fallacy occurs when one proves the authority of the church from the testimony of the scriptures, and then establishes the authenticity of the scriptures by the testimony of the church. A similar fallacy has been pointed out in the works of Plato. In Phaedo, he demonstrates the immortality of the soul from its simplicity, and in the Republic, he demonstrates the simplicity of the soul from its immortality. The following fragment of a brief argues in a circle:—

I. This principle is in accordance with the principles of the Democratic party, since

A. The leader of the Democratic party believes in it, for

1. As the leader of the party, he naturally believes in Democratic principles.


The fallacy of ambiguous terms consists of using the same term in two distinct senses in the same argument. Thus if one were to argue that "no designing person ought to be trusted; engravers are by profession designers; therefore they ought not to be trusted," it is quite apparent that the term "design" means totally different things in the two premises. The same fallacy occurs in the argument, "Since the American people believe in a republican form of government, they should vote the Republican ticket." Again:—

"Interference with another man's business is illegal;

"Underselling interferes with another man's business;

"Therefore underselling is illegal."

J. S. Mill in his System of Logic discusses the fallacy of ambiguous terms with great care. In part he says:—

The mercantile public are frequently led into this fallacy by the phrase "scarcity of money." In the language of commerce, "money" has two meanings: currency, or the circulating medium; and capital seeking investment, especially investment on loan. In this last sense, the word is used when the "money market" is spoken of, and when the "value of money" is said to be high or low, the rate of interest being meant. The consequence of this ambiguity is, that as soon as scarcity of money in the latter of these senses begins to be felt,—as soon as there is difficulty of obtaining loans, and the rate of interest is high,—it is concluded that this must arise from causes acting upon the quantity of money in the other and more popular sense; that the circulating medium must have diminished in quantity, or ought to be increased. I am aware that, independently of the double meaning of the term, there are in the facts themselves some peculiarities, giving an apparent support to this error; but the ambiguity of the language stands on the very threshold of the subject, and intercepts all attempts to throw light upon it.

As countless words and expressions have several meanings, there is almost no limit to the confusion which this fallacy can cause. Some of the most common terms that are used ambiguously are right, liberty, law, representative, theory, church, state, student.

By carefully defining all terms that have more than one meaning and by insisting on a rigid adherence to the one meaning wherever the term is used, a debater can easily avoid fallacies of this sort in his own argument and expose those of his opponent.


The fallacy of false cause occurs whenever that which could in no way bring about the effect that is being established is urged as its cause. This fallacy in its most obvious form is found only in the arguments of careless and illogical thinkers. Some college students occasionally draw briefs that contain such reasoning as the following:—

I. The Panama canal should be of the sea-level rather than of the lock type, because

A. The Panama canal will do away with the long voyage around the Horn.

I. Southerners are justified in keeping the franchise away from the negro, for

A. Negroes should never have been brought to America.

B. The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution ought not to have been passed.

The error of such plainly absurd reasoning as occurs in the preceding illustrations needs no explanation. There is one form of the fallacy of false cause, however, that is much more common and insidious and therefore deserves special treatment.

POST HOC ERGO PROPTER HOC. (After this, therefore, on account of this.) This phase of the fallacy consists of the assumption that since cause precedes effect what has preceded an event has caused it. The most frequent occurrence of the error is to be found in superstitions. If some one meets with an accident while taking a journey that began on Friday, many people will argue that the accident is the effect of the unlucky day. Some farmers believe their crops will not prosper unless the planting is done when the moon is in a certain quarter; sailors often refuse to embark in a renamed vessel. Because in the past, one event has been known to follow another, it is argued that the first event was the cause of the second, and that the second event will invariably follow the first.

But this fallacy does not find its only expression in superstitions. To post hoc reasoning is due much of the popularity of patent medicines. Political beliefs, even, are often generated in the same way; prosperity follows the passing of a certain law, and people jump to the conclusion that this one law has caused the "good times." Some demagogues go so far as to say that education among the Indians is responsible for the increased death rate of many of the tribes.

A slightly different phase of the post hoc fallacy consists in attributing the existence of a certain condition to a single preceding event, when at the most this event could have been only a partial cause of what followed, and may not have been a cause at all. A medicine that could not have effected a cure may have been of some slight benefit. A law that could not possibly have been the sole cause of "good times" may have had a beneficial effect. To avoid this fallacy, one must be sure not only that the assigned cause is operative, but that it is also adequate.

In the following passage, Harpers Weekly, for March 5, 1894, points out the error in the reasoning made by several college presidents who, after compiling statistics, stated that a college education increased a man's chance of success from one in ten thousand to one in forty:—

Not many persons doubt any longer that an American college education is an advantage to most youths who can get it, but in these attempts to estimate statistically what college education does for men there is a good deal of confusing of post hoc and propter hoc. Define success as you will, a much larger proportion of American college men win it than of men who don't go to college, but how much college training does for those successful men is still debatable. Remember that they are a picked lot, the likeliest children of parents whose ability or desire to send their children to college is evidence of better fortune, or at least of higher aspirations than the average. And because their parents are, as a rule, more or less prosperous and well educated, they get and would get, whether they went to college or not, a better than average start in life....

If one boy out of a family of four goes to college, it is the clever one. The boys who might go to college and don't are commonly the lazy ones who won't study. The colleges get nowadays a large proportion of the best boys of the strongest families. The best boys of the strongest families would win far more than their proportionate share of success even if there were no colleges.

An exposure of similarly fallacious reasoning is made by Edward M. Shepard in The Atlantic Monthly for October, 1904.

The Republican argument is that the whole edifice of our prosperity depends upon high protective or prohibitive duties, and that to them is due our industrial progress. Is it not, indeed, a disparagement of the self-depending faculties of the American people thus to affirm that, in spite of their marvelous advantages, they would have failed in industrial life unless by force of law they could have prevented the competition with them of other peoples? It is only by the sophistry to which I have referred that this disparagement is justified. It is that old argument of veritable folly that, because event Z follows event W, as it follows events A and B and many besides A, therefore W is the sole cause of Z. Theory or no theory, the Republican says that we have in fact grown rich by protection, because in our country prosperity and protective duties have existed together. They ignore every inconvenient fact. They would have us forget that each of the industrial depressions of 1873-78 and 1893-96 followed long operation of a high protective tariff. They ignore the contribution of soil and climate to our prosperity, the vast increase which modern inventions and improved carrying facilities have, the world over, brought to the productivity of labor, and here in the United States have brought more than anywhere else. They ignore the superior skill and alertness of the American workman and the wonderful extent to which he has been stimulated by the conditions and ideals of our democracy. They ignore the freedom of trade, which, since 1789, the Federal Constitution has made operative over our entire country,— by far the most important area of free trade ever known,—and which everyone to-day knows to be a prime condition of the prosperity of our forty-five commonwealths.

From what has been said it is obvious that it is never safe to account for an occurrence or a condition by merely referring to something that accompanies it or precedes it. There must be a connection between the alleged cause and the effect, and this connection must be causal; otherwise, both may be the result of the same cause. The cause must also be adequate; and it must, moreover, be evident that the result has not been produced, wholly or partially, by some other cause or causes.


COMPOSITION. The fallacy of composition consists of attributing to a whole that which has been proved only of a part. To condemn or to approve of a fraternity because of the conduct of only a few of its members, to say that what is advantageous for certain states in the Union would therefore be beneficial for the United States as a whole, to reason from the existence of a few millionaires that the English nation is wealthy, would be to fall into this fallacy. Furthermore, it is fallacious to think that because something is true of each member of a class taken distributively, the same thing holds true of the class taken collectively. It is not logical to argue that because each member of a jury is very likely to judge erroneously, the jury as a whole is also very likely to judge erroneously. Because each witness to an event is liable to give false or incorrect evidence, it is unreasonable to think that no confidence can be placed in the concurrent testimony of a number of witnesses.

DIVISION. The fallacy of division is the converse of the fallacy of composition. It consists of attributing to a part that which has been proved of the whole. For instance, Lancaster county is the most fertile county in Pennsylvania, but that fact by itself does not warrant the statement that any one particular farm is exceptionally fertile. Because the people of a country are suffering from famine, it does not follow that one particular person is thus afflicted. Again, it would be fallacious to say: It is admitted that the judges of the court of appeal cannot misinterpret the law; Richard Rowe is a judge of the court of appeal; therefore he cannot misinterpret the law.


An arguer is said to ignore the question, or to argue beside the point, whenever he attempts to prove or disprove anything except the proposition under discussion. This fallacy may arise through carelessness or trickery. An unskilled debater will often unconsciously wander away from his subject; and an unscrupulous debater, when unable to defend his position, will sometimes cunningly shift his ground and argue upon a totally new proposition, which is, however, so similar to the original one that in the heat of controversy the change is hardly noticeable. A discussion on the subject, "The boycott is a legitimate means of securing concessions from employers," which attempted to show the effectiveness of the boycott, would ignore the question. Likewise, in a discussion on the proposition, "The average college student could do in three years the work now done in four," any proof showing the desirability of such a crowding together of college work would be beside the point.

In the following passage Macaulay holds up to scorn certain arguments which contain this fallacy:—

The advocates of Charles, like the advocates of other malefactors against whom overwhelming evidence is produced, generally decline all controversy about facts, and content themselves with calling testimony to character.

We charge him with having broken his coronation oath; and we are told that he kept his marriage vow! We accuse him of having given up his people to the merciless inflictions of the most hot-headed and hard- hearted of prelates; and the defence is, that he took his little son on his knees and kissed him! We censure him for having violated the articles of the Petition of Rights, after having, for good and valuable consideration, promised to obey them; and we are informed that he was accustomed to hear prayers at six o'clock in the morning!

Whenever an arguer avoids the question at issue and makes an attack upon the character, principles, or former beliefs or personal peculiarities of his opponent, he commits the special form of this fallacy known as argumentum ad hominem. It is obviously fallacious to reason that a principle is unsound because it is upheld by an untrustworthy advocate, or because it is inconsistent with the advocate's former beliefs and practices. Honesty is a worthy principle, even though advocated by a thief. The duty of industry is no less binding because it is advocated by an idler. Lawyers often commit this error by seeking to discredit the opposing attorney. Campaign speakers frequently attempt to overthrow the opposing party's platform by showing that it is inconsistent with the party's previous measures and declarations. To bring in such irrelevant matter is to ignore the question.

Closely allied to argumentum ad hominem is another phase of ignoring the question called argumentum ad populum. This fallacy consists of using before a certain audience statements which will strongly appeal to their prejudices and partisan views, but which are not generally accepted facts and which would undoubtedly meet with strong opposition elsewhere. A speaker who brings in this kind of argument makes use neither of reasoning nor of legitimate persuasion. He neglects his proposition and attempts to excite the feelings of his audience to such an extent as to render them incapable of forming a dispassionate judgment upon the matter in hand.

In general, it is necessary only to point out a fallacy to weaken an argument. Sometimes, however, the error is so involved and so hidden that, though it is apparent to one who is arguing, yet it is not easily made apparent to the audience. In overcoming this difficulty, arguers often resort to certain peculiar devices of arranging and presenting the material for refutation. Long experience has shown that the two methods given here are of inestimable value.


The method of refuting an argument by reductio ad absurdum consists of showing that the argument to be refuted, if true, proves not only the conclusion given, but also other conclusions which are manifestly absurd. For example, a debater once contended that colleges should not seek to root out professionalism in athletic sports, because, by coming in contact with college life, professional players receive considerable benefit. His opponent answered him by showing that the same argument carried out to its logical conclusion would prove that a college should encourage the attendance of criminals and degenerates on the ground that they will be benefited thereby. Thus he reduced the argument to a manifest absurdity.

At one time the officers of a national bank permitted their institution to be wrecked by certifying, and thereby practically guaranteeing, the checks of a firm of stock-holders when the brokers did not have the money represented by the checks deposited in the bank. This was distinctly a criminal offense. The brokers failed, and, the bank having closed its doors in consequence, the president of the bank was brought to trial. The Atlantic Monthly reduces to an absurdity the chief argument used for the defense.

A jury having been empaneled to try him, he pleaded guilty, his counsel urging, as a reason for clemency, that the violation of this statute was a habit of the New York banks in the Wall Street district, and that if the wrecked bank had not followed this law-breaking custom of its competitors the stock brokers would have withdrawn their account. The plea was successful, and the officer escaped with a small fine. Imagine a burglar or a pickpocket urging a plea for clemency based on the general business habits and customs of his criminal confrres! [Footnote: The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 94, p. 173.]

Mr. E. A. Freeman, the historian, once made the statement that English literature cannot be taught. His course of reasoning was to the effect that it is impossible to teach a subject in which one cannot be examined; and he maintained that it is impossible to hold satisfactory examinations in English literature, since this is a subject which is studied for the purpose of cultivating the taste, educating the sympathies, and enlarging the mind. If this reasoning proves anything, it has been pointed out, it proves too much. What Mr. Freeman says of English literature may equally well be said of Latin, Greek, and every other kind of literature. But as Latin and Greek literature have been successfully taught for hundreds of years, Mr. Freeman's argument is absurd.

College students are continually urging as a defense of professionalism in their own athletic teams the argument that since other colleges employ professional players it is necessary for them to do likewise. By carrying this argument a step farther, one could show, with equal reason, that since drinking, stealing and cheating are prevalent in other colleges, these same practices should also be indulged in at the college in question. In the same way one may refute by reductio ad absurdum all such arguments as, "Custom has rendered the spoils system desirable"; "The prevalency of the high license law shows its superiority to prohibition"; and "Since in the past all college students were required to study Latin and Greek, these subjects should be required at the present time."


Another device an arguer will often find useful in refuting an opponent's statement is the dilemma. In the dilemma the arguer shows that the statement he wishes to disprove can be true only through the truth of at least one of several possibilities. He then proves that these possibilities are untenable, and therefore the original statement is false. To represent the dilemma with letters: The truth of A rests upon the truth of either x or y; but as x and y are both false, A is false. Once when it was believed in certain quarters that Japan was about to undertake a war against the United States, many people maintained that if Japan desired to go to war she was amply able to finance such an undertaking. In reply to this contention, a certain newspaper, making use of the dilemma, said that since Japan had no money in the treasury she could meet the expenses of war in only three ways: either by contracting a large debt, or by increasing taxation, or by indemnifying herself at the expense of the enemy. The paper then went on to prove that Japan was not in a position to float a large loan, that taxes in Japan were already as heavy as the people could bear, and that she could not hope, at least for a long time, to secure any indemnity from the enemy. Therefore Japan was not in a financial position to enter upon a war with the United States.

In attempting to show that municipalities do not have the moral right to own and operate public utilities, T. Carpenter Smith uses the dilemma. He says:—

"Any commercial business is carried on either at a profit, or at a loss, or in such a way that the expenses equal the income. If the city business of gas or electric lighting is to be carried on at a profit, then those citizens who use gas or electric light will be charged a high price for that light, in order to pay the profit, not only to themselves, but also to those who do not use it. If the works are to be carried on at a loss, then the citizens who do not use the gas or electric light will pay taxes to furnish a convenience or economy to those citizens who do use it. If the works are to be operated exactly at cost, then the city will carry on a business from which it will get nothing, but in which it will have to take the labor and risk incident to such a business in order to benefit only some of its citizens, furnishing a commodity not desired by all."

In conversation and debate, the dilemma is frequently introduced by means of a question. The debater, wishing to trap his opponent, asks him a pertinent question which previous investigation has shown can possibly be answered in only two or three ways, and which the opponent cannot afford to answer at all. A good illustration of this device occurs in the New Testament.

And it came to pass, on one of the days, as he was teaching the people in the temple, and preaching the gospel, there came upon him the chief priests and the scribes with the elders; and they spake, saying unto him, Tell us: By what authority doest thou these things? or who is he that gave thee this authority? And he answered and said unto them, I also will ask you a question; and tell me: The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or from men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why did ye not believe him? But if we shall say, From men; all the people will stone us: for they be persuaded that John was a prophet. And they answered, that they knew not whence it was. And Jesus said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things. [Footnote: Luke xx, 1-8.]

During the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858, when both men were seeking the United States senatorship from Illinois, Lincoln, wishing either to kill Douglas's senatorial prospects or to head him off from the presidency two years later, asked him a question which put him in a dilemma. Ida M. Tarbell describes the question as follows:—

"Can the people of a United States territory in any lawful way, against the wish of any citizen of the United States, exclude slavery from its limits prior to the formation of a State Constitution?" Lincoln had seen the irreconcilableness of Douglas's own measure of popular sovereignty, which declared that the people of a territory should be left to regulate their domestic concerns in their own way subject only to the Constitution, and the decision of the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case that slaves, being property, could not under the Constitution be excluded from a territory. He knew that if Douglas said no to this question, his Illinois constituents would never return him to the Senate. He believed that if he said yes, the people of the South would never vote for him for President of the United States.

In the last example, Lincoln, by forcing Douglas to answer this question, sought to destroy, and, as history shows, did destroy, the popular conception of Douglas's fitness for public office.

Before one can safely use the dilemma he must carefully investigate every phase of the statement that he wishes to refute. If he is to use the dilemma directly, he must consider every possibility—commonly called the horns of the dilemma—upon which the truth of the statement may rest. If there is a single possibility which he is not ready to meet and overthrow, his whole effort is fruitless. For instance, a debater, in attempting to rebut the statement that college fraternities are harmful, said that his opponent must show that fraternities are either morally, socially, financially or intellectually detrimental to their members; he then proved as best he could that in these respects fraternities are beneficial rather than harmful, and sat down thinking that he had gone a long way toward winning the debate. His opponent then arose and admitting nearly everything that had been said, based his argument on the idea that fraternities were harmful to the college as a whole. The first speaker had not considered every alternative. If an arguer is to approach a dilemma through the medium of a question, he must be sure that he knows every reasonable answer that his opponent can make. When one has satisfied these conditions, he can use the dilemma with great effect.

By way of summary it may be said that the successful arguer must both build up his own proof and destroy his opponent's. To accomplish the latter one has to know what to refute and what to leave alone; he must distinguish between the important and the unessential, and he must take care not to "refute himself." Since proof consists of evidence and reasoning, the first step for him to take in refuting an argument is to apply the tests for each, and if possible show where his opponent has erred. In the next place, he should see whether he can discover and point out any of the more important fallacies; the ones mentioned here are begging the question, ambiguous terms, false cause, composition and division, and ignoring the question. Should the arguer find any of these fundamental weaknesses, it is ordinarily sufficient merely to call attention to them; for the sake of emphasis, however, one may make use of two especially effective methods of refutation, reductio ad absurdum and the dilemma.


A. Criticize the following arguments and point out the fallacies they contain:—

1. Four thousand men have taken examinations at Princeton under the honor system, and only six of these were found guilty of "cribbing." This record shows conclusively that the honor system restrains dishonest work in examinations.

2. Athletics do not injure a man's scholarship; one of the best players on last year's football team attained such a high grade that he was awarded a fellowship.

3. During the decade from 1870 to 1880, illiteracy among the negroes decreased ten per cent., but the race grew more criminal by twenty- five per cent.; from 1880 to 1890, illiteracy decreased eighteen per cent., but criminality increased thirty-three and one-third per cent. Who can now say that education does not injure the negro?

4. Since the honor system failed at Franklin and Marshall, it will fail at —— College.

5. Frequent athletic games benefit a college because they tend to take the students' attention away from their studies.

6. The fixed curriculum of studies is effective in making a specialist, because the specialist takes up only one kind of work.

7. Southerners are justified in keeping the franchise from the negro, because the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution ought never to have been passed.

8. Since the negro's devotion to the church is as great as that of most white people, he is of as high moral standing as the average unintelligent white.

9. Ireland is idle and therefore she starves; she starves and therefore she rebels.

10. Every one desires virtue, because every one desires happiness.

11. The present term of four years is so short a time that the President does not have opportunity to become acquainted with his duties, for just as he is becoming acquainted with them he has to step out of office.

12. This doctrine cannot be proved from the Gospels, nor from the Acts of the Apostles, nor from the Epistles, nor from the Revelation of St. John; therefore it cannot be proved from the New Testament.

13. Crime is a violation of the laws of our country; piracy is a crime; this man belongs to a band of lawless men, and this band has been taken in the very deed of piracy. Therefore he has violated the laws of our country.

14. Since all presuming men are contemptible, and since this man presumes to believe his opinions are correct, he is not worthy of our consideration.

15. To prove to you that our standing army should be permanently enlarged, I will show that every nation of any prominence whatsoever keeps a standing army.

16. The elective system of studies is preferable to the prescribed system, because

A. The student can elect those studies which will do him the most good, for

1. He can elect what he pleases.

17. Strikes benefit the working man, because

A. They benefit him financially, for

1. If they did not, he would not strike.

18. When thirteen sit at table together, one of them always dies within the year.

19. To decide whether or not strikes are justifiable it is necessary to see if they have for the most part been successful in the past.

20. All the trees in the park make a thick shade; this is one of them, therefore this tree makes a thick shade.

21. Italy is a Catholic country and abounds in beggars; France is also a Catholic country, and therefore abounds in beggars.

22. Pitt was not a great and useful minister; for though he would have been so had he carried out Adam Smith's doctrines of free trade, he did not carry out those doctrines.

23. All criminal actions ought to be punished by law. Prosecutions for theft are criminal actions, and therefore ought to be punished by law.

24. Books are a source both of instruction and of amusement; a table of logarithms is a book; therefore it is a source both of instruction and of amusement.

B. On each of the following arguments from authority write a paragraph that will weaken its effect:—

1. "The Senate for more than a century has demonstrated the wisdom of the mode of its constitution." Senator G. F. Hoar.

2. "Mine disasters are largely due to the intoxication of miners, or to carelessness caused by the after effects of a 'spree,'" says Dr. Jesse K. Johnson, superintendent of one of the largest mines in the Pittsburg district.

3. Both Mark Hanna and Grover Cleveland have stated that a six year Presidential term would be of great benefit to the United States.

4. Senator La Follet, who has made a thorough study of many of the principal monopolies in the country, states that the Standard Oil trust charges exorbitant rates.

5. Mr. Francis Walker, in the Political Science Quarterly, Volume twenty, page fourteen, says that legislation against trusts has improved conditions, and would therefore improve conditions in the United States.

6. President Hadley, of Yale University, has said that the subsidizing of ships on a large scale has been detrimental to France.

7. "The Indian who is not obliged to labor for his maintenance becomes a lazy vagabond." Lyman Abbott.

C. Put the following article into the form of a brief and show exactly what methods of refutation are used:—


The pretexts for removal of "Old Ironsides" from the waters in which that historic ship had her birth are now reduced to two.

One of these is that the old boat takes up room at the Navy Yard which is needed for the work of that establishment.

The other is that since the money expended in the restoration of the frigate—less than $200,000—came out of the Federal Treasury, the people of distant States ought to have the pleasure of seeing what their money paid for without coming to Boston in order to enjoy it.

As for crowding the Navy Yard, that is an absurdity. His Excellency Curtis Guild, Jr., in his letter to the Navy Department protesting against the removal, quoted the officers in command at the Navy Yard as declaring that "the ship in no way interferes with the work of the yard, taking up no space that is needed for other purposes." The Governor would not make such a statement in an official communication without the clearest authority. "Indeed," he adds as his own opinion, "the strip of wharf occupied is but a trivial portion of the long water front controlled by the government."

There is the other pretext, namely, that because the "Constitution" has been repaired at national cost, therefore any special claim that Massachusetts may have upon this relic of Massachusetts patriotism is removed. This idea has found crude and unmannerly expression in the words of one of the committee of Congress looking over our navy yards. "The agitation to keep the ship in Boston seems selfish," he is quoted as saying. "It was the money of the whole people of the United States that paid for its repair, and the people in other sections are as justly entitled to see the ship as in Boston."

Coming from a representative of the State of Kansas, this is almost amusing. His proposition to tow the ship around from place to place, as it may be wanted for a show, suggests the practicability of a canal, say, to Topeka, or to Fort Hayes.

The alternative proposition, namely, that Massachusetts shall repay to the general government the cost of the repairs of the "Constitution," would have some standing were it a commercial affair. Massachusetts has expended many times the cost of the repairs of "Old Ironsides" in preserving for the nation the revolutionary sites and monuments upon our soil. Payment for the repair and restoration of "Old Ironsides" would be a bagatelle if the people of the United States were to demand that this monument also shall be purchased by the people of Massachusetts under threat of its removal.

But it is not a question of money; that is a contemptible suggestion. Nor is it a question of bureaucracy. It is a simple, reasonable, entirely practical demand of the historic sentiment of patriotism which still warms the hearts and inspires the souls of Massachusetts men.



Debate has been defined as the oral presentation of argument under conditions that allow both sides to be heard. In both class room and intercollegiate debating each side usually makes two speeches, a main speech and a rebuttal speech. The main speech ordinarily extends over a period of from seven to twelve minutes, according to the rules governing the contest, and is largely constructive in nature. The rebuttal speech, commonly called the rebuttal, is usually a little less than half the length of the main speech, and is for the most part destructive. It is almost superfluous to add that both sides are allowed exactly the same amount of time in which to present their arguments; that the affirmative side speaks first, the order being, when there are several debaters, affirmative, negative, affirmative, negative, and so on; and that all the main speeches are given before either side makes a rebuttal speech. If there be only one debater on each side, it is undoubtedly best for the affirmative to offer the first rebuttal; if there be several debaters, the order is usually reversed. The debaters on either side may or may not speak in rebuttal in the same order as in the main argument.


In several ways the work of the debater differs from the work of one who is preparing a written argument or who is to speak without being confronted by an opponent. As far as the completion of the brief, the work in all cases is the same, but at this point the debater has to decide what special preparation he shall make for handling and presenting to the audience the material that he has collected. He is puzzled to know whether it will be worth while to expand his brief; and if he does expand it, he is in doubt as to just what he should do with the expanded argument.

A debater has his choice of several possible methods of procedure. The simplest, though not the most effective method, is to write out the argument in full, and to memorize it word for word. The weakness of such a course lies in the immobility of its attack and defense. The first speaker for the affirmative may decide beforehand exactly what he will say and the order in which he will say it, but all those who are to follow should adapt their arguments, to some extent at least, to the exigencies of the debate. They will find it desirable to make a change in one place in order to join their arguments harmoniously to those of their colleagues; they will wish to make changes in another place for the sake of assailing an obviously weak spot or in order to ward off an unexpected attack. This versatility is practically impossible if one is delivering an argument that he has memorized word for word. Again, a memorized argument cannot carry with it the force and the conviction that may be found in an effort of a more spontaneous character. Furthermore, if a debater should be so unfortunate as to forget even a few words of a memorized selection, he would probably be forced to sit down with his speech only partially completed.

Another method that some debaters follow is to memorize portions of their argument and to extemporize the rest. This is open to two great objections: first, it is difficult to join together gracefully the memorized passages and the extemporized; and the second, the very smoothness with which the memorized passages are delivered betrays the crudeness and awkwardness of the extemporized parts.

A third method, and undoubtedly the best one for the student to adopt, is not to expand the brief before he debates, but to memorize the greater part of it as a brief. In this way a debater has his ideas well in hand, and, without being tied down to any particular manner of expression or obliged to follow any set order of procedure, he can use his material as opportunity requires. His language should be at least partially extemporaneous; he may have a fairly clear conception of how he is to frame his sentences, but he should have nothing learned word for word. Thus his speech may have an element of spontaneity that will give it a tone of sincerity and earnestness unattainable when one is repeating a memorized passage. Too much, however, must not be left to the inspiration of the moment; no student should ever try to debate without first attempting in his room to expand his brief orally. He is sure to meet with considerable difficulty the first time he tries to formulate his ideas in clear, forceful, and elegant language; but several attempts will produce a remarkable change. After a few endeavors he will discover ways of expressing himself that he will remember, even though the words vary greatly each time.

The superiority of this method is marked. It enables the debater to become perfectly familiar with all his material, and it gives him a fairly good idea of what language he shall use. He is not, however, bound down to any set speech; he can alter his argument to suit the occasion. Should he unexpectedly find that his opponent has admitted a certain idea, he can merely call attention to this fact and not waste valuable time in giving superfluous proof. If he sees that his opponent has made such a strong argument that some refutation is necessary at the outset in order to gain the confidence of his audience, he can instantly change the order of his proof and begin with a point that he had, perhaps, intended to use in another part of his speech. In fact, this method enables one to debate rather than to declaim.

In most debating contests it is permissible for the contestants to make use of a few notes written on small cards that can be carried in a pocket or held unobtrusively in the hand. Such a practice, if not abused, is commended by some teachers of argumentation. On these cards the debater can put down the main headings of his brief, all statistics that are difficult to remember, and all quotations. He had better not refer to these cards for the headings of his brief if he can possibly avoid doing so. It will be a great stimulus, however, for him to know that he has this help to rely on in case of necessity. Statistics and quotations he may read without hesitation.

One should speak his debate many times by himself, not only for the purpose of gaining facility in expression, but also for the sake of condensing his material to an argument that will approximately occupy the exact time allowed him for debating. It is a deplorable fact that many debaters try to say so much that when their allotment of time has expired they find themselves in the very midst of their argument. Such an ending leaves the audience confused and unimpressed. No debater should ever omit his conclusion. If there is only one contestant on each side, a conclusion is certainly necessary both for the sake of clearness and emphasis, and because an unfinished argument is not a unit. If there are several contestants on each side, the fact that the opposing speakers intervene and distract the attention of the audience makes it even more necessary that each debater end his argument with a formal conclusion, and by means of it bind his work to that of his colleagues.


As much time, if not more, should be spent in preparing the destructive as in preparing the constructive portion of an argument. One can determine beforehand almost exactly how he will establish his side of the proposition, but just what material he will need to overthrow his opponent's proof will depend upon how that proof is constructed. Ordinarily one can predict what lines of reasoning an opponent will take; in fact, no one should ever attempt to debate until he has studied the proposition so thoroughly that he can anticipate practically all the arguments that will be advanced. Yet until he sees on what points the emphasis is placed, what arguments are ignored, and what evidence is used, he cannot tell for sure what facts and what inferences will be most valuable as refutation. Therefore, a debater who wishes to offer good refutation must have a wealth of material at his command and be able to select instantly the ideas that will be of the greatest value.

This necessity for an abundance of information precludes the idea, held by some, that good debaters depend for their refutation on the inspiration of the moment. Great speakers often spend incalculable time in preparing to answer the arguments of the opposition. Webster's Reply to Hayne, which is a recognized masterpiece of oratory, and which is almost entirely refutation, was at first thought to have been composed over night, but Webster declared that all the material he had used had lain in his desk for months.

Refutation should come for the most part, though not entirely, in the rebuttal. Unless one has made a thorough study of both sides of the question, and is thus sure of his ground, anticipatory refutation is dangerous. It is sometimes an excellent plan to take the wind out of an opponent's sails by overthrowing an argument of his before he has a chance to present it, but in doing this the debater must use the greatest caution. To begin with, he must be sure that the argument he refutes is of such a fundamental nature that it is essential to the case of the other side, for if his opponent fails to use this point, the debater not only has exposed himself to ridicule, but has wasted valuable time. When one does refute in advance a point that must be upheld by the opposition, a skillful opponent often can, by calling attention to the fact that even those on the other side recognize the importance and strength of this argument, destroy much of the advantage that has been gained. To refute an argument before it is advanced, sometimes brings failure and sometimes brings success. A debater must exercise judgment.

One must also exercise a high degree of judgment in deciding where he can most advantageously answer the arguments that have actually been given. Whenever a debater presents so thorough and so strong proof that the audience is likely to think that he has settled the question and won the debate, the succeeding speaker on the opposite side will have great difficulty in making any impression unless he can at the start at least partially discredit the preceding argument. The attitude of the audience will compel him to use refutation before beginning his constructive work. On the other hand, if the preceding argument has apparently produced but little effect, he may at once begin to build his own proof. He should, however, show good reason for postponing his refutation. To ignore the previous arguments entirely, or arbitrarily to postpone answering them, is likely to give the audience an unfavorable impression.

COMMON ERRORS IN REFUTATION. A common error in refutation is the failure to attack an opponent's main arguments. Students especially are wont to neglect fundamental principles, and instead of overthrowing the points that count, occupy invaluable time with trivial matters. To rebut unimportant details, admitted matter, mere illustrations, and errors obviously due to haste in speaking, is a fault that every debater should carefully avoid. Such trivialities the audience immediately forgets, and to bring them up again and refute them serves no worthy purpose whatever.

Another serious fault common to refutation in student debates is lack of coherence. The student falls into this error when he rebuts a miscellaneous lot of points without having first ascertained the function of each and differentiated the main ideas from the subordinate ones. Instead of looking at the argument as a whole and attacking it with the concerted strength of all his forces, he fires scattering shots, and does but little damage. In refutation a debater must first see clearly the relation between each point that he rebuts and the proposition, otherwise his work is wasted. Secondly, he must make this relation perfectly plain to the audience. Instead of overthrowing isolated statements, a debater should take up his opponent's case as a whole and weaken it as much as he can. He should attack each main point. Coherent refutation adds much to the effectiveness of a debate.

AVAILABILITY OF MATERIAL FOR REFUTATION. In offering refutation, every inexperienced debater has difficulty in laying his hands on just the material that he desires to use. Possibly he remembers that he has seen somewhere an article that proves the insincerity of a man who has just been quoted as an authority; but if he can neither produce this article nor state its substance, he might as well not know about it. Perhaps he remembers having seen a table of statistics showing that his opponent has erred in regard to the death rate in the Spanish- American War; but unless he can produce the table, his knowledge is of no avail. There is scarcely any time for searching through books or unorganized notes; material to be of use must be instantly available. Some definite system of arranging rebuttal material is absolutely indispensable.

One method that has been tried with great success consists of putting down on cards of a uniform size all the material that can possibly be of use in refutation. These cards the debater then groups, in alphabetical order, under headings that correspond to the main divisions of the subject under discussion, and if it seems advisable in any particular instance, he may group them under subdivisions of the proposition. To be more explicit, if a debater thinks that the opposition may question the financial success of a plan that he is advocating, he should write out on as many cards as are necessary, usually putting only one idea on each card, all the material that goes to show why the plan should succeed and where it has succeeded. Furthermore, if the plan has failed anywhere, he should put down, providing he is able, explanations that will account for the failure without condemning the system. These cards, then, would naturally be arranged under some such heading as "Finance" or "Success." If the debater wishes, he may also arrange his cards under subheadings. For instance, those cards that go to show why the plan ought to succeed could be put under the subheading, "Antecedent Probability"; those that show where the plan has succeeded, under "Sign," and those that account for failure of the plan in certain places, under the heading "Failures." Any one at all familiar with a library card catalogue will at once see the various possibilities for arranging these cards.

Cards for rebuttal should be made out about as follows:—

Proposition:—Resolved, That profit-sharing and co-operative methods generally afford the most promising solution of the labor problem. (Affirmative.)


The Union Polishing Metal Plating Company has been successfully operated under this method since 1902. (C. H. Quinn, Outlook, Vol. LXXIII, page 452.)


The great iron works of Evansville, Wis., are operated under this method. (G. L. McNutt, Ind., Vol. LV, page 619.)

The advantages of such a system are obvious. This method gives not only one debater, but the whole team, almost instant command of all the material that has been collected. One can find what he wants, and find it hastily; he is not obliged to spend much valuable time in hunting after needed evidence and thus neglect large portions of the speech that is being delivered. A debater should begin on the classification of rebuttal material almost as soon as he begins to read on his subject. In this way he will save all the material that he gathers, and his catalogued information will be of assistance to him in drawing his brief and in constructing his main argument as well as in making refutation at the time of the debate.


THE FIRST SPEAKER FOR THE AFFIRMATIVE. Upon the first speaker for the affirmative falls the duty of interpreting the proposition. Since the subject of analysis has already been fully discussed, but few directions need be given here. It may be well, however, to emphasize the qualities of clearness and fairness. A debate, unlike a written argument, cannot be studied and re-read time and again. For this reason, unless the proposition is explained in the very simplest language and by means of the very clearest definitions and illustrations, many people in the audience will not understand what the debate is about. Long words and high-sounding phrases have no place here. The debater must aim to reach not merely those who are familiar with the subject, but also those to whom the question is absolutely new. If, when the first speaker has finished, any attentive listener of average intelligence fails to understand both the subject of the debate and the attitude of the affirmative side, the speech has been a failure.

Then, too, the analysis of the proposition must be fair and just to both sides. A debater has no right to strain or twist the meaning of the proposition so as to gain any advantage for himself. In the first place, this practice is dishonest, and an honorable debater does not wish to win by trickery or fraud. Secondly, such an act almost always brings defeat. The fact that a debate is being held, presupposes a subject about which reasonable men may differ. If a debater interprets the proposition so that only one reasonable side exists, manifestly he must be in error, and upon the exposure of this error he is sure to lose the decision.

In debate, therefore, clearness and fairness should especially characterize the four steps that are taken in analyzing the proposition: to define terms, to explain the proposition as a whole, to discover the issues, and to make the partition.

Upon the completion of the introduction, the first debater for the affirmative proceeds to the discussion, and later, should he be the only contestant on the affirmative side, to the conclusion. But if, as is usually the case, there be several debaters on each side, he takes up only one or two main points of the proof. In handling this proof he must be sure so to correlate his work with the work of his colleagues that, in the minds of the audience, it will all hang together as a united whole. To accomplish this object, he may, as he finishes with his partition, state what points he will discuss himself, and what points will be handled by the affirmative speakers that are to succeed him; and he must, without fail, when he nears the end of his allotted time, hastily summarize the proof that he has given, and outline the proof that is to follow. In this way he may keep the intervening speeches of his opponents from entirely destroying the continuity that should exist between his speech and the speeches of his colleagues.

THE FIRST SPEAKER FOR THE NEGATIVE. It rests with the first speaker for the negative to determine whether the introduction as presented by the affirmative is satisfactory, whether the analysis of the proposition is clear, adequate, and fair. If the affirmative has erred in any respect, it is the duty of the first negative debater to supply the deficiency or make the correction; otherwise he errs equally with the affirmative. If the affirmative has failed to explain the proposition so that it is generally understood, the negative is sure to win favor with the audience by spending a few moments in elucidating the subject of controversy. If the affirmative debater has analyzed the question inadequately or unfairly, the negative debater should not begin to establish proof until he has set these preliminaries straight. In correcting an unfair analysis, it is never enough that one merely make objections or even give an introduction of his own; he must, in brief form—and often a single sentence is sufficient—show to the satisfaction of the audience that his opponent has not interpreted the proposition correctly. On the other hand, if the first speaker for the negative considers the introduction given by the affirmative perfectly fair and satisfactory, he can pass by it without comment, and begin his own argument either with refutation or with a statement of the points that the negative side will establish in attacking the proposition.

It is thus apparent that a debater who opens a negative argument must depend for the beginning of his speech rather on a thorough understanding of the subject in all its details and fundamental principles than on a speech that he has to deliver word for word. To repeat an introduction that has already been given is absurd; to fail to correct an introduction that, as a whole, is obscure or is unfair, is to merit defeat. It may be added, by way of caution, that when a debater supplies any deficiencies in the speech of his predecessor, he should do this without any appearance of "smartness" or personal antagonism. Even if the affirmative debater has been manifestly unfair, the negative speaker will do well to correct this unfairness in a friendly, though in a forceful manner.

As soon as the introduction is out of the way, the negative speaker proceeds to the discussion. Two courses are open to him: he may at once refute his predecessor's arguments, or he may proceed to take up his constructive proof, giving reason for postponing the refutation. As this matter has already been discussed, it is only necessary to say that the course he should choose depends largely upon the strength of the preceding argument. The same directions that have been given to the affirmative debater for connecting his work to his colleagues' apply equally to the negative. Summaries and outlines aid greatly in binding the arguments of a debating team into one compact mass.

THE OTHER SPEAKERS. About the only practical suggestion which can be made to the other speakers is that they adapt their constructive work to that of their colleagues, and deploy their refutation so as to hammer the principal positions of their opponents. Each debater may or may not begin his speech with refutation, but he should always begin his main argument with a terse, clear summary of what has been said on his side, and in closing he should not only summarize his own arguments, but he should also give again, in very brief form, the gist of what has been proved by his colleagues. In addition, any speaker except the last one on each side, may, if he thinks best, give an outline of the argument to follow. In making these summaries, a debater must always avoid stating them in so bald and crude a form as to make them monotonous and offensive. He ought rather to use all the ingenuity at his command in an attempt to make this repetition exceedingly forceful.

It often happens that an inexperienced debater never reaches his conclusion. While he is still in the midst of his proof, his allotment of time expires, and he is forced to sit down, leaving his speech hanging in the air. Such an experience is both awkward and disastrous; a skillful debater never allows it to happen. The peroration is the most important part of an argument, and on it the debater should lavish his greatest care. To omit it is almost the same as to have made no speech at all. As soon as the debater perceives that he has but a short time left, he should at once bring this main speech to a close, and even though he may have to omit important ideas, begin at once on his conclusion. As is pointed out in Chapter X, the conclusion consists both of a summary and an emotional appeal. What emotion shall be aroused and how it shall apply to the summarized headings can largely be determined beforehand. Some debaters go so far as to commit this conclusion to memory. This practice is not recommended except in special cases, and yet a debater should be so familiar with his peroration that he will have no difficulty in putting it into vigorous and pleasing language.

REBUTTAL SPEECHES. A rebuttal speech usually furnishes an excellent test of a debater's mastery of his subject. It shows whether or not he comprehends the fundamental principles that underly the argument. If he does not understand fundamentals, he cannot distinguish between what is worth answering and what is trivial. If he is not perfectly familiar with the arguments on both sides of the question, his refutation will be scattering; that is, he will rebut only a few of his opponent's headings, those for which, in his scanty preparation, he has discovered some answer. On the other hand, if he really understands the subject, he will deal largely with main ideas; and if his knowledge of the subject is as extensive as it should be, he will almost invariably be able to offer some opposition to every main heading used by the opposition.

When a debate is held between only two contestants, each one has to refute the whole argument of his opponent. In this case there are no complications; but when two teams are debating, the members of each must decide among themselves as to how the rebuttal shall be handled. One way is for each member to refute all he can, working independently of his colleagues. Much better results are secured, however, when a team works systematically. In the first place, a team should always resolve the opposing arguments into a hasty brief. The main points of the opposition can then be assigned for rebuttal to the various members of the team, and each debater can give thorough treatment to his assignment. In this way every point is sure to be covered, and there will be little, if any, duplication of work.

Such a course presupposes very careful preparation on the part of the debaters. It means that each member of the team must have sufficient knowledge and material at his command to oppose with credit any argument that may be advanced. In general, the assignment of headings for rebuttal may be such that each debater will refute those points of which he took an opposite view in his main speech, but as it is usually desirable to rebut arguments in the same order in which they were originally given, no member of the team can afford to shirk mastering each detail that in any way has a vital bearing upon the proposition.

THE LAST REBUTTAL SPEAKER. The work of the last speaker on each side differs somewhat from the work of his colleagues. All the speakers try to overthrow the opposing arguments, and by means of summaries keep their case as a whole before the audience. The last speaker devotes far less time to pure refutation, gives a more detailed summary, and, in addition, compares and contrasts the arguments of his side with the arguments of the opposition. This last process is called "amplifying and diminishing."

It is not always necessary to prove a main heading false in order to destroy its effectiveness. A debater may of necessity have to admit that the opposition has successfully established the points it set out to prove. In such a case, he cannot do better than to acknowledge the correctness of his opponent's proof, and then remembering that an audience awards a decision by a comparison of the relative weight of the proof of each side, amplify the importance of his own arguments, point by point, and diminish the importance of the arguments advanced by the other side.

For instance, in a debate on the question as to whether immigration should be restricted, the affirmative might maintain that unrestricted immigration brings serious political evils, and the negative might show that the policy of nonrestriction greatly increases the wealth of the country. If neither of these contentions be successfully refuted, the favor of the audience will incline towards the affirmative or the negative, as far as those two points are concerned, according as they think that political purity or economic prosperity is the more important. Plainly, it would be for the interest of the affirmative to convince the audience that the preservation of political integrity is of greater moment than any mere material gain.

In many respects the last rebuttal speeches on each side are the most conspicuous and decisive parts of a debate. If the last speech is hesitating and weak, it is liable to ruin all preceding efforts, even though they were of the highest order; if it is enthusiastic and strong, it will often cover up preceding defects, and turn defeat into victory. Because of its importance this portion of the work usually falls to the best debater on the team, and if he is wise he will give it his greatest thought and care. In this speech he should strive in every possible way to attain perfection. His delivery should be emphatic and pleasing; his ideas should be logically arranged; and his knowledge of what he has to say should be so complete that there will be no hesitation, no groping for words. Furthermore, he should introduce an element of persuasion; to reach both the minds and the hearts of his hearers is essential for the greatest success. All this has to be done in a short time, yet to be of a high rank even the shortest closing speeches must contain these characteristics.


An argument, like other kinds of composition, should possess the qualities of style known as Clearness, Force, and Elegance, and should in all respects observe the principles of Unity, Selection, Coherence, Proportion, Emphasis, and Variety. Since the student from his study of Rhetoric is already familiar with these matters, it would be superfluous to dwell upon them in this book. A good written argument, however, does not always make a good debate; limited time for speaking, lack of opportunity for the audience to grasp ideas and to reflect upon them, the presence of strong opposing arguments that must be met and overthrown with still stronger arguments,—these conditions render the heightening of certain characteristics indispensable in a debate.

Above all else the successful debater is forceful. He uses every possible device for driving home his arguments. He bends every effort toward making his ideas so plain and so emphatic that the audience will understand them and remember them. Realizing that the audience cannot, like the reader of a written article, peruse the argument a second time, he uses words and expressions that cause his thoughts to stick fast wherever they fall.

STATISTICS. Statistics improperly used are dry and uninteresting; they often spoil an otherwise forceful and persuasive debate. The trouble often lies, strange to say, in the accuracy with which the figures are given. A brain that is already doing its utmost to accept almost instantaneously a multitude of facts and comprehend their significance, or a brain that is somewhat sluggish and lazy, refuses to be burdened with uninteresting and unimportant details. For this reason, when a debater speaks of 10,564,792 people, the brain becomes wearied with the numbers and in disgust is apt to turn away from the whole matter. On the other hand, the round sum 10,000,000 not only does not burden the brain, but also, under ordinary conditions, gives in a rather forceful manner the information it was intended to convey. "About five hundred" presents a much more vivid picture than "four hundred and eighty-six" or "five hundred and eighteen"; "fifteen per cent." is stronger than "fifteen and one-tenth per cent."; the expression "eighty years" seems to indicate a longer period of time than "eighty-two years, seven months, and twenty-nine days."

If one is to quote statistics, he should always, unless the circumstances be very unusual, use round numbers. Figures themselves, however, are often less emphatic than other methods of expression. The ordinary mind can not grasp the significance of large numbers. That the state of Texas contains over a quarter of a million of square miles means little to the average person; he neither remembers the exact area of other states nor can he realize what an immense territory these figures stand for. The following quotation gives the area of Texas in much more vivid and forceful language:—

If you take Texas by the upper corner and swing it on that as a pivot, you will lop off the lower end of California, cut through Idaho, overlap South Dakota, touch Michigan, bisect Ohio, reach West Virginia, cut through North Carolina and South Carolina, lop off all the western side of Florida, and blanket the greater part of the Gulf of Mexico.

To say that the American farmer produced in 1907 a crop worth, at the farm, seven and one-half billions of dollars, conveys little idea of the magnitude of the harvest. A current magazine has couched the same estimate in less exact but in far more emphatic language:—

Suppose that all of last year's corn had been shipped to Europe; it would have required over four thousand express steamers of 18,000 tons register to deliver it. Suppose that the year's wheat had all been sent to save the Far East from a great famine: the largest fleet in the world, with its four hundred vessels of all sizes, would have required fifteen round trips to move it. Take tobacco,—such a minor crop that most people never think of it in connection with farming:— if last year's tobacco crop had been made into cigars, the supply would have lasted 153,000 men for fifty years, each man smoking ten cigars a day.

The officials of the forestry service, in speaking of the great devastation caused by forest fires, make the startling assertion that a new navy of first-class battle-ships could be built for the sum lost during a few weeks in the fires that raged from the pines of Maine to the redwoods of California.

Figures used in this way are most effective, and yet probably nothing in argumentation is more tedious than too many of these descriptions of statistics coming close together. If numbers absolutely have to be indicated a great many times, even figures are likely to be less tiresome.

CONCRETENESS. General statements and abstract principles invariably weary an audience. Theories and generalities are usually too intangible to make much impression. Specific instances and concrete cases, however, are usually interesting. A vivid picture of real persons, things, and events is necessary to arouse the attention of an audience and cause them both to understand the argument and to give it their consideration. The slogan of a recent political campaign was not, "Improved economic conditions for the laboring man"; it was, "The full dinner pail." The political orator who is urging the necessity for a larger navy on the ground that war is imminent does not speak of possible antagonists in such general terms as foreign powers; he specifies Germany, Japan, and the other nations that he fears. The preacher who would really awaken the conscience of his church does not confine himself to such terms as original sin and weaknesses of the flesh; he talks of lying, stealing, and swearing.

Compare the effectiveness of the following examples:—

People of the same race are more loyal to each other than to foreigners.

Blood is thicker than water.

Western farmers are demanding political recognition.

"No, I am not going to vote a straight ticket this year. If I do, my candidate must be in favor of some things I want." That was the dictum of Franklin Taylor, Farmer, on Rural Route No. 12, ten miles from a western town. He is a type of thousands of other farmers in the West.

Business streets that were once commodious and impressive are now smoky and filthy.

Business streets that ten years after the great fire promised to be almost grant in the width and perspective are now mere smoky tunnels under the filth-dripping gridirons of the elevated railways.

The West is becoming more densely populated.

The center of population, now in Indiana, is traveling straight toward the middle point of Illinois. The center of manufacturing has reached only eastern Ohio, but is marching in a bee-line for Chicago.

In the following quotation Mr. Crisp, laying aside for the moment abstractions and generalities, and bringing his case down to a specific instance, gives a concrete illustration of how the protective tariff affects a single individual:

Will you tell how this protective tariff benefits our agricultural producers? I can show you—I think I can demonstrate clearly—how the tariff hurts them; and I defy any of you to show wherein they are benefited by a protective tariff.

Suppose a farmer in Minnesota has 5,000 bushels of wheat and a farmer in Georgia has 100 bales of cotton. That wheat at eighty cents a bushel is worth $4,000, and that cotton at eight cents a pound is worth $4,000. Let those producers ship their staples abroad. The Minnesota wheat-grower ships his wheat to Liverpool; whether he ships it there or not, that is where the price of his wheat is fixed. The Georgia cotton-raiser ships his cotton to Liverpool; whether he ships it there or not, that is where the price of his cotton is fixed. The wheat and the cotton are sold in that free trade market. The wheat is sold for $4,000; the cotton brings the same amount. The Minnesota farmer invests the $4,000 he has received for his wheat in clothing, crockery, iron, steel, dress goods, clothing,—whatever he may need for his family in Minnesota. The Georgia cotton-raiser invests the proceeds of his cotton in like kind of goods.

Each of those men ships his goods to this country and they reach the port of New York. When either undertakes to unload them he is met by the collector of customs, who says, "Let me see your invoice." The invoice is exhibited, and it shows $4,000 worth of goods. Those goods represent in the one case 5,000 bushels of wheat, in the other case 100 bales of cotton. The collector at the port says to either of these gentlemen—the man who raises the wheat in Minnesota or him who raises the cotton in Georgia, "You cannot bring into this market those goods for which you have exchanged your products unless you pay to the United States a tariff by the McKinley law—a tax of $2,000."

FIGURES OF SPEECH. The use of figurative language is also an aid to clearness and to force. Simile, metaphor, personification, antithesis, balance, climax, rhetorical question, and repetition are all effective aids in the presentation of argument. The speeches of great orators are replete with expressions of this sort. Burke, in his Speech on Conciliation, says, "Despotism itself is obliged to truck and huckster"; "The public," he said, "would not have patience to see us play the game out with our adversaries; we must produce our hand"; "Men may lose little in property by the act which takes away all their freedom. When a man is robbed of a trifle on the highway, it is not the twopence lost that constitutes the capital outrage." In speaking of certain provisions of the Constitution, Webster says that they are the "keystone of the arch." The following paragraph is taken from his Reply to Hayne:—

And, sir, where American liberty raised its first voice, and where its youth was nurtured and sustained, there it still lives in the strength of its manhood and full of its original spirit. If discord and disunion shall wound it; if party strife and blind ambition shall hawk at and tear it; if folly and madness, if uneasiness under salutary and necessary restraint, shall succeed to separate it from that Union by which alone its existence is made sure; it will stand, in the end, by the side of that cradle in which its infancy was rocked; it will stretch forth its arm with whatever of vigor it may still retain, over the friends who gather round it; and it will fall at last, if fall it must, amidst the proudest monuments of its own glory, and on the very spot of its origin.

The Outlook, in a recent issue, first states a vital question in literal and then, to drive home the meaning of the problem, in figurative language:—

Is the Constitution of the United States a series of inflexible rules which can be changed only by the methods which those rules themselves prescribe, or is it the expression of certain political principles by which a living and growing Nation has resolved to guide itself in its life and growth? Is it an anchor which fastens the ship of state in one place, or a rudder to guide it on its voyage?

Sometimes figures of speech are used to such excess or in such incongruous combinations that they detract from the effectiveness of the debate in which they occur rather than add to it. The distance from a forceful figure to an absurd figure is so short that a debater has to be on his guard against using expressions that will impress his audience as ridiculous or even funny. A mixture of highly figurative language with literal language and commonplace ideas, and a mixture of several figures are especially to be guarded against. As an example of the extent to which figures may be mixed the following will serve:—

"I'm up a tree," admitted the bolting Senator, "but my back is to the wall and I'll die in the last ditch, going down with flags flying, and from the mountain top of Democracy, hurling defiance at the foe, soar on the wings of triumph, regardless of the party lash that barks at my heels."


To be a successful debater one must understand how to talk and how to act in the presence of an audience. Uncouthness in appearance and awkwardness in speech have often brought defeat. Moreover, it is not enough that a debater refrain from offending his audience; his bearing and his voice should be of positive assistance to him both in pleasing them and in interpreting to them the ideas that he wishes to convey. First of all, a good delivery is one that assists in making the argument clear. Its next most important function is to make the argument forceful. A speaker should never rest content with being able to present his argument merely with clearness; he should strive to be interesting and impressive also. These qualities depend in no small measure upon the way a speech is delivered. The best story or the best argument will fall flat unless it is full of the fire of enthusiasm, unless the personality of the speaker vivifies it and makes it a living reality. Unfortunately, this intangible quality in a speaker, often called "personality" or "magnetism," cannot, to any great extent, be taught. In the main, one must seek this and develop it for himself. A text-book can point out what constitutes good form, what is pleasing and impressive to the eye and to the ear, and, in a word, what make up the externals of a good delivery; but beyond these mechanical directions it cannot go. A student should observe the following fundamental directions as his first step toward becoming a successful speaker. Afterwards, he should cultivate earnestness, enthusiasm, perception, a sense of humor, and all other such qualities as go to make up a really great speaker.

POSITION. The best position for a debater to take on the stage is in the centre well toward the front. He should take the centre because in that position he can best see the entire audience, and the entire audience can best see him. He should stand near the front edge of the platform for several reasons: first, he can make himself more easily understood; his voice need not be so loud in order to be heard distinctly in every part of the hall. This is no small advantage for one who is not gifted with unusual powers of speech. In the next place, if a debater stands close to his audience, he can adopt a more conversational style of delivery. He can establish a direct personal connection between himself and his hearers and talk to them as man to man. If the hall is not too large, he need scarcely raise his voice from its accustomed tone; he can look his audience in the eye, receiving the stimulus of whatever interest they express; and at the same time he can let them see in his features the earnestness and sincerity that he feels. To stand near the back of the stage is undoubtedly easier for one who is diffident or inexperienced; perhaps he will then be able partially to forget where he is and to imagine that he is alone; but such an attitude both severs all personal connection between speaker and hearer, and shows that the debater does not trust himself, that he has no great belief in his subject, and that he fears his audience. An impression of this sort is a great handicap even to the strongest case. If one would inspire confidence, he must appear confident; if one would make friends, he must be friendly, avoiding even a suggestion of aloofness. To accomplish these purposes as far as is possible by action, a debater should come close to his audience, having every appearance of being glad that he is to speak and confident in the strength of the side that he is to uphold.

The next thing for a speaker to learn is how to stand. He should not take a natural posture, as some writers say, unless that posture is one of strength and, to some degree, of grace. A student without training will usually stand with his head protruding forward, his shoulders drooping, his body twisted, and his feet far apart, with all his weight on one leg. Such an attitude is enough to condemn one even before he begins to speak. A slipshod appearance suggests slipshod thinking and reasoning. A speaker should always stand erect, with his head back, chin in, shoulders rolled back and down; either the feet should be near together with the weight of the body on both, or one foot should be slightly in advance of the other with the weight of the body entirely on the rear foot. In the latter case, the leg on which the body rests must form a straight line with the body, there being no unsightly bulging at the hip; and the leg on which the body does not rest must be slightly bent at the knee. This posture is not difficult to attain if one will practise it frequently, endeavoring in his everyday life to walk and stand in a soldierly manner. On the other hand, erectness should not be carried to such an extreme as to become stiffness. A debater's object is to be forceful and pleasing. In striving for this end, he should always remember that he can very easily err in either of two directions.

A debater should allow his hands, for the most part, to hang naturally at his sides. There may be a great temptation for him to put them in his pockets, but he should resist this for two reasons: such a procedure is not considered good form, and his hands are less available for instant use in the making of gestures. If one is delivering a lengthy argument, there is no particular harm in putting one hand behind the back for a short time, or even in front of the body along the waist line, provided this can be done in an easy, natural manner; but in the case of a short speech, one will do well to keep his hands at his sides. They must hang naturally in order not to attract attention, being neither closed tightly nor held rigidly open. If one will follow these directions, his hands and arms may feel awkward, but they will not appear so.

Another important principle in the matter of position requires that a debater shall keep his eyes fixed on his audience. He must not look at the floor, at the ceiling, or at the walls. He must look at the people he would convince. Only in this way can he hope to hold their attention. Only in this way can he win their confidence and reach their feelings. To look into space means to debate into space.

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