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Principled Arguments in CNDF Debate

By: Rena Su

Oftentimes, arguments are based on practical means (e.g. how many deaths prevented, how much money saved). However, a principled argument is an argument based on morality and abstract values. This article seeks to cover why principled arguments are important and basic ways to use them in a CNDF round.

Principled argumentation is often structured by beginning with the claim that a certain principle is important, whether it be a societal value or an external obligation. This claim could be something like ‘the government has a duty to protect its citizens’. Saying the principle is not enough, as you need to write about why it is the case. For example, why should the government be obligated to protect its people? Would it be due to the constitution? Would it be for the benefit of the nation?

Additionally, someone using a principled argument also needs to prove

  1. Why the principle is relevant in the specific round/under the specific motion

  2. That the principle brings something into the round, or impacts it in some way

A principled argument can be very ‘true’ but not add meaning to a round. Saying something like ‘we should not cause children to separate from their parents if possible’ could be a good principle to have, but it may not work in a motion that focuses on trees.

Sometimes, a motion can be related to a round but not bring a significant value to the round itself. An example of this could be running an entire contention on the principle of ‘It is

Why (or why not) use principled arguments?

Purely principled arguments are not too common at most tournaments. This is as more often than not, principled arguments are easy to be taken down if they are used to say something to the effect of ‘because of this principle, the other side shouldn’t be doing xyz’. Instead, many successful principled arguments often act as a way to give the other team a greater burden to prove their side or a way to supplement the overarching messages given from your own side.

Principled arguments, like other debate strategies, can be very helpful when used correctly. However, it is better to use them as a supplement than completely rely on them for much of your case.

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