Definition

The Prime Minister will outline the motion at the beginning of their speech and define the meaning of any terms in the motion which require interpretation. The definitions provided must have a clear and logical link to the motion. The intent of the definition is to clarify the resolution with increased specificity. A good definition will be neither confusing nor surprising to the opposition.

Process:

1. The Prime Minister sends the definition to the Speaker

In order to certify the definition of a resolution as debatable, the Prime Minister must provide the Speaker with a copy of the definition before the debate (the earlier the better).

2. The Speaker certifies that the defined resolution is debatable

The Speaker will verify that none of the following prohibited grounds are encountered and verify that the negative phrasing of the defined resolution could be defended by the opposition (use a sanity check).

Prohibited Definition Types

There are three types of definitions which are not permitted. For the following examples, consider the resolution: “There are no bad dogs, only bad dog owners.”

a) Squirreled: A motion has an obvious meaning and the wording is twisted to represent something unexpected. This makes the debate too easy for the government and is unsporting. Example: “dogs” are defined as “hot dogs.”

b) Tautological: The government is trying to have it both ways by forcing the resolution into a form such that the truth is logically guaranteed. Example: “bad dogs” are defined as only “dogs with bad owners,” and excludes dogs bred to be violent, et cetera.

c) Special Knowledge: The government calls on expert knowledge not widely available to or understood by a layperson. Example: “bad dog owners” are defined as “people having a statistically prevalent genetic marker that predisposes them to not properly care for dogs,” and the source of this information is a biologist friend of the PM whose work is not widely published. If the information is available via a basic internet search, it is fair game and not special knowledge.

Sanity check for debatability

The speaker should also write out the negative phrasing of the definition to determine if there are arguments readily available for the opposition. This sanity check should be considered an extention of the “Squirreled” form above – but this test is in case the government has inadvertantly twisted the debate without realizing how difficult (or impossible) it might have become for the opposition. Off the top of your head, try to come up with 3 arguments for the opposition. If you are unable to do so at all – the defintion might squirrel the debate.

3. Government hands the definition to the opposition on debate night

The Government should bring a written copy of their definition with them to the debate to hand to the opposition no less than ten minutes before the debate beings.

This will prevent transcription errors by the opposition if being frantically copied down while the PM is speaking. This will also provide the opposition with a brief period to reorient their prepared remarks to clash directly with the government’s case head-on.

The opposition must accept the definition and stay within the realm of the defined resolution and avoid arguments which are semantic in nature. The adjudicator will not score arguments well which do not add substance to the debate around the defined resolution.

6 Comments » for Definition
  1. Question asked during educational video says:

    If the government comes up with an un-debatable resolution and the Speaker – for whatever reason – falls down on the job and approves it, then the opposition is simply left twisting in the wind with no appeal, no redress of grievance, nothing. Is that correct?

    • Toronto Debating Society says:

      That is correct. This is a new process and if there are problems with it we will work to refine it. The issue is: we now have a problem that sometimes the debate can get into semantics instead of the core issues. We hope this process will address this problem. There is no function to deal with this case – we hope it is an extreme example.

    • Comment during educational video says:

      If every speaker looks at both sides of [the defined resolution] and makes sure you can come up with three or four arguments for both sides, I don’t see how we will run into that problem.

  2. Question asked during educational video says:

    I’ve heard the word tautology defined about a hundred times and I still haven’t got a clue what the word means. Is there another word that would get the message across which is not as intimidating?

    • Toronto Debating Society says:

      In general, what this means is that the logic of the wording is being manipulated to guarantee truth when the government defines it. No arguments are even required to defend it because it is now un-debatable.

    • Comment during educational video says:

      If we were to name this a logical fallacy, it would probably be begging the question: that reflexive, “it’s true because it’s true.”

      This could also be called a “circular” or “catch-22″ situation.

The Definition
How to define the resolution.