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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Bad Argument #1 - unsupported assertion

There are some situations in life - choosing your lunch, deciding what to wear to a party, getting married - when it is better not to go into all the reasons. Doing so can waste a lot of time, and even end up pushing you into the wrong decision.

Debating, however, is not one of those situations.

You must have a reason for everything you say. Always. Always, always, always.

This is where our first Bad Argument comes in: unsupported assertion

What is ‘unsupported assertion’?

It’s when you say something is true without saying why it is true. 

To go back to last week’s example, supposing you say in a debate, ‘Obviously co-educational schools are a better preparation for life,’ and leave it at that. You don’t explain how or why. You don’t consider the arguments against them being a good preparation for life. You don’t show why those arguments are less strong than yours. 

What you just did was unsupported assertion. You have not proved that what you said is true. And proving that what you say is true is what debating is all about. Assertion is only the starting point; everything depends on the proof. Unsupported assertion is like writing the title of an essay, but not writing the essay; it’s like putting all the ingredients for a meal on the kitchen counter, but not cooking the meal; it’s like putting the ball on the penalty spot but not kicking it. You get the picture. It’s starting the job but not finishing it.

What should you do if your opponent does it?

It’s a very easy argument to rebut, partly because it isn’t really an argument at all. If you’re on the side of single-sex schools and your opponent says, ‘Co-educational schools are obviously a better preparation for life’ and nothing more, you have only to say, ‘She has told us that co-educational schools are a better preparation for life, but she has not shown us how or why.’ This will remind the judge that your opponent has been guilty of unsupported assertion, and she will be marked down accordingly.

So, our Bad Argument #1 is unsupported assertion.

  • It’s when you say something is true without saying why. 
  • Don’t do it. 
  • Don’t let your opponents get away with it.

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