Precisely defining terms is pedagogically valuable—T debates provide portable skills needed to settle all major questions
Steinberg & Freeley 8 *Austin J. Freeley is a Boston based attorney who focuses on criminal, personal injury and civil rights law, AND **David L. Steinberg , Lecturer of Communication Studies @ U Miami, Argumentation and Debate: Critical Thinking for Reasoned Decision Making pp61-63
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF DEFINING TERMS
The definition of terms—the advocate's supported interpretation of the meaning of the words in a proposition—is an essential part of debate. In some instances the opposing advocates will agree right away on the definition of terms, and the debate will move on to other issues. In other cases the locus of the debate may be the definition of a key term or terms, and definitions become the "voting issue" that decides the debate. In all debates, however, a shared understanding of the interpretation of the proposition is necessary to guide argumentation and decision making.
Many intercollegiate debate propositions call for the "federal government" to adopt a certain policy. Often the term is self-evident in the context of the proposition, and no definition is necessary. In debates on the 2001-2002 CEDA proposition. "Resolved: That the United States Federal Government should substantially increase federal control throughout Indian Country in one or more of the following areas: child welfare, criminal justice, employment, environmental protection, gaming, resource management, taxation," the affirmative merely designated the appropriate federal agency (for example. The bureau of Indian Affairs or the Environmental Protection Agency) to cam' out its policy, and the debate moved on to other issues. However, sometimes other terms in the proposition (for instance, Indian Country) become critical issues of the debate. Not infrequently the negative will raise the issue of topicality and argue that the affirmative's plan is not the best definition, or interpretation, of the proposition. In debates on propositions of value, the clash over definitions or criteria may be crucial to the outcome.
In debates outside the educational setting, the same situation prevails. In some debates the definition of terms is easy and obvious—they need only be stated "for the record." and the debate proceeds to other issues. In other debates however, the definition may be all-important. For instance physicians, clerics, and ethicists conduct long, hard-fought debates on the critical issue of when life begins: At conception? When the fetus becomes capable of surviving outside the womb? When the brain begins to function? Or at the moment of birth?
Exactly the opposite problem arose, and continues, in debates over the use of organ transplants. Does death occur when breathing slops? When the heart stops? Or when the brain ceases to function? Some states have debated this Issue and adopted new definitions of death; in other states the debate continues. Similarly, environmentalists seeking protection from development for valued resources debate the definition of wetlands in public hearings; owners of sports franchises work to redefine players' salaries to fit within predetermined salary caps; and customers considering new product purchases study competing definitions of value. In February 2004, President Bush called upon the Congress to "promptly pass and send to the states for ratification, an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting marriage as a union of a man and a woman as husband and wife." This advocacy by the president was an attempt to define "marriage" in such a way as to limit it to heterosexual couples. A public debate about the meaning of marriage, and its alternative, "civil union," ensued. Definitional debates have political, moral, and personal implications. What is poverty? Obesity? Adulthood? In 2007, the meaning of the term "surge" in reference to the United States military' action in Iraq was hotly contested. Was this an expansion of the war or simply provision of necessary resources to achieve existing objectives? The 2007 immigration reform offered the opportunity for illegal immigrants working in this country to achieve citizenship through a cumbersome and expensive process. The reform legislation failed in part because it was termed "amnesty" by its opponents. Likewise, the definition of "terrorism" creates significant problems in our foreign policy.
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