What is essential for advanced refutation?
In everyday life, we do not usually use only our own arguments and points of view. We are confronted with statements of other people. A reasonable refutation is nowadays more than required in society since correct confrontation of different points of view opens doors for the most effective solutions and the best choices. Refutation is essential for every productive discussion and basic debate skill.
In order to make debate productive and meaningful, we are supposed to present relevant opposition. A reasonable refutation requires several conditions to be effective.
First of all, careful listening to your opponent is inevitable. Pay attention when the opposite part holds the speech. Sometimes it might be useful to make notes.
Try to understand the ideas coming from the other side of discussion. If whatever mentioned in speech seems unclear or unfamiliar to you, ask for clarification. It is better to ask twice then let misunderstandings ruin the flow of debate.
No matter what happens in your debate, do not forget to tolerate ideas of your opponents. Stay calm and on top of things.
Structure of refutation
Maintaining precise and clear structure of refutation ensure smooth understanding and acceptance of your statements. Follow these four steps and you will not forget any of its important parts: signposting, stating, supporting, and summarising.
Step One: Signal or They say
Identify the argument you are answering to. In a single debate, there will be multiple arguments, pieces of evidence that a debater must address. Identifying clearly which of your opponent’s arguments you are responding to keeps the flow of the debate progressing in a coherent manner.
Good note-taking skills or even the briefest of notes allow you to track your opponents’ arguments and refutations and can help organise your response.
Remember to rephrase rather than simply repeat your opponent’s entire argument. If you repeat all of your opponent’s arguments, you wouldn’t have any speech time left to present your own arguments. Additionally, the more time you spend restating your opponent’s argument, the more risk you reinforcing it!
Step Two: State or But – But I disagree – However – Actually – In fact
Create your counter argument (refutation). After stating your position, you should make your response in a consistent, understandable manner. Make it brief, but well supported. Stay in the relevant flow of the debate and avoid off-topic. Your reaction must refer exactly at what has been told before.
Step Three: Support or Because
Reference, evidence or justification. Many arguments will be supported by evidence that justifies your claim. Reading it or referring to the evidence will support your claims. That is why a good factual topic preparation is important. Sometimes evidence is not needed, and the debater’s own brilliant analysis can provide the justification for the claim. In this point, you can proceed exactly in the same manner as when composing an argument. Your argument will support your claim (e.g. deduction)
Step Four: Summarise or Therefore
Explain the importance of your argument. For the audience, to reach a final judgment on an issue, it is vital to recognise the comparative importance of different arguments. Explaining the way in which your argument is more important than your opponent’s position is a crucial way to leave an impression on audience members. You need to draw a conclusion that affirms your position. Beginning your conclusion with “Therefore” is a clue to the judge (and you) that you are about to state your position and concluding your refutation.
(Signal) My opponent argued that the death penalty deters crime.
(State) In fact, the death penalty increases crime.
(Support) According to a nationwide study conducted by Professor Wiggins in 2002, violent crime has actually increased in states with the death penalty while crime has decreased in states without the death penalty.
(Summarize) If this study is true, and the methodology is certainly sound, then the central justification for the death penalty has no merit.
(Signal) Speaker 1: “School should be year round to avoid the ‘summer learning loss’ that occurs when students forget much of what they learn between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next school year.”
Speaker 2: “They say that school should be year round to avoid summer learning loss…”
(State) Speaker 1: “School should be year round to avoid the ‘summer learning loss’ that occurs when students forget much of what they learn between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next school year.”
Speaker 2: “They say that school should be year round to avoid summer learning loss… BUT school should last for only nine months…”
(Support) Speaker 1: “School should be year round to avoid the ‘summer learning loss’ that occurs when students forget much of what they learn between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next school year.”
Speaker 2: “They say that school should be year round to avoid summer learning loss, BUT school should last for only nine months… BECAUSE research shows that it’s not the quantity of time spent in the classroom that matters, but the quality of the education students receive during the school day that matters….”
(Summarize) Speaker 1: “School should be year round to avoid the ‘summer learning loss’ that occurs when students forget much of what they learn between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next school year.”
Speaker 2: “They say that school should be year round to avoid summer learning loss, BUT school should last for only nine months BECAUSE research shows that it’s not the quantity of time spent in the classroom that matters, but the quality of the education students receive during the school day that matters….THEREFORE, a school should NOT be year-round.”
Types of refutation
When replying to an argument against your statement, you have more options or ways to make a refutation. You might have already used more of them in your life without knowing. It depends on your argumentation line and it is up to you to consider which type of refutation would suit the best in each particular case, for each argument. It is recommended to practice and try at least once each of them to be prepared for every kind of debate situation.
- Find a fallacyin the opposing argument—some way in which it is not logical or incoherent with the issue.
- Concedethe argument: “Yes, that’s true, but it’s not really relevant to the point I was making, or not as important as other arguments, because. . . .”
III. Conciliate your opponent: “Yes, I see what you are concerned about, and it’s real, but I think there’s another way to take care of that. . . .”
- Counter the evidenceby
- showing that the alleged facts may not be solid facts;
- pointing out the small quantity of the alleged evidence;
- pointing out other evidence that points the other way;
- casting doubt on the authorities relied upon, especially for scientific or statistical evidence;
- pointing out the dubious context from which quotations or other authoritative evidence is taken.
- Find a weakness in the reasoning. Consider what kinds of arguments are being made, and proceed accordingly.
- If it’s a definition argument (“What is X?”),
- show the definition being used is not correct in this issue; or
- propose a better definition and show why it is better.
- If it’s an evaluation argument (“What is the value of X?”),
- show that X has not been evaluated in terms of what it really is or what it is for; or
- propose a better criterion for evaluating it; or
- point out other values or kinds of value that are relevant.
- If it’s an analogy argument (“What is X like? What does X work like?”),
- show where the analogy breaks down (all analogies break down somewhere); or
- produce a closer, more convincing analogy and show why it’s better.
- If it’s a causation argument (“What are the causes of X? What are the consequences of X?”),
- point out the weak link(s) in the proposed chain of causes and consequences; or
- propose a more likely chain of causes and consequences; or
- question the scientific evidence (experiments, statistics, accepted laws of nature) used to support the alleged causation.
- If it’s a proposal argument (“What should we do about X?”), analyse it into its component claims of facts and value and examine questionable parts of each of them.
Sources for further research
Here are some useful links for those who want to deepen their refutation skills. Feel free to continue with your own studies and do not hesitate to use even debate literature if there is any available. Good luck with being a constructive opposition in every discussion!
The best way to train and develop your refutation skills is – of course – practice. It is recommended to do one simple exercise. There is a list of several easy topics. Work in pairs; one person composes an argument in favour of the topic and the other one tries to propose a relevant 4 step refutation. At the beginning, your refutation might be easier, however, you should continuously sophisticate your speech, using more and more of analysis and expertise.
All students should have an after school job.
Partial birth abortion should be illegal.
Every student should be required to take a performing arts course.
Homework should be banned.
School uniforms should be required.
Year round education is not a good idea for student learning.
The legal drinking age should be lowered to 18.
PE should be required of all students throughout high school.
All students should be required to perform one year of community service.