Imagine football, basketball, baseball, and other similar sports. There are players on the team that are focused on scoring points for their team. There are also players that focus on preventing other teams from scoring. These players can be divided into players that are focused on offense and players that are focused on defense.
Arguments can generally be split into these two categories as well. Arguments are either “offensive” or “defensive.” While these categories are not perfect, they are a helpful way to understand how different arguments serve different purposes in a debate.
Offensive arguments are like scoring points for one’s team. They are usually impacts, or reasons why not voting for one team results in a negative harm that should be avoided. Here are two examples of offensive arguments:
1. “Poverty is heavily related to lack of access to quality healthcare, housing, employment and education. This reduces quality of life and can even result in death.”
2. “Climate change threatens all of humanity. Rising sea levels, increased frequency and severity of natural disasters, and switching weather patterns threaten food production, which will force mass migrations of people from the coasts. This will result in mass political and social instability, potentially triggering conflict.”
Notice that both of these arguments explain the consequence of not voting for a team’s advocacy.
In contrast, defensive arguments prevent other teams from scoring points. Here are two examples of defensive arguments:
1. “They can’t solve poverty. Mass resource inequality is inevitable and efforts to reduce poverty help few people and trade off with other efforts.”
2. “The negative effects of climate change will happen far in the future. This leaves time for intervening actors to address it. Adaptation efforts can also mitigate the impact, such as building sea walls and artificial shorelines to address sea level rise, better building codes and disaster response strategies to respond to natural disasters, and diversifying food production.”
Notice that the first argument attacks the ability of the other team to solve. Even if poverty is bad, if the other team can’t effectively solve poverty then that isn’t a reason to vote for them. Meanwhile, the second argument attacks the impact.
Combining offensive and defensive arguments is always better than focusing solely on offense or defense. With that said, offensive arguments are reasons one team wins a debate. Defensive arguments are reasons they don’t lose the debate. Therefore, having some offensive arguments is almost always necessary to win.