Winning with Evidence: The Counter-Warrant Strategy

We've talked about argument structure: Claim, Grounds, and Warrant. This is the Toulmin Model 2.0. Now we dive headfirst into something known as counter-warrant strategy.

The warrant is the proof that something is true.

This usually takes the form of quoted evidence or an application. A counter-warrant argues that evidence is outweighed by contrary evidence. It is a special form of response because it says that the argument cannot be true even though you have not directly refuted its support.

Usually, people try to counter-warrant but miss the biggest part of the process. "My opponent's evidence supporting free trade come from a capitalist author. Of course, his evidence must be biased and thrown out." This isn't a counter-warrant; because we haven't countered their evidence with anything. When done well, the response will directly compare the available evidence, and then leverage the differences in our favor.

Let's Illustrate.

     Assertion: Jacob is an alien.
Warrant: He acts strangely sometimes.

Response: Counter-warrant. Here is DNA testing that proved that Jacob is a human. This outweighs the fact that he sometimes acts strangely.

     Assertion: Distance prevents War.
     Warrant: Canada and India. They have never been at war because they are so far apart.

Response: Counter-warrant. Here are three major wars whose main belligerents were oceans away from each other. Two of them were World Wars. In the face of that evidence, the fact that my opponent can find two countries on the globe who haven’t gone to war proves nothing.

Risk vs. Reward

Counter-warrants are strategically powerful because they focus the debate back on your case. However, if your opponent can make his application sound significantly impressive, your counter-warrant will fail. That makes it a risky argument. Run the counter-warrant only if your evidence is obviously superior in scope or impact.

Next time, we'll walk through a list of counter-warrants you can use in your next round.