An a priori is a short, tricky argument which shows that the resolution is inherently a true or false statement. A prioris are strategic (and abusive) because if dropped, one debater could immediately win the round by proving the resolution either true or false under a truth testing role of the ballot, even if they are losing all other substantive aspects of the debate. A prioris are particularly abusive since they can be extremely short and hidden in speeches with the hope that opponents will not flow them or forget to respond. One weakness of an a priori, however, is that it requires a truth testing role of the ballot to function since it solely proves the resolution true or false.
Common a Prioris
Definitional a Prioris
Definitional a prioris incorrectly define words of the resolution to make the statement inherently affirm or negate. For instance, take the resolution, "Resolved: States ought to eliminate their nuclear arsenals."
To affirm, an a priori might go, "South Africa has already eliminated its own nuclear arsenal, and South Africa is a State. Thus, the resolution is already true, so affirm." Notice that this a priori isn't very smart. The resolution specifies "States," which is plural, while "South Africa" is a singular. Despite this slight inconsistency, if this argument is entirely conceded, some judges might be forced to affirm.
To negate, an a priori might go, "States is defined as 'a form that matter can take, including solid, liquid, or gas'. It is impossible for a solid, liquid, or gas to eliminate a nuclear arsenal, so the resolution must be false. Therefore, negate." This a priori is, similarly, not smart. However, if conceded, it could be very damaging.
Logical a Prioris
Introduction to Logic
Logical a prioris attempt to use the rules of formal logic to prove that the resolution must be true. The most common logical a priori is known as the conditional logic a priori ("condo logic"). Before getting into the argument itself, it is helpful to explain some relevant terminology.
|Conditional Statement||An "If ... then ..." statement.||If it is raining, then I will bring an umbrella.|
|Antecedent||The first part of the "If ... then ..." statement; what follows the "if."||It is raining.|
|Consequent||The second part of the "If ... then ..." statement; what follows the "then."||I will bring an umbrella.|
Pay close attention to the Logical Representation column. It is equivalent to the Example column, except it is using a mathematical variable in place of the English statement. That is, corresponds to, "It is raining," and corresponds to "I will bring an umbrella." The symbol simply indicates that the statement is of the form "if ... then ...". Now, notice that both and have the potential to be true or false. It could be raining, or it could not be raining. I could bring an umbrella, or I could not bring an umbrella. In fact, there are four unique combinations that or could hold together.
|True||True||It is raining; I will bring an umbrella.||Yes|
|False||True||It is not raining; I will bring an umbrella.||Yes|
|True||False||It is raining; I will not bring an umbrella.||No|
|False||False||It is not raining; I will not bring an umbrella.||Yes|
In the above truth table, the Valid column is meant to indicate whether the particular combination of and being true or false is consistent with the original conditional statement, . You can think about it logically. Suppose your friend tells you, "If it is raining, I will bring an umbrella." In row (1), if it is raining, and they bring an umbrella, your friend is holding true to their word. In row (2), it is not raining, yet they still chose to bring an umbrella. This might seem strange at first, but notice that your friend is not contradicting themself. They simply told you that if it would rain, then they would bring an umbrella. They told you nothing about what they would do when it is not raining. Row (4) is also fine; since it is not raining, they do not need to bring an umbrella. Row (3) presents the problem. Your friend promised that if it would rain, they would bring an umbrella. But they didn't!
"Condo Logic" a Priori
Finally, we have enough background to explain the conditional logic a priori. The argument says that the resolution should be viewed as a tacit conditional, or an statement. The conditional is, "If the affirmative debater wins the round, then they should get the ballot." The argument (incorrectly) says that denying the antecedent, , of the statement proves that consequent, , true. Therefore, if is false, must be true. In this context, that means that if the affirmative debater loses the round, they should still get the ballot! The implication, therefore, is that the affirmative debater must get the ballot whether they won or lost the round. If you are confused how the argument reached that conclusion, good. The argument is completely invalid! If the antecedent is false, the consequent could be either true or false! Look to rows (2) and (4) of the above truth table. Both of these rows are valid (i.e. consistent with the conditional statement), and in row (2), the antecedent is false where the consequent is true, and in row (4), the antecedent is false where the consequent is false. Therefore, the truth or falsity of the antecedent has no bearing on the truth or falsity on the consequent.
This incorrect a priori, however, does not come from nowhere. If the antecedent is false, the conditional as a whole, , is guaranteed to be true. You can see this by looking back to our truth table. In rows (2) and (4) the antecedent is false, and the Valid column is true. Because, in any situation where the antecedent is false, whether the consequent is true or false, you are guaranteed to have a true conditional statement. Returning to our example "If it is raining, then I will take an umbrella," suppose "it is not raining" (since the antecedent is false). Since it is not raining, you have the freedom to either take an umbrella or not take an umbrella – neither decision will contradict the original conditional statement, which means that the conditional statement as a whole is guaranteed to be true.
So, if the a priori were accurate, it would say "if the antecedent is false, then the conditional statement as a whole is true." However, this would get you nowhere in debate. Your goal is to get the ballot, , not prove the conditional statement . Sadly, this trick has been used to exploit judges and opponents who are not aware of these facts of logic.
How To Respond
Finding the a prioris can be the most challenging part of answering them in many cases. Cross-examination (CX) is a crucial time to find all the tricks. If you suspect that an opponent read a prioris, then in CX ask: "are there any arguments in the case that auto-affirm/negate absent the framework?" Many tricks debaters will do everything possible not to divulge the location or presence of tricks (after all, many tricks debaters rely on hiding arguments to win), so it is important to stay firm and prevent them from going on tangents about their case. Also, when reading through the case, don't assume that the tagline of an argument sums up all of the arguments below it. An a priori may be hidden.
One method of beating a prioris without finding them is to take out truth testing, since many a prioris rely upon truth testing to derive offense.
Making overview arguments about tricks can be extremely useful too. Including arguments such as "give new 2NR responses against a prioris because they don't have fully explained implications yet" at the beginning of a 1NR can win rounds. Even if one a priori is dropped, this argument allows new arguments against the a priori to be made in later speeches. Similarly to answering truth testing, general a priori/tricks take-outs are vital so that missing one a priori doesn't end your chances of winning the round.
Definitional a Prioris
Against definitional a prioris, the best method to answering them is to read a counter-definition. Continuing the "state" example from above, read a counter definition such as "state" is defined as "a governing body." Then explain why this definition is better than the opponent's. For instance, "when speaking about policy action, the policy definition of state is the most educational and intuitive to use." This method will allow you to answer all the definitional a prioris in a timely manner. Just find a regularly used definition of the word and outweigh their silly definition.
Logical a Prioris
Logical a prioris can be slightly more difficult to answer because the logic behind them can be difficult to understand. However, these a prioris are largely difficult to understand because they are incoherent, and your judge likely does not understand them either. You should identify the faulty logic within the justification and efficiently articulate why it is false. Even if your response isn't great, it will likely deter your opponent from extending the a priori because the judge will not be inclined to vote on it to begin with.
What Not To Do
A common issue when answering a prioris is to get stuck on one argument because it has some confusing logic or strange implication. Upon first viewing, it's very difficult to completely understand an a priori based on logic. Rather than wasting a lot of time, you could employ another strategy such as answering truth testing or making overview anti-tricks arguments. Also, try just point out the absurdity of the conclusion (instead of leaving no ink on the flow). The worst thing to do is over analyze and over answer one trick and miss five others. At the end of the day, a prioris are super silly and require very few answers (one relatively well explained answer is usually enough as long as it's paired with some other strategies) to adequately defend against them (many judges dislike voting on blippy tricks to begin with).