The counterplan is an argument in policy debate, run by the negative team.

I. What does it do?

Every argument that the negative makes, optimally, serves as a reason to reject the affirmative or their plan. The negative usually claims that a counterplan serves this function in one of two ways:

  • Best Plan Theory - This sets up the debate as a game, in which the judge should simply choose whichever plan he thinks is better. (Rarely used)
  • Opportunity Cost Theory - This is the more generally accepted of the two, and the most common in higher levels of debate. This argues that the judge should vote negative, because a policy maker shouldn't pass the affirmative plan, because he would lose his chance to do the counterplan. This requires being competitive through mutual exclusivity or net benefits (see below).

Under the former, the counterplan must be mutually exclusive and be net beneficial (have some extra advantage over plan). This is as per 'debate rules.' (Generally there are no formal debate rules, but in more conservative* states there are established rule sets)

In the latter case, the counterplan must be competitive in order to serve as a reason to reject the affirmative plan. This means that either the counterplan must be mutually exclusive with plan, or that the counterplan alone must have more benefits than the affirmative plan or the counterplan + the affirmative plan. If a counterplan isn't competitive, there's no reason for the judge to vote for it if the affirmative offers a permutation. The most basic permutation is, "Do Both." If the judge is voting for what a policy maker should do, and both the affirmative plan and the counterplan are good, then a policy maker should do both of them. Unless the negative offers an argument stating that doing both together is impossible or causes a problem, the judge should vote affirmative, because the counterplan has ceased functioning as a reason to reject them.

More simply:

  • Affirmative: Here's our plan that will solve problems X, Y, and Z. This saves 2,000 lives.
  • Negative: Counterplan, feed children in Africa. This saves 3,000 lives. The counterplan is better because it saves 1,000 more lives!
  • Affirmative: Perm, do both. There's no reason why a policy maker enacting our plan couldn't go on to do the counterplan. Ultimately the counterplan must function as a reason to reject us, i.e. it must function as a disadvantage to choosing plan. As long as a policy maker could do both the affirmative plan, and the negative counterplan, there's no reason to vote against us.

*I mean in terms of the range of arguments they'll accept in debate, not political orientation.

II. What are its limits?

Counterplans have generated an enourmous amount of debate theory contemplating whether or not certain variations are legitimate. These include:

  • Negative Fiat - How much fiat power does the negative have? Can the negative fiat actors that the affirmative can't? Can the negative fiat multiple actors? Can the negative fiat at all?
  • Competitiveness - Why is the counterplan a lost opportunity? (see above)
  • Topicality - There are arguments on all sides. Some think counterplans must be topical, some think they must be nontopical, and some think either is OK.
  • Plan Inclusive Counterplans - Is it legitimate for counterplans to include part or all of the affirmative plan?
  • Plan Contingent Counterplans - Is it legitimate for counterplans to simply make the affirmative plan contingent on an external event, such as the approval of another country?
  • Multiple Counterplans - Is it legitimate for the negative to run multiple counterplans simultaneously? Are these multiple advocacies?
  • Conditionality, Dispositionality, Unconditionality - Is it legitimate for the negative to drop the counterplan from the debate?
III. Why run a counterplan?

The primary strategy behind counterplans nowadays is to absorb the affirmative's advantages through a PIC. Rather than running many DAs and on case attacks in an attempt to whittle the 1AC down to nothing, it's often easier for a negative team to concede that the affirmative plan is good... except for a particular part, which has a disadvantage associated with it (the net benefit to the PIC). This way the negative only has to win a much smaller part of the affirmative plan is bad. This is also harder for the affirmative to perm, because a straight Do Both perm is nonsensical -- you can't do and not do part of the plan at the same time.

IV. How have counterplans evolved?

There has been a trend in recent years away from totally resolutionally focused debating. Originally, it was generally agreed that counterplans had to be nontopical because affirmatives affirmed the resolution by being topical and negatives negated the resolution by being nontopical. This distinction has gone by the wayside since the adoption of Opportunity Cost Theory, and only the more tradionalist debate regions still adhere to this rule.

As new debate arguments have developed, counterplans have become part of them. Kritiks for example now often offer counterplans as a textual alternative. Sometimes this ends up transforming the counterplan, and has resulted in the creation of countervisions, textless counterplans that serve as unconditional advocacies to pick up prefiat advantages. Lastly, P2 has been proposed as a more fair alternative to counterplan theory, which orients around the negative running a normal noncompetitive topical plan in the 1NC.


Hey noders, I can't possibly hope to node all the jargon involved in policy/CX debate. Get crackin'!

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