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Technical Names of the Proposition.
circumstances the proposition is known by a variety of technical names. In ordinary controversies and in school debates it is frequently called the question; in parliamentary assemblies it takes the form of a resolution or a motion; and in courts of law it is termed the pleadings. In any form, however, and under all circumstances, the nature of the proposition is essentially the same.
Distinction between a Proposition and a Term. — The distinction between a proposition and a term is that a proposition is a complete declarative sentence expressing a judgment; and a term is a single word or phrase expressing a concept or naming a thing. To illustrate: A jury, three fourths of a jury, a verdict, competency to render a verdict, and competency to render a verdict in all criminal cases are terms; whereas, three fourths of a jury should be competent to render a verdict in all criminal cases is a proposition.
Theoretical Necessity for the Proposition as Subject. A proposition, rather than a term, is necessary as the subject of debate, because debate aims to establish or disestablish an alleged truth. Now truth consists in the actual association of two concepts; and requires, therefore, for its statement a joining of these two concepts by means of a verb that will designate the character of the association. Thus, an alleged truth demands for its expression a complete declarative sentence, or proposition.
Practical Value of the Proposition as Subject. — The proposition as the subject of debate is not only necessary in theory, but is also extremely valuable in practice; for by means of the proposition, which must be affirmed on the one hand and denied on the other, definite sides in a controversy
are established; and endless discussion about matters not in dispute is avoided. Only by means of the proposition can the exact point in controversy be determined by the debaters and be made clear to those whose decision is sought.
Requirements Governing the Subject Matter of the Proposition. Though any declarative sentence constitutes a proposition, not all such sentences may serve the purpose of the proposition as subject of debate. To serve this purpose well, the proposition should satisfy certain requirements both in regard to its subject matter and in regard to its phraseology. The requirements governing its subject matter are that it must be:
1. Adapted to Proof;
2. Adapted to Controversy;
3. Adapted to the Speakers; and
Subject Matter of the Proposition Adapted to Proof. The first requirement in regard to the subject matter of the proposition is that it be adapted to proof. This means simply that the proposition should present a problem for the solution of which it is possible both to obtain evidence and to make a comparatively thorough survey of all the evidence involved.
Propositions like the following obviously violate this requirement:
Resolved: That angels may be sent from heaven to earth without passing through the intervening space; and
Resolved: That the pen is mightier than the sword.
The first of these propositions, though discussed with delight by medieval schoolmen, is obviously one on which evidence is unavailable; and the second, though very com
monly discussed by later generations of school men and school boys, is one for which a comparatively thorough survey of all evidence is impossible. Neither, therefore, meets the requirement that its subject matter be adapted to proof.
Subject Matter of Proposition Adapted to Controversy. -The second requirement in regard to the subject matter of the proposition is that it be adapted to controversy. To satisfy this requirement, the proposition must not be altogether one-sided or capable of demonstration like a theorem in geometry, but must rather involve a problem about the solution of which there are at least two points of view and a definite clash of opinion with plausible evidence and argument on both sides. In other words, the proposition must present some possibility of proof on both its affirmative and negative sides.
A proposition that obviously violates this requirement is :
Resolved: That the date of Washington's birth was February 22, 1732.
Subject Matter of Proposition Adapted to the Speakers. -The third requirement for the subject matter of the proposition is that it be adapted to the speakers. Such a requirement means that the proposition should not involve a problem that is beyond the intellectual capacity of the speakers to handle. In other words, the proposition should not demand of the speakers a technical knowledge that they are unable to acquire within a reasonable period of preparation for debate. To fulfill this requirement most satisfactorily, the proposition should usually involve a discussion of matter that is already somewhat familiar to the speakers.
As an example, the following proposition obviously violates this requirement, when considered in reference to speakers who are wholly unfamiliar with the problems of finance:
Resolved: That Congress should prohibit by law all speculation in foodstuffs.
Subject Matter of Proposition Adapted to the Occasion. -The fourth and last requirement for the subject matter of the proposition is that it be adapted to the occasion. This means that the proposition should be timely; that it should deal with a problem of current interest; and that it should touch, at least, the curiosity, and, if possible, the special interests of those to whom it is addressed.
To illustrate: The following proposition, if debated before a conference of labor-leaders, would obviously violate this requirement; whereas, if it were debated before a conference of college presidents, it might prove highly satisfactory: Resolved: That American colleges should substitute intramural for inter-collegiate athletics.
Requirements Governing the Phraseology of the Proposition. If the proposition is to be suitable for debate, it should satisfy requirements, not only in respect to its subject matter, but also in respect to its phraseology. The requirements which, so far as possible, should govern its phraseology are that it be:
6. Unprejudiced; and
7. With the Burden of Proof on the Affirmative.
The Proposition Made Single. Since it is plainly impossible to discuss satisfactorily two distinct solutions of two distinct problems at the same time, the first requirement for the phraseology of the proposition is that it be single. The proposition must be single, in that it presents a single solution for a single problem or for a single set of related problems.
Under this requirement a simple or complex sentence, rather than a compound one, is desirable, although not absolutely necessary. If a compound grammatical construction is unavoidable in order to state the component parts of the single solution that is offered, such a construction does not destroy the singleness of the proposition in the sense in which this term is used.
To illustrate: The following proposition is objectionable, because it advances two distinct solutions for two distinct problems:
Resolved: That ex-Presidents of the United States and members of the President's cabinet should be given seats in the United States Senate with all the privileges of membership except the right to vote.
The following proposition, however, is not objectionable, because it advances a single solution involving two related component parts to meet a single problem :
Resolved: That the President of the United States should be elected for a term of six years and be ineligible for reëlection.
The following proposition, though perhaps technically within the rule, is nevertheless objectionable, because the single sweeping program for the solution of a single problem involves too many diverse and complicated component parts:
Resolved: That the present income-tax laws should be abolished by substituting for them a program of international disarmament, and a system of taxation that provides for tempo