Propositions in Debate Definition and Examples

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

debaters on stage

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In an argument or debate, a proposition is a statement that affirms or denies something.

As explained below, a proposition may function as a premise or a conclusion in a syllogism or enthymeme.

In formal debates, a proposition may also be called a topic, motion, or resolution.

From the Latin, "to set forth"

Examples and Observations

"An argument is any group of propositions where one proposition is claimed to follow from the others, and where the others are treated as furnishing grounds or support for the truth of the one. An argument is not a mere collection of propositions, but a group with a particular, rather formal, structure. . . .

"The conclusion of an argument is the one proposition that is arrived at and affirmed on the basis of the other propositions of the argument.

"The premises of an argument are the other propositions which are assumed or otherwise accepted as providing support or justification for accepting the one proposition which is the conclusion. Thus, in the three propositions that follow in the universal deductive categorical syllogism, the first two are premises and the third the conclusion:

All men are mortal.​
Socrates is a man.
Socrates is mortal.

. . . Premises and conclusions require each other. A proposition standing alone is neither a premise nor a conclusion." (Ruggero J. Aldisert, "Logic in Forensic Science." Forensic Science and Law, ed. by Cyril H. Wecht and John T. Rago. Taylor & Francis, 2006)

Effective Argumentative Essays

"The first step in arguing successfully is to state your position clearly. This means that a good thesis is crucial to your essay. For argumentative or persuasive essays, the thesis is sometimes called a major proposition, or a claim. Through your major proposition, you take a definite position in a debate, and by taking a strong position, you give your essay its argumentative edge. Your readers must know what your position is and must see that you have supported your main idea with convincing minor points." (Gilbert H. Muller and Harvey S. Wiener, The Short Prose Reader, 12th ed. McGraw-Hill, 2009)

Propositions in Debates

"Debate is the process of presenting arguments for or against a proposition. Propositions for which people argue are controversial and have one or more individuals presenting the case for the proposition while others present the case against it. Every debater is an advocate; the purpose of each speaker is to gain the belief of the audience for his side. Argument is the core of the debate speech—the superior debater must be superior in the use of argument. The chief means of persuasion in debate is the logical mode." (Robert B. Huber and Alfred Snider, Influencing Through Argument, rev. ed. International Debate Education Association, 2006)

Clarifying Propositions

"[It often requires] some work to extract a clear representation of an argument from any given prose passage. First of all, it is possible to express a proposition using any kind of grammatical construction. Interrogative, optative, or exclamatory sentences, for example, can, with appropriate contextual stage setting, be used to express propositions. In the interests of clarity, therefore, it will often be helpful to paraphrase an author's words, in expressing a premise or conclusion, into the form of a declarative sentence that transparently expresses a proposition. Second, not every proposition expressed in an argumentative prose passage occurs within that passage as either a premise or a conclusion, or as (a proper) part of a premise or conclusion. We'll refer to these propositions, which are neither identical with nor embedded in any premise or conclusion, and to the sentences by which they are expressed, as noise. A noisy proposition makes a claim that is extraneous to the content of the argument in question." (Mark Vorobej, A Theory of Argument. Cambridge University Press, 2006)

Pronunciation: PROP-eh-ZISH-en

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Nordquist, Richard. "Propositions in Debate Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Propositions in Debate Definition and Examples. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Propositions in Debate Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).