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Standard of evaluation

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When we judge something as good or bad, or when we say we like or dislike something, we have a standard of evaluation underlying our judgment. In life, often, we may not express what that standard is, but over time, because of our experience and education or because of cultural experience, familial influences, or peer influences, we develop a standard of evaluation. There are different types of evaluation standards, with some of the most common being an aesthetic standard, a practical standard, an ethical standard, and a logical standard. In debate, judges most often employ a logical standard, but in other areas of life, we may employ any of other standards, more than one standard at a time, or standards of evaluation beyond these four main ones. When one becomes more aware of his or her standard of evaluation (for instance, in response to different artworks, situations, moral issues, or arguments), then one can better navigate differences between the standards of others, such as family and friends, in the personal sphere, or critics, politicians, and specialists, in academic, political, or professional spheres. Knowing our own standard of evaluation helps us understand why we may approve of one thing, but dismiss another. In addition, when we understand our own standard of evaluation, we can better explain to others (with different standards of evaluation) why we may asses the same source (such as a painting) in a different manner. The two most important keys to understanding standards of evaluation are, one, an awareness of the particular standard one is using, and two, ensuring that such a standard is fair, appropriate, and relevant to the subject being evaluated.


Aesthetic Standard

Aesthetic standards may vary widely, because they depend not only upon personal taste, but also because aesthetic standards differ from one artform or medium to the next. According to Essay Writing, Kay Stewart et al. say "The aesthetic standard is commonly used to judge works of art or the "performance" aspect of an activity, such as a political candidate's speaking skills or a figure skater's technique. When you evaluate by an aesthetic standard, you ask one or more of these questions: Is it well constructed, beautiful, pleasing to the senses? Is it well performed? Is it a good example of its kind? Each of the following claims -- that trees are beautiful, that a rock concert was electrifying, that a political speech was fumbling and ineffective -- is based on an aesthetic standard. You can most easily find examples of aesthetic judgments in reviews of books, films, and theatre performances" (127). Stewart et al. explain that "In making aesthetic judgments, we rely on two main criteria: coherence and comparison" (128). That is, we ask and assess whether something is well constructed or not. Often implicitly, we employ a comparative standard; that is, we compare an artwork to other artworks that we know and, in comparison to those works, we say whether the artwork we are examining is better or worse. Stewart et al. remind us that our basis of comparison should "be clear and appropriate" (128).

For instance, "it's hardly fair to decide that Macbeth is bad because it isn't as funny as a Woody Allen movie" (128). Macbeth is tragic Shakespearean drama, so it would be inappropriate and unfair to compare it to a Woody Allen film, because each work has different aesthetic principles, aims, and thus standards. Importantly, Stewart et al. advise us to be aware of the limitations of our experience (128). At times, we may not have the experience or education to understand a certain artistic standard, such as that of a Modernist sculpture or of another culture's dress and dance. By being aware of the aesthetic standards we do know, by understanding the aesthetic quality we personally admire, and by being open-minded when facing new artistic experiences, we will have less conflict with others who have other aesthetic standards, formal education, and cultural experience.

When a judge assesses a debate, he or she pays some attention to aesthetic. That is, the style and structure utilized by the debater will be assessed by the panel of judges. In addition, within a tournament or series of tournament, a judge may consciously or unconsciously assess the skill of one debater by comparing him or her to others the adjudicator has assessed in the past.


Practical Standard

In Essay Writing, Stewart et al declare: "When you use the practical standard of evaluation, you judge things by their feasibility and usefulness, according to such criteria as cost and efficiency" (128). Practical standards are often context-dependent; that is, a specific context or situation heavily influences what would be considered most practical and feasible.

Debaters often find themselves using the practical standard of evaluation when they are promoting or criticizing a particular course of action. If you find yourself using terms such as "efficient," "inefficient," "cost-effective," "expensive," or "practical" and "impractical," then, most likely, you are employing a practical standard. Often, the more clearly you establish such a standard, the easier it will be for judges to accept your assessments of practicality or a lack of it.


Ethical Standard

Stewart et al say, When you use the ethical standard, you judge things by their moral worth, their rightness or wrongness according to particular moral, ideological, or religious values. In identifying ethical strengths and weaknesses, you will ask questions like these: Is this right or wrong? Is this a position worth believing in? Is this a behaviour worth imitating? Is this a course of action worth following?" (Essay Writing, 129)

Ethical standards often play a central part in value debates, where differing systems of values may come into conflict. For instance, a religious system of value may come in conflict with a secular system of values. As with the other standards, whenever you are making an evaluation using the ethical standard, you need to be aware of the type of system of values you are using and you need to ensure that such a system is appropriate for whatever it is that you are assessing. Hence, in Essay Writing, Stewart et al. warn: "Your ethical judgments may be weak if you do not state your position explicitly enough, or if readers perceive your system of values as inappropriate or irrelevant to your subject" (130).


Logical Standard

While all of the four main standards play a role in judging a debate, quite often, the logical standard is the most dominant. In Essay Writing, Stewart et al. say, "The logical standard is used to judge the validity of reasoning and evidence in stated or implied arguments. The more one understands the structure of an argument and the dangers of logical fallacies (see logical fallacy), in general, and the more one understands the specific elements unique to a motion or topic, in particular, then it is more likely that one will advance a logically sound argument. Trapp et al. in Discovering the World through Debate explain the practical principles for understanding argumentation in international debating.


"Works Cited

Stewart, Kay L. et al. Essay Writing for Canadian Students with Readings. Third Edition. Scarborough: Prentice-Hall, 1994.

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