Penn Speech & Debate

forensics: The art of rhetoric


"Forensics" is a word rooted in the Western world's classical experience. The Greeks organized contests for speakers that developed and recognized the abilities their society felt central to democracy. These exercises acquired the title "forensics," derived from the Latin term for ensis and closely related to forum. Because the training in this skill of public advocacy, including the development of evidence, found one of its important venues in the law courts, the term "forensic" has also become associated with the art and science of legal evidence and argument.

The American Forensics Association (AFA) is the professional organization for the many men and women who train American students across colleges and universities in the skills of public speaking and study the use of reasoned discourse in public life. The AFA
 researches and trains in the earlier and more global skills of argument and public advocacy.

The AFA Credo (approved unanimously by the AFA Membership in October 1992): 

  • Our principle is the power of individuals to participate with others in shaping their world through the human capacity of language;
  • Our commitment to argument expresses our faith in reason-giving as a key to that power;
  • Our commitment to advocacy expresses our faith in oral expression as a means to empower people in situations of their lives;
  • Our research studies the place of argument in advocacy in these situations of empowerment;
  • Our teaching seeks to expand students'' appreciation or the place of argument and advocacy in shaping their worlds, and to prepare students through classrooms, forums, and competition for participation in their world through the power of expression; and
  • Our public involvement seeks to empower through argument and advocacy.