18 June 2021

What makes a good debate?


What makes a good debate?


Topic by Ines

Essay By Lawrence



The Socratic Method, is probably the most celebrated strategy to win a debate. But this is about winning debates and not necessarily about having a good debate.


Hence, the criteria and objective of a good debate may not be the same criteria as winning a debate. But what is certain is that a good topic will build expectation and might not put people off people from joining or following the debate. But as we know from experience during our meeting the topic by itself does not necessarily guarantee a good debate.


We also know that no matter what the topic is we never really know how it will end. Even the most uneventful debate might still offer the participants interesting and new arguments. Even when we think we know most of what there is to know about a topic, there is always something we missed out. Indeed a good debate is certainly one that teaches us something new or reminds us of something we forgot. And the pleasure of a good argument is independent of whether the debate is good or bad.


The participants are also a necessary factor for a good debate. It is people that make a debate good and that motivate others to participate. Some people are just gifted at expressing themselves and transmitting an argument. There is nothing more pleasurable than hearing someone speak eloquently and effortlessly. Such people are like singing with knowledge and pleasure for others.


This does not mean that the rest of us have nothing to contribute to any debate. This has been demonstrated many times of the years of our meeting that everyone who wishes to contribute to the meeting will certainly enrich the meeting.


But none of this is possible without respect for all the participants. Respect to let those who are speaking to finish what they are saying: respect by not turning a debate against the person who is speaking. Ad hominem arguments, when someone attacks the speaker rather than the argument are the death knell of a good debate. This does not mean the speaker is not wrong or talking nonsense, but rather this sort of argument takes away from the scope of the debate. The debate is about ideas and knowledge, not about people. Attack the idea or the knowledge and the person will be held to account.


But there is another form of argument that might affect the outcome of a debate and I am referring to arguments from authority. The worst type of argument from authority during a debate is to assume that just because a well known author said something which is accepted to be the truth then it is the truth and cannot be questioned. Just because a person said something it does not mean it cannot be questioned. It is more difficult to question arguments and knowledge that that has been shown to be valid and cohrent.


Another form of authority is someone who is an authority because of their social or political position. What matters to a debate is not what the “famous” persons says, but rather the information and logic of the contribution. This form of argument is certainly toxic to a debate. Political and religious dogma, for example, are not necessarily conducive to good debates, hence why we avoid these local topics in our meeting.


So, the idea that we cannot question a claim or comment because Professor X or Prime Minister Y said is absurd and certainly not harmonious to a good debate. This is not to say that someone who is a professional in a given disciple is not to be trusted, but such a person has very specific knowledge to share with others. This kind of authority ought to command respect and maybe any objection to such contribution might be abutted by other valid arguments or even taking the debate to a professional arena.


My favourite form of argument from authority is when people speak from experience. Maybe one of the reasons why speaking from experience is attractive is because the speaker can weave the details of the experience with confidence and certainly: all this despite what we know about memory loss. Another aspect might be that we can relate to the experience of other people rather than the logical and factual account of reality. A good yarn is always a good yarn.


Of course, debates are not held to change opinions, even though we should try anyway. In effect a good debate is one when those following and participating in the debate contribute to the debate and the participants learn from the contributions. Luckily everyone has something to say during a debate which is new to the rest of the forum.


Best Lawrence


Best Lawrence



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