Debates are fascinating human activities that are a mixture of logic, strategy, and show. Not everybody shares this fascination. The German author Emil Ludwig considered debates to be the death of conversation. Jonathan Swift regarded debates as the worst sort of conversation, and debates portrayed in books as the worst sort of reading. Public debates pose various interesting dilemmas. A debate between two positions gives an impression of symmetry, and engaging in a debate against an obscure or illegitimate position gives it some legitimacy and emphasis. On the other hand, ignoring obscure or illegitimate positions may also pave the way to getting them public legitimacy or to making them mainstream. A common form of debate is one in which an uninformed decision-maker extracts information from two (or more) informed debaters who hold contradictory positions on a certain issue. Weblog debates are especially interesting, as they allow an unusual amount of interaction between the debaters and the uninformed audience. Common debate practices include ample repetitions, not giving up on seemingly small issues, never admitting a mistake, trying to undermine the professionalism and integrity of an opponent and not just his logic. We can ask ourselves if these debating practices are rational and optimal in terms of influencing the audience. They probably are.

This entry was posted in Controversies and debates, Rationality and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Debates

  1. Rafee Kamouna says:

    I have to assume that I’m illegitimate, obscure,

    being give some legitmacy here:

    Even if people don’t say so, I have to select the path of self-punishment.

    Otherwise, both Aristotle & Plato would get angry at me.

    If either of them, I might be safe. But never when both.


    2 decades+ of research: sole, orphan 1 paper.

    Dubois-Prade-Godo academic empire wrote to me more than a decade ago:

    “After all this MESS, soundness, completeness and fixpoint theory are a complete DARK question”,

    After analyzing dozens of REJECTED papers, the result is that ALL is a MESS.

    Total MESS.

    ZFC is (irreparably) Inconsistent!

    Ridiculous Career,

    Publicationless author,

    Rafee Kamouna.

  2. Rod Montgomery says:

    Is it perhaps important to distinguish between two (or more?) alternative purposes of debate?

    1. To persuade observers who are undecided on the question at issue.

    2. To promote understanding of the question at issue.


    The methods appropriate for achieving one purpose are not necessarily appropriate for achieving the other(s?).

    Peter Drucker, in _The Effective Executive_, argues that good decisions must begin with rational *disagreement*. If everyone agrees before the decision, it is a danger sign: it indicates that nobody really understands the issues.

    For purpose 2, I find Herman Kahn’s concept of “higher order agreement” to be very helpful:

  3. Pingback: A Discussion and a Debate | Combinatorics and more

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