What is a Debate?
“It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.” – Joseph Joubert
Debate is a process that involves formal discussion on a particular topic. In a debate, opposing arguments are put forward to argue for opposing viewpoints. Debate occurs in public meetings, academic institutions, and legislative assemblies. It is a formal type of discussion, often with a moderator and an audience, in addition to the debate participants.
Logical consistency, factual accuracy and some degree of emotional appeal to the audience are elements in debating, where one side often prevails over the other party by presenting a superior “context” or framework of the issue. In a formal debating contest, there are rules for participants to discuss and decide on differences, within a framework defining how they will do it.
Debating is carried out in debating chambers and assemblies of various types to discuss matters and to make resolutions about action to be taken, often by voting. Deliberative bodies such as parliaments, legislative assemblies, and meetings of all sorts engage in debates. In particular, in parliamentary democracies a legislature debates and decides on new laws. Formal debates between candidates for elected office, such as the leaders debates, are sometimes held in democracies. Debating is also carried out for educational and recreational purposes, usually associated with educational establishments and debating societies.
Debating in various forms has a long history and can be traced back to the philosophical and political debates of Ancient Greece, such as Athenian democracy, Shastrartha in Ancient India. Modern forms of debating and the establishment of debating societies occurred during the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century.
A colleague pointed me to the ancient Indian (Jain) concept of Anekantavada. “In the classical Indian world Jains, Buddhists, and Hindus fiercely debated the nature of reality. The Jain position argues for a broad view called anekantavada (“no-one-perspective-ism”), resisting philosophical dogmatism and recognizing the good qualities of many different points of view… By this, Jains meant that in many cases the arguments espoused by the various participants in a debate all held some validity. Because the Jain position was able to overcome the apparent inconsistencies between the other views, however, it came closer to fully grasping the one underlying truth, satya.”
That is what a good debate does – bring out the multiple sides of an issue. Else, in today’s polarised world, we end up in an echo chamber – treating those with views different from ours as enemies. A good debate can just be the tonic to open one’s mind and even be persuaded to change it.
Tomorrow: Part 3