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Debate: Debate vs. dialogue

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Is debate a better form of discourse than dialogue, or is dialogue better?

Background and context

Real dialogue can unleash the wisdom and power of a group that is thwarted by divisive debate.
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Motions:

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Yes

  • This house believes debate is a superior form of discourse than dialogue.
  • This house believes debate should be implemented more frequently than dialogue.
  • This house maintains that debate is a better method of citizen participation.
  • This house maintains that debate is a superior means for government action.


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No

  • This house maintains that dialogue is a superior form of discourse.
  • This house maintains that dialogue should be more frequently employed than debate.
  • This house believes that dialogue is a better form of citizen participation.
  • This house believes dialogue is a better form of government action.


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Definitions:

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Yes

Various definitions of debate:

  • Debate involves two opposing pro and con cases being presented in opposition to one another.
  • Debate involves arguments being put forth to justify why a pro or con case is superior and should be adopted.


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No

Various definitions of dialogue:

  • Dialogue involves a more flexible process in which there are no pro/con sides.
  • Participants work toward achieving a consensus as opposed to one side prevailing over another.
  • Dialogue is a search for interpersonal meaning and mutually agreed upon action.



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Solutions: Does one approach better enable the solving of societal problems?

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Yes

  • Decision-making depends on various alternatives being debated: Decision-making in the world can be defined as making choices between various alternatives. How do we make these choices? The clearest way is to examine the comparative advantages and disadvantages of the alternatives, or "debating" the pros and cons. Therefore, decision-making fundamentally depends on the practice of debating. Because decision-making is an essential function in the world, the role and value of debate should persist.
  • A combative and defensive atmosphere need not arise from a debate if an open and objective approach is taken. Debate, in its purest form, is about openly and objectively considering pros and cons with the objective of uncovering a superior course of action. One can make an argument as a "devil's advocate" simply for the purpose of consideration, but need not and should not do so because they are emotionally attached to that argument. One should not attach themselves or their emotions to the outcome of a debate or to arguments, but keep an open mind to persuasion. Such an approach will lead individuals to avoid defensiveness and entrenchment, and enable conclusion-making to proceed naturally.



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No

  • Oppositional approaches to problem solving often contribute to a defensive atmosphere and problems remaining unresolved. Many people react to debate in a defensive manner. If an individual makes an argument and someone attacks it, there is a natural inclination to respond defensively. Immediately, this destroys the notion of acting cooperatively in an effort to resolve a question or problem. Because the ultimate objective is to find resolutions, debate may actually act counter-productively.
  • Dialogue approaches an issue with the inherent aim of finding common ground and creating conditions for the resolution of problems:
  • Debate can crease false dichotomies and non-existent problems: It might create a choice between two alternatives when no such choice exists or when multiple unconsidered alternatives exist. In this sense, a debate can create a problem that might not even exist or frame a problem in an incomplete manner. This makes any solutions found through debate meaningless. (see false dichotomy subquestion section below).
  • Debate participants often deploy tactics of arguing any point just to "win". This isn't about the "truth" or resolution, but about winning and often ego. This process pervades our political system, and does not help society make progress.



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False dichotomy: Can debate avoid the problem of false dichotomy or not?

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Yes

  • A debate between two alternatives does not inherently imply that there are only two alternatives to choose from. A debate may merely be a comparative investigation between two cases. For example, a debate between the comparative advantages and disadvantages of wind-power and corn ethanol energy need not be seen as excluding consideration of all other alternatives. These other alternatives, however, should be mentioned and a thorough investigation of their comparative advantages and disadvantages should be pursued in separate debates. In these separate debates, a full picture of all of the alternatives can developed. Yet, it is important to examine the pros and cons of every alternative as compared to every other alternative.
  • If a false dichotomy is created, this is only an issue of the poor implementation of a debate: A resolution or yes/no question can and should be created to reflect a legitimate choice present in society. If this choice doesn't exist and a false dichotomy is created, this need not mean that all debates create false dichotomies. This is simply a matter of implementation, not of the inherent qualities of debate.


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No

  • Debate can lead to "false dichotomies". This is a situation where a choice is presented between two options, when in reality there may be many other alternatives to choose from. Such a false dichotomy may completely ignore a third, forth, or firth alternative. In this sense, it may ignore the best solution, making the purpose of the exercise seem tangential to finding a solution. Dialogue enables for a more fluid and dynamic presentation of issues that better represent the reality of a complicated problem and a complicated solution. In this sense, dialogue represents the full, true complexity of an issue, instead of over-simplifying it in a "false dichotomy".
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Consensus model: Is the consensus model of dialogue faulty or ideal?

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Yes

  • A consensus model devalues the legitimate place of differing values and conclusions among individuals ("tyranny of the majority"): We are not all the same. Different people hold different values in society, and this should be respected. Therefore, it is not necessary nor appropriate to expect that a group or body of people should be able to come to a single consensus conclusion; different value-judgments of arguments lead to different conclusions. On this basis, if decisions are made on a 3/4 majority what do you do with the 1/4 who don't agree? The problem is that consensus-based "dialogue" may simply exclude a disapproving minority in a "tyranny of the majority".
  • Citizens have to vote on debates: Voting for candidates or ballot measures all entail making choices between alternatives based on calculations of pros and cons. We vote for or against. We vote up or down. We vote pro or con. We have to choose. Debates are modeled around this process, and are, therefore, a better way for citizens to spend their democratic energies.



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No

  • "Truth", "righteousness", and "the right path" are legitimate notions making consensus possible. Justice and truth exist in the world. They are singular concepts that we must strive for. If everyone were just and fully aware of all the facts, they would all be of the same opinion regarding the truth and the right direction to take society. Therefore, we should not settle with members of society having different opinions, and should strive to foster dialogue toward the gaol of achieving a greater consensus around what is true and just.
  • Voting in a dialogue mode (e.g., 3/4 voting) is a way of identifying common ground among an array of options upon which group decisions may be made. It elicits and honors differences and reaches decisions that do not repress minority views.


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Virtues: Is debate better for the emotions, spirit, virtues?

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Yes

  • Debate can stimulate passions and great energy. It can get the blood pumping and elevate our hearts. This is good for the soul.
  • Citizens should be passionate about issues and take a stand: Citizens are often only motivated to take action when they become passionate about an issue. Debate fosters this and, thus, enhances citizen engagement and democracy.
  • Debate, however, need not be pinned down as passionate and explosive. Some would even argue that a dispassionate and sober approach makes more tactical sense in persuading others. Debatepedia itself, perhaps, demonstrates that a debate can be conducted soberly and with civility.



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No

  • Dialogue is a more calm, refined approach: It is not a virtue to appeal to emotions. This should not excite us. Calm, civility is a greater virtue than excited debate. Dialogue is the best way to adhere to these virtues while approaching difficult problems.
  • Dialogue is humble: We should not claim to know that an argument is right or that a case is right. We should be more humble than this. Yet, debate seems to foster circumstances in which participants take a clear stand at the outset.



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Human relations: Is debate good for relations among individuals?

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Yes

  • The exercise of debate can help individuals create a respect for one another and even friendship.


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No

  • Debate can result in animosity, hurt feelings, and long-term interpersonal damage.


Neutral arguments

  • Debate and dialogue are simply different, equally valuable means and ends. In dialogue, the objective may be to simply bring people together to interact in time and space, synchronously. The goal may partly be dialogue and interaction itself rather than achieving clear-cut answers about what is "right". There is much value in this. It may be, therefore, that different situations yield different methods and good can come from both. This argument only refutes the notion that one or the other approaches would be "better".
  • The inappropriate application of either debate or dialogue can have negative consequences:

See also

External links and resources

http://www.tau.ac.il/humanities/philos/dascal/index.html (See his link of publications for available articles)

http://www.dougwalton.ca/ (See his articles and books links)

http://ojs.uwindsor.ca/ojs/leddy/index.php/informal_logic/index (The journal "Informal Logic" now in open access)

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