Daniel Lemire's blog

, 7 min read

How I debate

8 thoughts on “How I debate”

  1. name says:

    The alternative to debate is force.

    Isn’t there a 3rd alternative that would help in most cases: accepting the fact that the other person doesn’t have to agree with you?

    1. You have to accept that people will disagree with you, but even so, you need to reach some common ground. You simply cannot live with people who do not follow the same rules. Well, maybe you can, but then that’s not a liberal society.

      If someone comes into your house with a gun, you call the cops and they use force. But that is, hopefully, an extreme case. Most social interactions do not work this way. So maybe you are gay and you want to get married. There is no law to allow that. You can take guns and get people to change the law. Or you can talk with them. Sure, they will disagree. But then, over time, you may reach some kind of compromise that works better than the prior status quo. You cannot make everyone agree with gay marriage, but you can build a stable consensus around the idea. So maybe you get you get gay marriage, but the Catholic priests do not have to recognize it as part of their religion. It is not exactly what you’d wanted, but it is progress and everyone is ok with it.

  2. jld says:

    No, debate is dead in the whole Western society and that will last a good (bad…) while.

  3. I find that understanding where the other person is coming from (what lies behind their position) is more instructive than the position itself. For example, knowing that pervasive distrust of institutions is behind a particular person’s anti-vax stance means that I can both understand the position, and helps me position any argument I offer to be one that might reach them (or conversely save me from offering arguments that will be dismissed a priori), to your point.

    The other thing to bear in mind is that most of the people who argue on the Internet are a relatively small sliver of humanity – the ones who are most passionate about “the thing”. Those who are most passionate are likely the least objective. Tackling them head in is almost always counterproductive.

    1. I agree. That is a good point of view.

  4. Andy says:

    It is interesting that you gave three rules of debate; the famous polymath Anatol Rapoport also gave three rules of debate back in 1960, now often called Rapoport’s rules of debate. Rapoport’s rules are listed in Wikipedia, for example, where there is also a useful reference list of related publications; see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapoport%27s_rules

  5. Delany says:

    The reason we don’t debate anymore is because of pragmatism. Why debate Brexit with someone unless you expect to be able to change their opinion/vote? Pragmatism is reductionist in nature. Grands conceits like the fate of liberalism are beyond any pragmatic concern. Education in general suffers a similar fate. We don’t require a balanced education that produces well-rounded individuals. It is far too concerned with pragmatic outcomes that serve narrow economic interests.

    1. Why debate Brexit with someone unless you expect to be able to change their opinion/vote?

      I think that I answer this question in my post. I expect to almost never change the opinion of the people I debate with. It does not mean that I do not change their views.

      You probably won’t change someone’s preference regarding Brexit, but you may get them to concede some of your points because they are objectively true. On the long run, this makes a big difference.

      Once we stop debating for the reasons that you express, then we mean that truth is irrelevant and that only power matters. Then we might as well just arm ourselves and go to war.