On the Nature and Utility of Debate

I hit upon the idea of writing this article when I saw the huge list of comments on a recent article on the Medhajournal. Apart from the obvious interest I saw of the users in the subject, and each airing his/her views on the topic, sometimes as an argument to counter another and sometimes to present a totally new point of view. This article is a collection of my reflections on the

nature of debate. My observations are based on my experiences, which are definitely limited by the amount if time I have had, and the extent of my experiences, or lack thereof. Therefore, even though this article discussed the nature of debate, it too is open to debate. (I couldn't resist writing this line!!)


What is a debate? The dictionary meaning of the noun is "A discussion in which reasons are advanced for and against some proposition or proposal", while the most appropriate verb definition given by the same dictionary is "Discuss the pros and cons of an issue". The definitions given here are good for most practical purposes, but they need to include another side of debating that I will write about later in the article.

Let us begin with what a debate is supposed to be. In a debate the two (generally there are two, sometimes more are present) sides meet in order to discuss the pros and cons of an issue, and each side forwards their views on the matter, with supporting reasoning. The objective of this is to reach a consensus when both sides decide which arguments are irrefutable, and therefore arrive at a common viewpoint. The result is thus the choice of future action with which everyone is satisfied.

I contend that the debate, as explained above, exists and functions in a purely ideal world. The world we live in is far from ideal, and therefore the debate most often does not function in its intended manner. There are several other factors which enter to make the situation deviate significantly from ideality. The principal impediment to a fair debate, as I see it, is that people generally tend to refuse to accept logic during a debate. Either due to personal pride, or other reasons, people are usually stubborn, and refuse to abandon their stand, even in view of flawless logic of the opposition. In such cases, the former usually takes the help of issues which are irrelevant but serve well to garner support from the masses by exploiting the sentiment of others. Others still make use of strong words, or resort to use of a high pitched or loud voice, just to suppress the opposition, not by logic, but by brute force.

In most of the debates that I have participated in, or watched in television or in person, I have always found that no conclusion is reached. Each side is so obstinate in their own standing, that they are unwilling to accept any logic. This is one of the reasons I generally refrain from participating in debates.

When it highly likely that the opposition will never consider my logic, why should I waste my time on such a debate?

In an ideal situation where the debating sides are open minded and put logic before all other things, the debate is definitely useful. My question is, "In light of the externalities prevalent in our world, is the debate of any utility?"

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