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THE ART OF DEBATE
PART I. BEGINNING PRINCIPLES
THE NATURE OF DEBATE 1
Value of Debate. - Debate is an art, which, through the
– ages, has been considered the chief means of advancement for those who are engaged in the professions of law and politics; but to assume on this account that it may be studied with profit only by lawyers and politicians is greatly to underestimate its value for the ordinary layman.
Debate is an art that develops skill in the process of influencing others to accept or reject belief; and, since no man to-day is ever free from the necessity of defending his own beliefs or of influencing others to reject or modify their beliefs, debate, as an art, is not only valuable to lawyers and politicians, but is just as valuable to all men, whatever their occupations may chance to be.
The study of debate is valuable; because it trains men in quick and accurate thinking; because it develops in them the qualities of assurance and self-reliance; because it helps them to win their daily bread; and because it enables them to rise to positions of leadership among their fellow-men.
1 For lesson assignments on The Nature of Debate, see Appendix A.
Debate as an Art. Debate is called an art for two very distinct reasons: First, because it involves a process that requires skill in its performance; and second, because it involves a systematized body of principles intended to develop skill in the performance of that process.
It differs from a pure science, in that its object is not merely to impart knowledge concerning a process, but is rather to impart knowledge and also to develop skill.
Like every other art, debate may be regarded, however, as an applied science; for many of its principles are drawn directly from the basic sciences of law, logic, and psychology.
Debate, furthermore, may be regarded as a composite art; for many of its other principles are derived from the contributory arts of rhetoric and oratory.
Definition of Debate. — The term debate, as it is employed
in this text, may be defined as the art of formal and oral controversy.
Because debate is essentially an art of controversy, it involves a process consisting of a struggle between opposing parties to influence others to accept or reject belief; and does not denote the mere struggle that takes place in one's own mind during efforts to determine belief.
Because debate is also an art of formal controversy, it should never be regarded as a process of mere wrangling ; for in wrangling no formalities are observed, and in fact no art is displayed. Debate, in contrast with wrangling, demands the formality of extended and orderly discourse in the interchange of opinion and argument.
Because, furthermore, debate is an art of oral controversy, it is to be distinguished from the allied subject of argumentation. To bring out the difference in meaning between these two subjects, argumentation may be defined
as an art that employs either written or oral discourse to accomplish its purpose; whereas, debate is an art that aims to accomplish the same purpose by means of oral discourse alone. Debate, therefore, is a specialized form of argumentation that is confined exclusively to a method of oral expression. The Purpose of Debate. -- The purpose for which debate
may be employed is either to demonstrate the superior cleverness or talent of one debater over another, or to influence others to accept or reject belief. If the first purpose is sought, the art of debate degenerates into sophistry or oratorical bombast, and is valuable only as a means of gratifying the vanity of individuals. To promote such a purpose is hardly worthy of the serious effort of teacher or pupil ; but to promote the second purpose is among the most worthy objects of education. The only worthy purpose of debate, therefore, is not to demonstrate the superior cleverness or talent of one debater over another; but is rather to influence others to accept or reject belief.
Nature of Belief and Disbelief as the Goals of Debate. Since belief or disbelief is the goal toward which a debater must strive, it is important that he should understand clearly the meaning of these terms.
Belief and disbelief represent, of course, opposite states of mind; and both are terms used to designate a mental attitude in respect to the alleged truth of an idea.
Belief is used to denote a complete certainty or assurance of truth in respect to an idea; and disbelief is used to denote an uncertainty or non-assurance of truth in respect to an idea.
Belief, when based upon reason, may be spoken of as a conviction; and, when based upon faith, may be spoken