Rules for Debates
- Choose a definitive formulation of the thesis you are
proposing, and communicate this formulation to your opponents at least
several days beforehand. (Proponents and opponents should be clear about
the thesis that is being debated.)
- State this formulation of the thesis at the beginning
and end of your presentation, and several times in the middle. (The
audience should be clear about the thesis that is being defended or
- Make it clear what the theoretical background of your
argument is. (E.g., in ethics: utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, etc.)
- Attempt to trap your opponent, by anticipating his
arguments beforehand and showing what is wrong with them.
- Do not be afraid to use visual aids (blackboard,
handouts, overhead projector) to make your point.
For Proponents and Opponents
- Include a conclusion in which you demonstrate
how you have established or refuted the thesis.
- Avoid lengthy and repetitive presentations of facts or
stories. Avoid mouthing a familiar party-line. Concentrate on arguments and
on thinking through to basic presuppositions.
- Use notes. If you attempt to write out every word
of your presentation beforehand it will sound wooden.
- Speak loudly and clearly, and address your remarks to
- Speak confidently; always sound as if you believe
absolutely in what you are saying, always maintain a consistent front.
- Always prepare more notes than you think you
will need. If you think you have said enough, move directly to your
conclusion. Do not leave the audience with the impression that you have
not said enough.
- Leave your personal views and your personal experiences
out of account; what is important is exclusively the quality of your
- Never concede that you agree with the other
side or suggest compromise positions. Preserve a clear opposition between
the views of proponents and opponents throughout.
- Use radical and imaginative gambits to keep the
attention and sympathy of your audience. For example: pretend to agree
with almost everything the opposing side says, but then reveal how what
your opponents say implies that they are in fact quite wrong. Or use the
method of reductio ad absurdum (i.e.
show that, if the opposing side were correct, then this would
have absurd consequences)
- Do not use ad hominem arguments. Even
perverts and criminals, even deconstructionists, can have good arguments.
The qualities of the person presenting an argument are irrelevant to the quality
of the argument he presents.