From what experience I have involving getting involved in “Great Debates”, it would seem to me that, all debaters being equal, that these debates are unwinnable. I have never heard of anyone being argued over to a new religion or philosophical stance. So, at what point does a “Great Debate” just turn into people saying “well, that’s what I think… so there”?
I would say that the GD help the lurker, or the undecided person. It’s sort of like the debates during a presidential election, where the point of the debates is to get the people on the fence to pick a candidate.
There have been threads that detailed how many of us have changed due to these debates.
By definition, debate has no essential resolution. One can extrapolate the better, more supportable arguments and make up one’s own mind. In essence, I’ve always viewed them as an exchange of ideas and facts. In contrast with a humble opinion, which doesn’t really need to be supported by facts as a debate is.
Even though people may not radically change their basic philosophies, i think a lot of people have come to moderate or rethink certain positions. I also think there is merit in the discussion for its own sake. I enjoy matching wits with those who disagree with me. It forces me to think harder, to evaluate my own positions more thoroughly, to articulate them more clearly, and even to subject myself to correction. I think of it as constantly putting my views up for peer review. If my arguments are strong they will satnd up to scrutiny, if they are weak, they will be shown no mercy and I will have learned something.
For what it’s worth, here is my opinion.
In a recent thread on ‘the conservative idea of responsibility’, in the end everyone had left the room (figuratively speaking) but akennett and me, both newbies. We managed to carefully spell out our respective standpoints and the issues that divided our positions (‘conservative’ vs ‘liberal’), and actually agreed to disagree. I even acknowledged that I did not stop debating because I had a full rational argument for my position, but because we seemed to get down to much deeper seated feelings and perspectives on the role of the state (Lockean vs Rousseauistic). Even though we didn’t convince each other, I still felt that I had learned more about what was behind the ‘conservative’ position (at least in akennetts interpretation, we don’t know what others will think). Akennett mentioned that he rarely had found that anyone gets convinced in such a kind of debate. It was all very civilized.
With that example in mind, so as far as I see the use of debates is:
- you are forced to explain and examine your own position more carefully than you would if you only spoke to like-minded people, thereby possibly strengthening your position and increasing your own understanding of what you actually think,
- you might convince the others of your point of view (yeah, right),
- you may learn about the exact nature and background of the other’s position,
- you might even be convinced of the superiority of the other position, thereby getting one step closer to knowledge,
- if neither is convinced, you may at least have developed a more nuanced view of your own standpoint.
Side effects are:
- the audience may learn something,
- it may give you an opportunity to put in a few humorous remarks, or have a couple of laughs if others do,
- you may have fun debating (I know I do).
All this assumes of course that persons are willing to interpret each other’s posts with charity, i.e. assuming the good intentions of the other, both in the tone and in the content of the post. Will-ful misinterpretation may quickly lead to nasty flame-wars, as does a tendency to choose the worst interpretation.
Debates are not about an end winner. They are more like sports games in that playing and watching is already great fun, if not for the exercise at least for the spectacle.
Of course the current debat is an exception, where my standpoint is absolutely correct and does not allow for any rational counter-argument whatsoever.
Hmmm…I used to believe that these debates were winnable, but after reading your post, I’ve done a complete 180 and now agree with you.