Is logic the most powerful debating device?

An argument, according to the dictionary I have sitting here, is:

The Highroads Dictionary, 1969, Nelson.
This is a sufficiently broad enough definition that I am happy.

Now the definition for logic, via the same source is:

Once again, a very broad definition, but will suffice.

Now often when we construct an argument, we have (hopefully) a list of points that we wish to expound. To express these points clearly, we tend to STRUCTURE our arguments so that one point will follow another in a fashion that formulates a complete argument.

Now I’ve often thought that the best way to do this is to have your points (arguments) lined up in a logical order so that:

POINT A --> directly leads on to --> POINT B --> directly leads on to… etc.

It follows then, that I would think the best way to make an argument is to ensure that your argument is LOGICAL.

Now I know maybe that goes without saying, but let’s take a moment to consider something. If logic is the best tool to use in an argument, doesn’t it make sense to say that logicians are the most skilled at debating? Surely someone who studies the very nature of logic would also produce the most logical arguments, and thus the BEST argument?

But then consider this. A logical argument must be well-thought out (perhaps in advance of the debate) to ensure that a decisive position (in the argument) is reached. You would need to structure the points in logical order so that it all made sense. However, a more lateral type of argument can make greater “leaps” in the structure of the points given - it does not have to follow the sequential route that logic must take. Perhaps someone skilled in this type of debating style, who makes his/her points more fluid and flexible can stretch an illogical line of thinking - rendering the use of logic by the logician useless.
I realise that arguments are judged on quality and merit, so there isn’t a “winner” or “loser” in numerical terms. So if we have to, we can insert this principle into the above. So it is these question(s) I wish to debate:

  1. Let us suppose that we are determining which argument is of a higher quality, or has more merit, A or B. Is logic the most powerful weapon in a debaters aresenal? If so, why?

  2. If the answer to 1) is NO, then what is more powerful (in constructing an argument) than logic, and why?

  3. If the answer to 1) is YES, then by deduction, is a logician the most skilled at formulating an argument?

Please discuss.

Logicians would tend to make valid arguments. Whether those arguments are sound would depend on the truth value of the premises. Even if you are well-versed in logic, you need to be able to recognize all the variables that affect a situation. That seems more a matter of perception than logic.

Logic, by your definition, is the only way to reason. If you discover additional and more broadly applicable rules than the current rules, then these new rules shall be inducted as the proper logic.

As I think about it, I find the answer getting rather complex. But, I believe I’ve reached the conclusion that style is as important as content.

Although I effectively pointed out all the reasons Adam Lunkin should not pounded me into the ground in eighth grade, his rebutal of “you’re a dork”, followed up with a fist, carried the day. I doubt anyone in witness would say I won that debate.

Could you elaborate on this? What do you mean when you refer to “rules”?

I believe that, generally, rhetorical skills are more powerful than logical skills in debates. Even the soundest deductive argument may be rendered irrelevant simply by denying one or more premises. But rhetoric can bring an opponent to his knees or exasperate him to the point of explosion.

No. My logic is impeccable, my evidence irrefutable, and my arguments paragons of clarity. Yet some people here stubbornly refuse to agree.

Go figure.

Little Boy and Big Man made for great argument settlers.

Logic is a necessary but not a sufficient element to win a debate.

Style neither necessary nor sufficient.

Patience is really really important; far too many debates end badly when one, both or many parties storm off having utterly lost their tempers.

Perhaps I have chosen the wrong word to encompass the concept I intended. In my example, had I been well liked, or even somehow managed to gain the sympathy of the ‘crowd’, the ‘debate’ might have been won by me, even though I ended up on the ground and in tears.

How you present information in written or verbal debate, as well as how you are preceived by the ‘audience’ is a critical part of winning.

Be honest though; is the object of a debate to win, or is it to arrive at the truth?

The rules of reasoning.

I don’t know the proper labels, so pardon these:-

Excluded Middle: A or not A (I’m either dead or alive, not some third state.)

Non-contradiction: Not both A and not-A (I’ve to be dead or alive, not both.)

Inclusion: If some A are B, all B are C, then some A are C.


I would say logic is the most valid argumentative device. Violence is always going to be most effective.

So what else besides logic wins the debate, John?

From a historical perspective, style is everything. In any public debate or parlimentary session, or in any written argument, skilled leaders have always had to pay great attention to the manner in which their arguments are presented. Word choice, sentence choice, overall structure of the article or speech … no debater has ever been successful without paying attention to these things.

Logic is the cornerstone of any good debate, but I think that other factors are more important than logic. Good rhetoric skills will be quite helpful, and a grasp of how to apply logic to particular situations is also extremely important. Very rarely do debates take a strictly logical format. Logical arguments are powerful, but they are wide open to a variety of attacks:

  1. Denying the soundness of the premises, as mentioned. Since the truth value of the conclusion in a valid deduction is dependent on the truth of the premises, one can respect the argument without accepting its conclusion by denying the premises. Usually, the premises are not supported by strict logical reasoning, but instead by definition, intuition, rhetoric, common practice, or any number of other non-logical (which is not to say irrational) methods of justification. This leaves them open for attack by any number of methods, like skepticism, misuse of words, accusations of begged questions, and so on.

  2. Denying that the subject under consideration is properly encapsulated by logical arguments. Not everything that acts as a grammatical subject can have a place in a logical argument. Though we may speak of color as “Blue is my favorite color”, I think one could make a good case that blue is not something that can be logically predicated of, and so no logical argument exists, except trivial assertions, which would suggest that blue is the best color (or whatever). This is a subtle but powerful method of response. For logical proofs to hold, the deductive methods must hold over the item under consideration. As a rough example, consider that one could roughly use induction to demonstrate that an atom has no electrons because an electron cannot be said to occupy any particular position anywhere around the atom.

  3. Denying a particular rule. The law of the excluded middle is good for this, because not everything we wish to consider in debates are binary, or at least it is not trivial to show that they are. For instance, it would be hard to form agreement that, “Either a thing is conscious or it is not,” because I think a lot of people would consider consciousness as something that a) has degrees and b) is not well-defined. In order to rectify those conditions, we often restrict the definition in question for our purposes; but when we still keep the same term and yet restrict its definition, unspoken assumptions usually slip in somewhere because of nonstandard use. Properly deliniating terms (through puncuation, renaming, or other markings) can help alleviate this, but often one will find, then, that one’s proof wasn’t as strong as thought. I would almost always deny the law of the excluded middle in cases where there is no unambiguous method of selection (e.g., bald man problems).

Generally, we use logic to make inferences while preserving truth. But we do not often use logic in order to establish truth itself. Logic, more properly I think, is the science of validity.

Excellent analysis, Eris.

There are many debates in which logic has very little place. Consider any sort of ethical or faith-based debate, e.g. “Should abortion be legal” or “Does God exist?”. No matter how careful your reasoning, your premise is always going to come down to “I believe X”, which means that your audience is only going to buy your conclusion if they also believe X. (Logic * is * useful if your opponent is claiming that a faith-based argument is provable, because you can track back to the questionable premise and show that the argument is shaky.)

Logic is also very hard to use when it comes to things that are tough to quantify or in situations where key factors are unknown. Which is why so very many debates rage endlessly. If someone is arguing that apples are tastier than oranges, or even that Macintosh apples are better than Golden Delicious, this is not an argument in which logic is going to help a whole bunch. All you can do is try to persuade your listeners that certain parameters are important enough to swing the balance. E.g. Yes, I know [Republicans/Democrats] are hypocritical weasels, but at least they are [against/for] [taxes, abortion, the joining in wedded bliss of hemaphrodites from other planets].

It is absurd to suggest that logic has very little place in ontological debates like “Does God exist?”. It is moreover absurd to suggest that the premises of an ontological argument are any more based on “I believe X” than the premises of any other argument. If you disagree, then I challenge you to prove Peano’s fifth axiom deductively.

I may be completely misunderstanding your point as you failed to make it explicit, possibly hoping that I would be awed by your reference to basic number theory. If so, you have failed to reckon with the wonders of Google. Anyway, I believe that you are not distinguishing between a faith-based premise and a premise that is based on a definition. In the case of Peano’s axiom (again, assuming I understand your point), 0 is defined as a natural number with certain properties.

There are distinctions between a faith-based premise and a definition, even if you don’t include the one that hardly anyone has been burned at the stake for arguing that 0 is not a natural number. The whole point of logic is that given a premise, you can build a logically sound framework around it. It doesn’t make it necessarily true, however in the case of, say, number theory, it makes it useful.