What is the purpose of a debate?

Is the point of debating a topic to sway others to your side of the issue?

Is it to merely discuss something of interest?

Is it to clearly hear both sides of the issue?

Is it to better appreciate those who believe differently from you?

Is it to piss off the opposing side?

Is it to come to a consensus?

It’s subjective. It depends on what the person participating in the debate wants to get out of it.


Of the definitions I’ve spotted, I like this one for its relevance to the SDMB.

A formal contest of argumentation in which two opposing teams defend and attack a given proposition.

If you bring this after the Baby Formula thread (the only GD thread that you have started that I personally noticed), I have several comments.

  1. I read the first page or so of it.
  2. I did not participate.
  3. From what I read of it, the above definition fits nearly perfectly.
  4. Other poster, while agreeing that breast is best, found implementing your suggestions unworkable. (As did I)

As to the purpose:

Is the point of debating a topic to sway others to your side of the issue?

Is it to merely discuss something of interest?
No, that would simply be a discussion.

Is it to clearly hear both sides of the issue?

Is it to better appreciate those who believe differently from you?
Not necessarily.

Is it to piss off the opposing side?

Is it to come to a consensus?

Is this a debate? Maybe.

It’s to push an agenda. It’s to make people realize that your stance on an issue is the only one a rational person could hold.

If people don’t agree with you, it’s clearly because they haven’t thought things through, and are merely reaction by knee-jerk reflex.

Right, autz?

I gritted my teeth when I saw you had replied, Ferrous.

I was expecting some rebuke to my position as overly harsh. Boy, was I wrong.

I’d say the main purpose of a debate (putting aside that debates are fun) is to win uncommited members of the audience to your side. A better understanding of your opponent’s position or a consensus might result, but that’s a bonus, I think.

Aw, scott, you know I love you, man!:wink:

Actually, I thought the same thing when I saw your name on the Reply column after I posted. It just ticks me off when people play the “You only disagree with me because you haven’t thought it through” card. Which, IMO, is what autz is doing here.

Gosh, I thought this was a place to debate topics, not say rude things about the poster that has nothing to do with the thread at hand.

I liked Captain Amazing’s idea of the purpose of a debate. But I wonder how many truely “uncommited members of the audience” there are. At least on heated topics like abortion, gay rights etc., it seems that everyone already has an opinion, yet these topics are still debated enlessly.

As opposed to the “you must have meant that I have ulterior motives when you tried to find out what my motives were” card?


As opposed to the “you must have meant that I have ulterior motives when you tried to find out what my motives were” card?


A good debate should force people to examine their own views on the subject, and whether they have a sound basis for holding those views.

I like that.

Um, Tris, was that addressed to me? I’m having a hard time deciphering it.

If I’m misinterpreting you, I apologize. But here’s what leads me to believe as I do…

First we have the first sentence of your OP:

Then, after several responses explaining why your plan was undesirable, you came with this:

Completely dismissing any views other than your own.

Then, two-thirds of the way down the second page of your thread, filled with, IMO, reasoned responses, including one from a breast-feeding counselor, you say:

Which is complete bullshit. Most of the responses you received were well-thought out objections. But because they don’t agree with your position, you label them “knee-jerk”. Because if they had thought about it at all, they’d have to agree with you, right?

Obviously, you are of the opinion that folks around here are not interested in debate, and simply react emotionally to any new idea. That’s why I’m suspicious when I see a thread by you asking, “What is the purpose of debate?”

But this has probably wandered out of GD material. I will hereafter refrain from personal speculation in this forum.

By the way, you never responded to Morgainelf’s invitation.

Um… no Ferrous. The first sentence of this OP is

“What is the purpose of a debate?”

Others have given thier views on this issue, but you seem to be stuck on another thread.

I meant the other OP, obviously. But you’re right, this is a different topic, and regardless of what I believe your motivation for posting it is, I won’t hijack it any further.

I went back and read the rest of the breast feeding thread. After noting the compaints by autz about the lack of good debate, I think it is a pretty safe assumption for me that this thread is a result of that one.

With that in mind:

autz - The debate worked. You posted a position. It was destroyed. You were unable to defend it. You were not even close. Examining the idea, it clearly fails on its own merits. No one could defend it.

That is the purpose of a debate, to test ideas and find out if they are good or not.

The only part I am puzzled about it is your failure to recognize the defeat. This isn’t an especially difficult idea to judge. Are you intellectually unable to weigh the costs of each side of the arguement, or do you just have a hard time giving up on an idea because it was yours? Your idea getting trashed is NOT personal. It was just a bad idea, it died a deserved death.

Some people want to talk about this issue, some people seem determined to hijack it to discuss breastfeeding. I am one of the former.

I asked before why people love to discuss issues such as abortion, when almost everyone has already made up their mind about it. Few would realistically say the debates result in many changed opinions. I like STURMHAUKE’s idea that debates force people to examine their own views on the subject. By discussing an issue with those who hold a contrary opinion, one has to clearly elucidate idea that one has meerly ‘felt’ before.

I’ve had my mind changed by debates. Including the abortion debate. And the God debate. The hot ones that “no one ever changes their mind about.” Although, to be honest, it wasn’t one debate, or only debate that caused me to change my mind on these topics, but a combination of debate, thought, and experience.

But mostly for me the purpose of debate to be to entertain myself. Its like doing crossword puzzles.

Actually this is interesting, and until it deteriorated into another thread it was good.

It is interesting that the fact of not conceding defeat at failure to win the debate is brought up. To demand this from autz is implicitly saying that debate is a way to prove a point.

Personally I disagree, I wish that it was so, because if it would be the world would be a much better place considering that the ‘correct’ viewpoint must always win… or?

Nah… that doesn’t work!

Debate is about exposing the strengths and weaknesses of opposing arguments on a given issue, it is a war of semantics, logic, rhetoric and ideas. There is no definite ‘winner’ on either side of the warring parties, everyone loses as much if not more than they invest in the battle.

‘So it is useless’ one might deduce from my argument.

Not so!

There are winners. The winners in a debate are the participants and the bystanders that walk away with a broader view, with a better-founded set of beliefs and with arguments to back them up.

The successful winners are those who adopt their mindset accordingly.

Debate is not just a social game, it is part of the very essence of being human, it is at the core of evolving mentally and socially faster than every other species known to us. Debate is about being civilized, and maybe therefore rhetoric was also one of the first human arts to come to completion.

What we say out loud might change somebody’s mind. If we say it well enough and with good ground it might make the world a better place. If we partake in debate and thereby expand our views we might become better human beings.

I don’t know which is more honorable, but I am humbled both by the fact of giving mine and receiving all of yours opinions.

Humbly and respectfully

Actually, autz, while I cannot speak for anyone else, I find that a lot of debate on the boards can change my mind, even about issues where I believe my position is entrenched! I tend to avoid threads where people are just dug in and spouting off about their side, but when people engage in thoughtful discussion of key aspects to their position, I listen. I think.

I used to think I’d go out of my frigging mind reading debates on gun control, but I got lucky and finally read a few where people were calmly discussing the issue. One person would bring up a point, the other side’s advocates would acknowledge it and then respond to that specific point. Then there’d be a counterpoint to that respons–thoughtful, careful, on topic. Stuff like that really advances my own understanding of BOTH sides of the issue. Sometimes it helps me better justify my own original beliefs; other times it makes me see that my position wasn’t as logical as I’d believed.

There are times when it seems that debates are just about trying hard to make the other side look dumb, but when debate on the SDMB works, it’s an amazing thing.