The Art of Debate


The Art of Debate

The Art of Debate

If you’re like many people, you might associate debate with either a high school or college club or a TV political “debate” that features two or more candidates talking over each other. But if a club or political showmanship is your only association with debating, you’re missing out on an exhilarating intellectual pursuit that can help you in all aspects of your daily life, from making business decisions to engaging friends at cocktail parties.
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The ability to debate—to present persuasive arguments, pierce the logic of others, and turn the tables against withering cross-examinations—is one of the truest tests of one’s intellectual capacity, yet we often relegate it to politicians and lawyers. This is unfortunate, because debate has the ability to bring us together as a society, help us hash out differences of opinion, and make stronger arguments based on reason and compromise. The Art of Debate offers you the ultimate how-to guide for this powerful skill, one with benefits for anyone who wants to make better decisions and think more clearly. Taught by acclaimed Associate Professor of Communication Jarrod Atchison of Wake Forest University, these 24 stimulating lectures will help you develop your command of logic, construct clear and concise arguments, recognize the fallacies in others’ reasoning, and sharpen your strategic thinking skills.

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Eloquent language has the power to persuade, but it is the ideas behind language, as well as the method of presentation, that truly separate the thinker from the salesperson. What’s more, the skill of debate has far-ranging applications beyond the formal stage, pervading much of our professional and personal lives. The methods taught in this course are drawn from the field of competitive debate, but you can apply them nearly anywhere: panel discussions, town halls, boardrooms, classrooms, and kitchen tables. To debate anyone—and win—is one of life’s most influential skills, and The Art of Debate gives you all the tools you need to construct winning arguments, make more reasoned decisions, and communicate those decisions more effectively.

Learn the Formal Elements of a Debate

Through a series of well-structured lectures that proceed logically through each formal element of a debate, Professor Atchison shows you how to build and defend an argument, step by step. From choosing a narrow enough proposition for a good debate to structuring your own argument to spotting fallacies and weaknesses in your opponent’s argument, you will sharpen your critical thinking skills and come away from the course well prepared for any kind of debate.

Among the skillsets you will learn, you will also:

Find out how to build affirmative and negative cases (and the goals for each party of the debate).
Explore the strategies for attacking and defending arguments during the cross-examination.
Learn to think quicker on your feet to deliver airtight rebuttals.
Delve into advanced debating techniques like those that draw from formal logic or take advantage of conceding a point.
See how the strongest debaters take notes to ensure they don’t inadvertently concede a point through omission.
Slide into the mind of the judge and discover how best to communicate your reason for a decision.

Along the way, Professor Atchison gives you insight into the rules for each part of the debate as well as what to watch out for to attack (or defend) a position. Surprising tips include:

Consider attacking the warrant that links evidence to a claim first, before attacking the actual claim or evidence.
Look for fallacies in your opponent’s reasoning, from hasty generalization to slippery slopes to false analogies.
Ask leading questions to identify holes in an argument, and use open-ended questions to set traps.
Employ conditional argumentation to acknowledge a point without agreeing to it—a powerful technique combined with even-if arguments.
And many, many more.

Strong debaters maintain a high level of strategic discipline—but they also maintain flexibility to adapt during the course of the debate. As Professor Atchison notes, even the best-laid plans won’t survive long during the actual battle.

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Apply Debating Techniques to Real-World Ethical and Business Dilemmas

While Professor Atchison provides you an abundance of insight into making an argument, the focus of this course is on applied debate—developing skills that you can apply to the real world to help you think through complex issues and arrive at better decisions. For example, imagine you are a manager faced with a difficult dilemma: should you repair some of your manufacturing equipment, or invest in new equipment? Your employees have different opinions, so what do you do?

Applying the techniques from this course, you could set up a debate to test the advantages and disadvantages of each proposal. Doing so gives you the best insight into different stakeholders, and allows you to arrive at the best decision. That’s what debate does for you: it aids your strategic thinking and decision-making abilities. Throughout this course, Professor Atchison applies what he teaches to real-world ethical, legal, and business dilemmas, as well as more traditionally structured debates on hot-button topics like:

Climate change
Open-carry laws
Medical marijuana
Physician-assisted suicide
Local tax regulations
Bathroom use laws
Carbon tax proposals
Equal pay

Professor Atchison uses these topics for illustration, without coming down on one side or the other. Instead, he shows you how someone may build an affirmative case for a proposal, how the opponent might attack it, and what the course of such a debate may look like. You’ll no doubt sit forward with ideas and arguments of your own, but the beauty of this course—and debating at large—is that there are no easy answers. People debate complex issues for a reason, and the process of debating the issue allows you to refine, qualify, and add nuance to your own reasoning.

A Practical Course for the Debate Stage, the Boardroom, or the Cocktail Party

A great debate between two well-prepared opponents is something to behold. Like a championship athletic match, there are moments of high drama, traps for one side or the other to fall into, and audacious lines of reasoning that can leave spectators breathless. But beyond the thrill of a debate itself, the techniques of debate have applications off-stage, in our everyday lives.

Whether you are trying to make a tough business decision, lead a lively discussion at the dinner table, or simply want to put a loudmouth in his place at a cocktail party, this course will elevate your strategic thinking, giving you insight not only into how to craft an argument, but how to present ideas more generally. Think of the practical lessons you will gain from the course as a toolkit that will help you create a foundation from formal debate techniques, resulting in clearer thinking and better living overall. Whether you want to join a local debate club or just want a primer for better reasoning and decision-making, The Art of Debate offers a dynamic introduction to one of life’s most fascinating skills.

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