Debate or argue?

Debate or argue?

Debating is an art form. You need to put your point forth without arguing. You need to know when you lost a point and when you may still turn the tide. You need to tell the other person to buzz off without actually saying it.


We may be able to develop this art by practising over and over again. But for that, understanding whether you are debating or arguing is extremely necessary. And that can only be done using the best debates as a framework, and the worst debates as a good line never to cross.


And so, here are the best and the worst examples of debating.


The Lincoln-Douglas Debates:


It’s 1858. The US is on the verge of disintegration. The racial tensions created from the 1857 Dred-Scott decision and the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act had once again brought the issue of slavery to the forefront. The contestants for the Illinois Senate's seat were Stephen Douglas (Democrat) and Abraham Lincoln (Republican). And Lincoln had said something very controversial. "A house divided against itself cannot stand." 


This led to Douglas pouncing on Lincoln and proclaiming him a radical, who was hellbent on disrupting the stability of the Union. As a result, Lincoln challenged Douglas to a series of debates that Douglas agreed to.


Lincoln started off on a baleful note. He warned the public of the dividedness of the political scenario and of the need to pass a law that would either abolish or extend slavery throughout the state. Lincoln upheld that slavery was a moral wrong that went against the intentions of the founding fathers. He insisted that Douglas was trying to uphold a wrong in the issue of right and wrong.


Douglas renounced Lincoln's arguments of political breakdown and disagreed with his stance regarding the intentions of the founding fathers, claiming that many of them were slaveholders themselves. Douglas blamed their disagreement on the republican ideology and concluded that this dissent was a power struggle between consolidation and confederation.


Throughout the debates, Lincoln's stance showed passivity, while that of Douglas seemed like a charade. There was no doubt that these debates were part of a political campaign. Douglas instilled hostility among the people  while Lincoln's strategies were passive.


Due to the arguments being directly placed in front of the people, these debates received massive publicity. Douglas's position resulted in the breakdown of the democratic party. Despite this, he was re-elected. But, Illinois now saw a shift in political balance. The Republicans were slowly gaining on the Democrats. Douglas was stripped of his seat soon and Lincoln was declared a candidate for presidency.


Bertrand Russell and F.C. Copleston Debate:


In January 1948, Britain witnessed a debate that would change the course of modern philosophy. BBC radio broadcasted an exchange between two British philosophers Frederick Copleston and Bertrand Russell on the topic of ‘Existence of God’. Despite being in the same profession, their stance on this topic was on two different ends of the spectrum - where one was a Jesuit priest with resolute faith in Catholicism and the other was an atheist.


The debate centered on two main themes - the metaphysical and moral arguments for the existence of god. While Copleston focused on the metaphysical aspect, Russell chose the moral side.


Copleston argued that nature consists of various elements whose existence is a mystery; and the only reason valid enough to support this, is the existence of a God. His theory stated that the Universe is made of contingent parts and contingent beings are unable to create themselves. Hence, there must be a need for someone who created the contingent beings, and Copleston believed that this was God. He also said that the religious experience people have is a testimony to the existence of God.


Russell criticized Copleston’s argument on the basis that it was centralized around the existence of a necessary being, which according to him, can only be applied to analytical statements and tautologies. Russell’s view was that the existence of the Universe was simply a brute fact and that there was no necessity to find an explanation for it.He said that the religious experiences could be attributed to a person’s morals.


One of the pros of Copleston’s view was that the people who believed it, did not have to ignore any scientific proof. All they had to do was include God in the picture - maybe as the creator of the gases that resulted in the Big Bang.


Russell’s explanation gave a very logical explanation, which is - even though there may need to be a source of existence, it does not automatically follow that that source needs to actually exist.His explanation gave way to an eye-opening revelation, that id there is a need for a superior being, why can’t it be the universe as a whole?


This debate sparked the imagination of so many people that it has been noted in history as one of the greatest debates ever.

Presidential Debate 2020:

The United States Presidential debates are held deep in the election campaigns. It is a chance for each candidate to sell themselves and their ideologies and their promises on a massive scale. The topics discussed within these are usually the ones most controversial of that time. And each side is supposed to present their arguments in a calm and professional manner. At least that’s what they are supposed to do.


This year, the debate had topics such as healthcare, economy, climate change, and the BLM protests across the United States. And it was between President Donald Trump and Mr. Joe Bidden.


The first debate started with both of them trying to sell themselves over the other. Trump, talking about his military record and Biden commenting on how the country had gotten “weaker, sicker, poorer, more divided and more violent” throughout the Trump administration. 


As the debate went on into deeper and more controversial topics, Trump started to interrupt whenever Biden tried to make his point. He was warned multiple times by the moderator to stop interrupting and reminded him to honour the format his campaign had agreed upon, but to no avail. At times, the interruptions went on to personal comments about family and how “cowardly” Biden is to wear a mask in the pandemic. It got to a point where Mr. Biden said the legendary “Will you shut up, man? This is so unpresidential.”


A post-debate CNN/SSRS poll found that 60% of debate-viewers thought that Biden had won and 28% thought Trump had, with a margin of error of six points. According to a CBS News poll taken following the debate, 48% of people thought Biden won, 41% of people thought Trump won, while 10% considered it a tie, with a margin of error of three points. In the same poll, 83% of the respondents believed the tone of the debate was negative, while 17% believed it was positive.


The personal jibes and taunts of President Trump didn’t work and only got him bad publicity after it. Not only did he paint a bad picture of himself in front of the US, but also the entire world.


This was without a doubt, one of the worst debates ever.





Very informative and very well written. Content is pure gold!


Well written!!


Insightful article! Great work; Amazing content.


We used to conduct Lincoln Douglas Debates during Camps in the past. Its a great format.