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Yesterday I posted a piece on how to derail comment threads. Today I present an outline of how to debate and what methodology is used in doing so, as well as the drawbacks inherent in using those methods.

The objective of the Negative Team is to refute the points made by the Affirmative Team through the use of convincing arguments and materials
Aristotle is considered in our culture the instigator of our debating style. Mostly through the treatise termed Rhetoric

In Rhetoric the act of debating is broken down into three essential areas ethos, pathos, and logos. These give the reader an understanding of how we as humans process information based on; our attitudes about the speaker, what context appeals to the listener, and the bare bones facts of the argument itself.

Ethos

According to Aristotle, our perception of a speaker or writer's character influences how believable or convincing we find what that person has to say. This projected character is called the speaker or writer's ethos. We are naturally more likely to be persuaded by a person who, we think, has personal warmth, consideration of others, a good mind and solid learning. Often we know something of the character of speakers and writers ahead of time. They come with a reputation or extrinsic ethos. People whose education, experience, and previous performances qualify them to speak on a certain issue earn the special extrinsic ethos of the authority. But whether or not we know anything about the speaker or writer ahead of time, the actual text we hear or read, the way it is written or spoken and what it says, always conveys and impression of the author's character. This impression created by the text itself is the intrinsic ethos.
It is difficult but not impossible for many readers to filter out the ethos portion of an argument because of their own inherent biases.

But sometimes a gifted writer or orator can appeal to their audience by forming their argument around a cause or interest the audience can identify with or relate to. This is pathos a form of 'for the greater good' method of engagement. It also taps into the emotional appeal that drives many in their viewpoint of right or wrong.

Pathos

The persuasive appeal of pathos is an appeal to an audience's sense of identity, their self-interest, their emotions. Many rhetoricians over the centuries have considered pathos the strongest of the appeals, though this view of persuasion is rarely mentioned without a lament about the power of emotion to sway the mind.

The drawback of pathos is it does not appeal to reason or logic but is a barefaced manipulation of the audiences emotions.

Logos is based on just the facts; be they scientific truths, essential aspects of our social milieu, or observations of cause and effect. Sometimes logos can be textually supported but in other cases they are opinion based and it is up to the audience to determine the strengths and weaknesses inherent in the opinion presented. For example ethical issues where the audience must choose from their own value set, the debate over assisted suicide would fall under this parameter. The most compelling arguments rarely succeed where values are challenged.

Logos

Finally, we come to the argument itself, the explicit reasons the arguer provides to support a position. There are many ways to describe the support provided in an argument, but a sample way to begin is to consider all the premises the author seems to supply. These can be scattered throughout the argument and expressed indirectly, so identifying premises is a judgment call in itself.

Next ask which of the premises are presented as objects of agreement that the arguer considers as given, elements of the argument taken for granted. Objects of agreement are basically either facts or values. Of course, the facts may not be facts and readers may not agree with the values assumed. Some of the premises will be supported further, but basically every argument has got to come down to certain objects of agreement that it presents as shared between arguer and audience.

You can also classify premises into the following categories. 1. Are they arguments based on definition? In other words, does the arguer make claims about the nature of things, about what terms mean, what features things have? 2. Does the arguer make analogies or comparisons? Does he or she cite parallel cases? 3. Are there appeals to cause and consequences? Arguing from consequence is especially common when policy issues are debated. 4. Does the arguer rely on testimony or authority by citing the received opinions of experts? Or does the author create some kind of authoritative reference group, citing public opinion on what most people think as support for his or her position?

From Rhetoric we can see that presenting mere facts is just a small portion of how we convince someone of our thesis. And they, rightly, have an opening to counter our argument. Where that becomes contentious is when their efforts are not based on anything but ethos. A clear, strong response is needed.

Arguments can be factually, morally or logically flawed. They may be misinterpretations or they may also be unimportant or irrelevant.  A team may also contradict one another or fail to complete the tasks they set themselves.  These are the basics of rebuttal and almost every argument can be found wanting in at least one of these respects.  Here are a few examples:

1.   “Compulsory euthanasia at age 70 would save the country money in pensions and healthcare.”  This is true, but is morally flawed.

2.  “Banning cigarette product placement in films will cause more young people to smoke because it will make smoking more mysterious and taboo.”  This is logically flawed, the ban would be more likely to stop the steady stream of images which make smoking seem attractive and glamorous and actually reduce the number of young people smoking.

3.   “My partner will then look at the economic issues...”  “Blah..blah..blah...(5 minutes later and still no mention of the economic issues)”  This is a clear failure to explain a major part of the case and attention should be drawn to it.  Even better is when a speaker starts with, “to win this debate there are three things I must do…”.  If the speaker fails to do any of those things you can then hang her or him by the noose by repeating their exact words – by his or her own admission he or she cannot have won the debate.

The burden of proof is the responsibility of the presenter of the initial argument. But if the counter argument delves away from the topic or is used only as a means of derision then the rebuttal has failed as well.
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