How to Debate an Idea

Debating can be hard.

People’s feelings get hurt, issues become confounded, and arguments get lost in a void of confusing and conflicting ideas.

What’s the most effective way to argue?

First, understand that, in most cases, arguments concern whether an action or activity is right or wrong. Is a person/state/actor morally justified or not justified in pursuing a course of action? I suggest that the best way is to find two opposing ideas surrounding a subject.

Examples are key! This is the fun part about arguing and discussing ideas: you get to be creative.

For example, John and Betty are wondering as to whether killing is morally wrong. To seek the truth, they come up with two opposing examples: in one case, Betty kills John in self-defense when he tries to kill her. In this case, Betty seems totally justified in killing John. In another case, Betty hatefully kills John after he makes a bad joke. In that case, obviously, Betty has committed a terrible crime.

Now, the hard part comes in, imagine a line with each idea on either side:


Hateful Murder ----------------------------------------------------------- Self-Defense


Where does, say, killing during war fall on this line?

What about this case: John attacks Betty on the street. Betty defends herself and knocks John to the ground. John was knocked out cold but seems to be coming back to his senses. Betty has a moment to run away. However, Betty decides to not take any chances and she shoots John a few times in the chest. Just to make sure, she shoots him a couple times in the head too. What about then? Morally OK?

The point is not to debate killing, which is for another post, the point is to describe how people can debate ideas.

This methodology makes arguing ideas easy and much more fun.

To summarize:

Step 1: Define your question. For example, is killing wrong?

Step 2: Create two opposing examples.

Step 3: Use more examples to narrow in on your target question.

Step 4: Debate and decide!