Sunday, August 26, 2007

What is Debate?

Debate is venue of reasoned discussion from two opposing sides on a well-defined context, where parties deliver their arguments in an organized fashion with the primary purpose of convincing and persuading the parliament or the audience to give merit on the contention of their cause.

Debate is tool for advocating a defined view of a particular issue with the intent of providing the relevant information and supporting details that will convince the listener to support their view.

It is an educated exercise where parties outline their arguments and offer dynamism by contributing and responding to the different issues raised by each side.

Most university debating in the world is done in what is known as 'parliamentary' format, which is based on the functioning of the British House Commons (otherwise known as the Westminster model). Because of this, to understand parliamentary debating, it is useful to take a look at how the Commons functions, and how it has been adapted for university debates. While there is a range of permutations in university styles, the basic premise is the same for all styles referred to as 'parliamentary' (as opposed to one-on-one styles, such as Lincoln-Douglas, or Cross-Examination): in each debate, there is a government and an opposition, who speak in turn, delivering timed speeches. In Canadian Parliamentary style (CP), there is one team composed of two people representing each side. In British Parliamentary style (BP), which is used at the world championships, there are two teams of two people on both sides. But the basic rules are the same--like in a Westminster parliament, there must be a motion before the house, and both sides deliver speeches in sequence, and try to convince the house (in our case, the judges) to support or defeat the motion that stands before it. In the real Commons, essentially any sitting member can propose a motion. However, in parliamentary debate, the government team alone is responsible for proposing the motion (sometimes called a 'case') to be debated. In the House of Commons, these motions can take essentially two forms. They can be motions of principle: i.e. the House can vote to condemn a particular action by another country, as a matter of principle (e.g. Apartheid in South Africa). However, these motions, even if passed, produce no binding effects. Or they can be motions of practice: i.e. the House can enact laws that are binding on the country. In this case, the motion is in fact a piece of legislation, which can be a two-page document, or a 700-page criminal code. In CP these distinctions exist as well, but only as a matter of form. Government teams can propose pure principled cases, pure model cases, or a blend of the two. There are no rules about what is a 'right' or a 'wrong' case, although knowing whether the debate should center mostly on principle or pragmatics may affect the way the debate evolves and what kind of arguments the debaters will employ. So, as in a Westminster parliament, the goal of the debate is to convince enough members of the house to support one's side of the motion. Whoever does so wins the debate. In university debating, there will always be a panel of judges (or sometimes only a single judge) who represent the 'house' vote and decide the winner. (Erik Eastaugh, Debates, Cases, Arguments, Evidence and Assertions-- the Jargon Explained)

In order to have a debate, the following must be present:

1. Topic- the subject to be discussed and debated upon.
2. Format- the certain type of debate rule that will govern the conduct and proceedings of the debate.
3. Opposing teams- they will either support or negate the topic to be debated upon.
4. Arguments- the substance which both sides will present.
5. Venue- place to be debated upon.
6. Audience- the people who will witness and assess the issues of the debate.

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