PHYS 3550 War & Peace
The culminating experience for the War and Peace cluster is our end of
semester debates. There will be class time devoted to preparing for the
debates, including a discussion of the procedures, with the actual debates
being held during the last two classes of the spring semester. With 20
students in the class Scott and I are expecting to have five debates in
total, three on May 11th and two on May 18th. Each
debate will be between four students (two on each side), with the opportunity
for audience participation.
What does it mean to be in a debate?
First of all, what does it not mean?
A prime example of the debate idea is the whiskey
speech given by then-Rep. N.S. "Soggy" Sweat Jr. on April 4,
1952, while the prohibition issue was before the Legislature. In essence
he debates himself, offering both sides of the argument, from the same
"facts" but from two different points of view.
So, what does it mean?
It does not mean a competition, at least not one to establish the truth
of one side of the argument, or to prove the other side's argument as invalid
All of our debates have no definite answer, and in all debates both the
pro and con side have valid points of view.
It does not mean that you are going to beat your opponents into submission.
It does not mean that you are going to win the debate by suddenly surprising
your opponents with a surprise statement.
It does not mean that you are going to argue the facts. They have already
A cooperation between both teams to bring out the arguments for and against
the proposition, so that the audience can make up their own minds.
A presentation of the facts from different perspectives.
Before the debate takes place you need to accomplish the following tasks.
Meet with your teams members, and decide what your main point(s) of argument
should be. Try to keep it a minimum.
Meet with your opposition, and
decide what there is that you agree on, what are the facts. There is no
point in spending time discussing anything upon which you have broad agreement
(such as definitions, data). Save your time for the issue(s) to be debated.
Agree on what you will debate. Keep it short, there is not enough time
to introduce more than two debatable points, and one would be better
Share your information. Remember this is a cooperation, not a fight to
the death. By the time the debate starts you should know not only what
you are going to say, but also what the opposition is going to say. Anything
that has not been shared is not admissible.
Make signs/posters/PowerPoint slides to help in your debate. Again, keep
to a minimum.
Although you cannot 'win' a debate, you can attempt to sway the audience
towards your point of view. There are three tactics you can use to help
See also Logos,
Ethos and Pathos by Mike Callaway, Department of English, Arizona State
logos - based on logic or reason. Scholarly arguments should be logos-driven.
pathos - based on emotion. Advertisements tend to be pathos-driven.
ethos - based on the character of the speaker. You have to be (or at least
appear to be) believable, informed, honest, etc.
Some Internet Resources
1. Any topic which could be proven one way or the other is not debatable.
For example could you debate the
proposition that the infinitely long irrational number 0.9999999.......
is in fact exactly equal to 1? No, the proposition can be proven, there
is no debate about it. (The con argument in the link results from lack
of understanding, not from a real argument.)