Saturday, September 25, 2004

From the Mail: Pointlessness of Debate?

John Gallagher writes:

As much as I enjoy debating with my conservative friends, I realize that it is, by and large, a waste of time. No one will convince anyone that they are wrong. Hell, we can't even agree on factual matters half the time, such as whether there is any proven meaningful connection between Iraq and Al Queda. Sources that I might present are usually dismissed as from the "liberal media", sources that they present, I am inclined to dismiss as from sources that are conservatively biased. There is no common ground on which to argue constructively. I am now convinced that liberals and conservative occupy alternative universes that happen to share the same space-time.

BV: I don't consider debate to be a waste of time even if the interlocutors cannot convince each other. Speaking for myself, I am constantly refining and revising my arguments and seeing things that I missed before. It sometimes happens that I modify my views. I see debate as a way of testing one's views.

As I see it, there are three main reasons to front one's ideas. (1) To persuade fence-sitters and bring them over to one's side. (2) To reinforce the 'already converted' in the tenets of the 'true faith' and provide them with further 'ammunition.' (3) To oppose and check those that one takes to have incorrect views and in so doing further refine one's position.

There is also a meta-level consideration. I am fascinated by, and want to understand, the nature of disagreement as such. So even as I argue P to John's ~P, I am reflecting on this diagreement as such and wondering whether it might rest on false assumptions we are both making, or some deeply ingrained antinomian structure of the discursive mind, and so on. Maybe old Sextus Empiricus was right after all, and the correct way to live involves a universal epoche of all doxastic formations.