A position is a strong opinion on the subject of a debate. Because it is an opinion, it involves something subjective, such as an ethical opinion (is wrong, is right, is unacceptable) or an opinion on policy (we should, the government should not, everyone must). It’s good to be specific about your terms in your position. Strong positions:
Teachers should not give more than two hours of homework a week.
Governments that tax over 20% of income are unacceptable because of their effect on the lower and middle classes.
Teachers shouldn’t give too much homework.
Big tax is unacceptable.
How to prepare arguments to support your debate
In debaters’ arguments, people look for the following:
Logic — you want to be logical and reasonable. Avoid fallacies like the strawman, ad hominem attacks, appeals to tradition, or hasty generalizations. Consider the connections between your different arguments and present them logically.
Evidence — you want it to be credible. Avoid using anecdotal evidence, as it is weak, and rely on examples and on statistical information. Be wary of skewed statistics, or incredible (unbelievable) interpretations of statistics (ie. lies, damned lies, and statistics).
Emotion — you want to be sympathetic: appeal to your listeners on an emotional level, but don’t overdo it, or you’ll slip into melodrama and your opponent can use it against you.
How to respond to and make rebuttals to others’ arguments, and prepare for both sides of a debate
You can attack your opponents arguments by:
pointing out logical flaws in his or her argument, such as a strawman, ad hominem attacks, appeals to tradition, or hasty generalizations.
providing contrary evidence that contradicts the evidence your opponent offers: counterexamples, or different interpretations of statistics
engaging in a counter-appeal for your audience’s sympathies, and/or criticizing the emotionality of your opponent’s argument and calling for reasoned discussion
We also discussed how to prepare for a major debate by exploring all of the possible arguments and rebuttals (and rebuttals to the rebuttals), and preparing a chart of those rebuttals for quick reference during a debate. Your homework was to prepare a page containing short summaries of all the arguments and rebuttals you could imagine for the debate topic that your group was assigned.
That brings us to this week.
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"For the correct analogy for the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting..."—Plutarch, "On Listening," Moralia
This is the website for Prof. Gord Sellar. It back up and running, though it is supplemented by the proprietary Blackboard course management system used the university where he works.