TED Conversations

This conversation is closed.

Is a purely logical debate possible?

Is it possible to have a debate with absolutely no emotion and using only logic? I cant imagine it being possible because even if you craft a perfectly logical argument and remove your own emotion your listeners will still receive and analyze it in light of their own emotions. As a subquestion what emotions do you think predominate debate? I would say anger and fear. Would it be possible to change that? I'm thinking of this especially in light of persuasive debate, when you want someone to do something for you.

Share:
  • Sep 5 2013: I think a better question is: Is a purely logical debate desirable?
    That would be difficult to say no to, if it were possible. Since it's not, I think the effort to remove emotion from debate is undesirable. We have all been taught that our emotions and our preferences are bad reasons to think a certain way, so more often than not we reason and rationalize a logical front for our emotions, so that our words sound logical when the real foundation for the point we're making is how we feel. This kind of false argument is unhelpful, in my opinion. I feel like arguments can be more calm, productive, and informative when we accept our emotions and incorporate them into our arguments. When we bare our souls, so to speak, our logic can accompany our emotions instead of serving as a front for them.
    • Sep 6 2013: I liked your comments. If i may ask.....Do you think debate Constrains or Expands a persons ability to Perceive and Understand Truth (whether or not that truth is in alignment with his own opinion)?
      • thumb
        Sep 6 2013: Depends on how much the person knows him/herself? How open minded a person is to different perceptions/perspectives? Intent? Does a person simply want to "win" the debate? Or does s/he genuinely want to hear and/or consider other ideas? I think/feel the person decides whether or not s/he will be constrained or expanded.....yes? no? maybe? I'm waiting for David to respond too:>)
        • Sep 6 2013: I agree with you Colleen. Debate should (and usually does) expand our knowledge. It is definitely possible to have a debate and learn nothing, though. This is usually due to our own willful blindness. What do you think, Scott?
    • thumb
      Sep 6 2013: I like and agree with your comment too David. As multi sensory, multi dimensional human beings, it seems that it would not be possible to totally remove all emotions from a debate.

      It has been mentioned already on this thread that what feels logical to one person, may not feel logical to another person. So, as you say...what we feel about something is the foundation of a debate and we can reason and rationalize a logical front for our emotions.

      I also believe that arguments can be more calm, productive and clear when we recognize and accept our emotions and incorporate them into the debate. To "Know thyself" and know where our thoughts, feelings, ideas, beliefs and opinions are coming from in our "self" is an important piece when/if our intent is to keep anger and fear out of the debate.
  • Sep 15 2013: I don’t think there’s a such thing as a purely logical debate.
    Every debate is based on intellectual conflicts, which provoke (even the slightest) anger.
    All people who take their stands on an argument want to appeal to the listeners to make them agree with them. And especially, when the opponents rub their noses in it, they can’t help feeling embarrassed and want to restore their calm and clever position(even the calmest person in the room feels such a thing as emotion. ) In an effort to do that, they try to think of something that sounds cleverer, which is partly inspired by their emotion.
    It’s almost impossible to entirely exclude one’s emotion from the process of arguing.
    • thumb
      Sep 15 2013: I'm totally agree with you Elizabeth. However, I'm still wondering whether such peaceful and joyful debates really exist and can be adapted to our daily life.
      • Sep 15 2013: True. In particular, some people tend to justify their being too emotional on debate. They just wouldn’t listen to who objects to their opinions.

        We should always aim for ideal debates nonetheless :)
        Thank you
        Liz
  • thumb
    Sep 12 2013: *My picture of the constructive debate:*

    In a constructive debate every person, first of all, fairly strives to understand his opponent. To understand what aspects of his worldview made him to think so. To understand the language that the opponent is using (his circle of concepts). To understand the true interests of the opponent.

    Depending on the answers on these questions, not always the debate is possible.

    But if possible, then the goal of constructive debate is to minimize the mistakes of own subjectivism. To do so, every person should ask himself, where is my opponent right and where I am not right (two important different questions). Everybody should correct his own view himself.

    If person is not able to participate in constructive debate because of current mindset. Then you have to accept this as a fact of objective reality. And then probably the best what you can do for him and for peace in the world, is to ask one simple but powerful question that will influence the thinking of the opponent in a positive way. But no persuasions, only one Socratic question.

    If debate is not possible because of speaking different languages. Then it is better to accept this earlier than later. And if the debate really has value for both, then both have to learn enough the language of their opponent to meet on some middleground and continue the debate. Here with middleground I mean such circle of concepts that will be enough clear to both parties. Here with "enough" I mean enough for constructive debate as it is being felt subjectively by both.

    * * *

    So, in my view, what we all could constructively do in context of the question set by Sam Blaine, is to discuss on "what is constructive debate" and then develop behavioral stereotypes for our civilization and then spread it using various media like: own behavior, essays and speeches, books and movies, and other media of the cultural code depending on our potential.
  • thumb
    Sep 12 2013: First of all, need to define the goal of debate. And here we have the problem, cos there are usually two sides participating in the debates. Therefore to be fair, you have to analyze different combination of possible goals of both parties.

    You say: "I'm thinking of this especially in light of persuasive debate".

    So, does it mean that you want to persuade somebody in something? And what is your goal then?
    1) Just to persuade without questioning whether you are right at all?
    2) Or, to understand fairly the interests of another party, then fairly figure out for yourself if your proposal truly fits his interests, and *if so* then show how "what you are proposing" fits the interests of your friend? Otherwise to change your own mind: not mind of your friend.
    3) Your variant?

    So, basically, are you ready yourself to change your mind during a debate? Are you ready to doubt the fundamentals of your position that you feel is true? Or your goal is to win? To win for what goal? For goal of domination?

    The problem lies in the nonconstructive culture of having debate. There is no behavioral stereotypes spread in the society, which could be used for a constructive dialogue instead of nonconstructive debate. I think that true democracy starts from a dialogue. So far we are far away from it. And if you want to approach this, then we have to rethink our culture and start spreading new behavioral stereotypes: influence Hollywood directors and school pedagogues. The problem is that rare people think about future today. And the problem we face is just not resolvable in the current generation. Cultural engineering is not a matter of one generation. And if the Hollywood and like that has such big power, why this power is not accountable to the people like the legislative, executive and judicial ones?

    *Abstract algorithmic of debates:*
    Nonconstructive: The person asks himself where my opponent is not right?
    Constructive: The person asks himself where my opponent is right and I am not?
  • Sep 11 2013: I don't think so. If you're having a debate in which both parties only express the logical and rational side of a topic, then it would be pretty one sided, and not much of a debate, more of a discussion.

    Say you wanted to debate the topic of global warming-whether it's real or not. Most of the facts will point in one direction, leaving the other side to rely on opinions and the power of persuasion.
  • Sep 6 2013: Q: Why would two people choose to DEBATE instead of ENQUIRE into any particular matter?
  • thumb
    Sep 24 2013: It is a tricky question :) . Because human biology won't let it happen... You have hormones in your body, this is human nature. Maybe you work on something scientific, and want to express only the logical bases of the reaults, you won't be able to do it. Because your initial aim is proving your argument and you want to show it to people. If not, why are you doing this debate :). So, your subconscious will have an intention to presuade the audience. So, every debate will include emotions. But, I have another question, why do you want to exclude emotions? They are the mile stones of persuasion in a debate, because people especially look for reliability. I'm not telling you to convince people for something that is not reliable, but if you really believe it and feel it, just let it go.. And if you are wrong, than you can accept it with courage and without arrogance.
  • thumb
    Sep 24 2013: Human being being emotional it pops up every now and then in logic as well. More over people constructs logic from their own perspective which is also biased with emotion so it's seems very difficult to have pure logical debate. In such case seems only robots can do logical debate.
  • thumb
    Sep 24 2013: Ambrose Bierce

    “Logic, n. The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and incapacities of the human misunderstanding. The basic of logic is the syllogism, consisting of a major and a minor premise and a conclusion - thus:

    Major Premise: Sixty men can do a piece of work sixty times as quickly as one man.
    Minor Premise: One man can dig a post-hole in sixty seconds; Therefore-
    Conclusion: Sixty men can dig a post-hole in one second.

    This may be called syllogism arithmetical, in which, by combining logic and mathematics, we obtain a double certainty and are twice blessed.”
  • thumb
    Sep 22 2013: Yes, logical debate is possible. However, a purely logical debate would come down to: Which information each side trusts, and what kind of logical processing capabilities each side has. If they trust the same information and follow the same logical rules, they should agree in the end.
  • thumb
    Sep 19 2013: We have to stop being human before this 'purely logical' debate would be possible. Because the entirety of human beings and humanity can not be simplified by logic.
  • Sep 12 2013: Who's logic, yours or mine?
    Let's start here:
    "Uncertainty is a uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one."- Voltaire
  • Sep 12 2013: It is possible, all you have to do is remove your own ego from the equation.

    Further there is no such thing as persuasive debate, as if you have an agenda, it therefore explicitly implies your ego will be effected by not getting the outcome you seek. A true debate is where neither party has any predetermination to a specific outcome and only arrive at a goal via reason and understanding.

    Unfortunately for humanities sake, we have a long way to go to achieve that goal of removing ego from the equation. Until then I'd suggest that at least we try to remain cordial.
  • Sep 6 2013: The purely logical debate is possible only among computers. The very moment two people start to debate , that is the proof that their emotions have instigated them to start a debate. Other wise why would two people debate if there would be no emotions , both will be happy without debate.The emotion which instigates the two people to start the debate is EGO and from ego springs out many variants of emotions.Logic is often used to justify the emotions.
    • Sep 12 2013: Unfortunately you cant see the benefit of this type of discussion, viz "Other wise why would two people debate if there would be no emotions".

      I present that maybe the people in Syria, deserve a debate like this, before the US unilaterally bombs these peoples. After all once those bombs kill, and that is their sole purpose, there is no going back.
  • thumb
    Sep 5 2013: We are not logical creatures. What seems logical to me seems like nonsense to others, and vice-versa.

    :-)
    • Sep 6 2013: I like your phrasing...
      what is logical to one
      is illogical to others
      what is obvious to one
      is not obvious to others

      where is truth to be found?
      • thumb

        . . 100+

        • +1
        Sep 6 2013: Deep inside........in the heart part of the mind.....
      • thumb
        Sep 6 2013: Hi Scott.
        I am a Christian, that became logical to me after I was obliged to check it out. Prior to this I just dismissed it on reputation (false as it turned out).
        We can look at things logically, but we have to be pretty surgical in removing our prejudice in whatever subject we are studying. Then we can stick to known facts, although our conclusions will normally be an opinion based on these facts. It is all too easy to take the route of trusting 'experts'; that usually means accepting their prejudice. What we really need are the facts that have led them to their conclusion.
        So we can have what appears to be a logical debate, but usually only with others with the same prejudice.
        Having said that; the Truth is out there. Just tackle the candidates logically, without prejudice, and the Truth should be obvious.

        :-)
        • Sep 6 2013: I enjoyed your remarks. You've made some good points. Your comments on truth reminded me of something I read a while back. Something like.....

          "We swim in Truth like fish swim in water. It need not be sought for we're In It. Seek only those things Within that veil Our View of Truth. Those things that limit Perceptions. Truth cannot be found. It must uncovered from Within"

          Have a great weekend!
        • Sep 6 2013: To claim that Christianity is a logical outcome of consideration of the relevant facts is to offer the mother of all non sequitur debates and posit it as founded on logic, in which case, we may conclude that your use of the word logic is (with all due respect) deeply flawed. A religion that relies on evidence of attributed revelation to historical unwitnessed characters we never met, and know nothing of, is so far from logic as to be ludicrous. I offer you a prophet ostensibly spoken to by his donkey, a man who lived in a big fish, 3 men who survived in a furnace, a man who remained unharmed in a den of wild lions, a city whose walls fell down at the blast of trumpets, a spinning chariot, a temporarily receding sea, the appearance of angels at odd times, a virgin birth and much else that defies any known logic except the most extremely irrational misunderstanding of the word. I wouldn't know where logic can be used to verify Noah's gathering of billions of fertile pairs of globally distributed animals and plants, let alone how his vessel might have held, fed and preserved them, leave alone perfectly replace them into flood-destroyed environments to thrive. Whatever arguments you may offer - and I've heard them all - logic bares no relation to religion whatsoever, and, nothing personal, but merely asserting it does based on your personally constructed redefinition of what we mean by logic doesn't cut it. If you mean it became obvious or convincing or appealing to you as a theory of existence; granted, it may have, (any faithful Muslim or Hindu might argue likewise), but where is the logic we are considering in any of that? Logic isn't whatever you want it to be; it is the branch of philosophy concerned with inference. You are not referring to logic, but to argument, or intuition or somesuch.
      • thumb
        Sep 7 2013: @Trevor
        Certainly got you animated anyway. One man's logic is another man's foolishness, that's how it is.

        :-)
      • thumb
        Sep 7 2013: I agree Scott. Truth is all around us, we get blinded to it by our own perceptions.

        :-)
      • thumb
        Sep 12 2013: What is the truth? The truth is that your name is Scott Bell.

        There is no absolute abstract Truth. The truth is always very concrete and specific to concrete situations.

        If somebody has some opinion about some phenomenon --> this is a truth about his opinion.
        If somebody has another opinion about the same phenomenon --> this is a truth about his opinion.

        But how somebody can recognize which of two opinions is true? The practice is the criteria. The truth is measured by the ability to forecast the behavior of the phenomenon for achievement of some goals.

        And actually it is better to use word "effective". And to not use word "true". If one estimates somebody's opinion or decision, it is better to say "this is effective or not effective for such and such goals". Same solution can have different effectiveness for different goals. There are no true solutions, but effective or not effective.

        There is no abstract truth. Truth is always very concrete and relates to our true goals.

        What is the true goals?
        The true goals are not what the person says to other or to himself. The true goals are the estimation of what person really does with his real actions. The same actions can be estimated with different goals. This estimation is always subjective. This estimation is not true or not true. The estimation is effective or not effective. Can you effectively estimate your own true goals?

        Quite different questions is what is the right goals? The matter is that the effectiveness of all goals is measured against other goals of higher order. Thus we come to the question: is there right goals? I mean the goals of some highest order, against which we estimate effectiveness of all other goals, decisions and actions. Also could be called the concept of my life

        But answer on this question completely relates to concrete worldview of each particular person. This is why I believe that it is impossible to have a constructive debate without effective understanding of somebody's worldview
  • Oct 3 2013: Logic is merely the set of variables you use to analyze a certain subject or object. The term logic is not indicative of truth or facts.

    Your logic is subjective just like emotions. Many times your logic is based, at least in part, on your emotions. You cannot have a debate without logic.

    A purely logical debate is preferred. If you aren't using logic you may be arguing based on random thoughts or ideas. Logic ensures that you are checking your thoughts for validity based on a set of predefined variables.
  • Oct 3 2013: A logical debate could be considered an exchange of facts and their strengths. With that being said you would HAVE to limit what is said and how you respond. Setting up to have a logical debate would have parameters and guidelines. Once those are changed you are now in a different type of debate - to persuade or to defend. You would assume that any debate has a base of logic unless you are looking to debate on something that has a possibility - another dimension, etc. I would prefer to see a debate with a sense of emotion and or passion. The outcome might be determined on the intensity of your presentation.
  • thumb
    Oct 3 2013: Possible, yes but highly improbable. Because once again perception and emotion are formidable foes.
  • Oct 3 2013: Humans are emotional creatures.
    Who debates? Humans.
  • Oct 3 2013: On of example of logical debate when we are debating for getting rid of unknown by defending our positions. Other will spot the flaws which we have yet perceived or at our blind angle. In this imperfect information scenaro, both will learn and improve and expand their knowledge. I think US presidential debate is close to perfect logical debate as both different view of future and their own best offer sutions. Just try to look beyond the drama and action. At the end of game, US citizen gain better fact and making better decision. Cheers
  • thumb
    Oct 2 2013: Unless you feel some emotion towards the subject of the debate, you wouldn't even bother to participate.
  • thumb
    Oct 2 2013: Yes Sam Blaine, Its possible if debate is between 2 Robots who are rich by Artificial Intelligence :D LOL

    Jokes Apart !
    NO! ITS NOT POSSIBLE,, According to Wikipedia, the Debate is contention in argument; dispute, controversy..... Well, we can see all the reasons those are responsible for the birth of a debate, actually are offspring of emotional quarrel. Dispute happens when one's emotion make him/her to support something and other's not. Even an argument is not possible if one not get hurt emotionally by other one..... :)
  • thumb
    Sep 30 2013: Are you asserting it is not possible to be logical at the same time as experiencing emotions?

    isn't it possible to feel emotions but still make a logical argument?
  • Sep 29 2013: We can make logical statements. A debate implies conflicting ideas. It is important to make or interpret logical statements without emotion. People form logical statements with conviction. When a contrary set of logical statements is presented we naturally fight our convictions. To accept new logic is to throw away an old set. It would be unnatural to do this without emotion. The real question is - why is it important to remove emotion?

    The foundation of an idea should be boundless. Otherwise we aren't being creative.
    • Oct 3 2013: Very true - it would be hard to present a set of ideas without emotion - but to exchange ideas and logic - in order to help that idea move forward - can be considered a logical debate. I would venture to say that a "think tank" starts as presenting facts n a debatable form.
  • thumb
    Sep 27 2013: Human beings are incapable of forming thought without emotion or bias. In what synaptic void might an idea arise that is not in some way affected by previous experience and perception? And into what compartment of the brain could an idea, or any input to the senses, be received and stored without feeling? Logic is a construct or framework that is used, it seems to me, just as often to justify a position as it is to arrive at one.

    The primal, adrenalin-pumping emotions once gave us an evolutionary advantage, but they are counterproductive in resolving conflict or solving issues today. Knowing that we cannot fully eliminate unhealthy emotions, perhaps we would be better off replacing them. What if we could replace anger with more temperate feelings, such as indignation or irritation? Anger requires cultivating, and the world would be a better place if we would all stop looking for ways to feed our anger, and strove to hold our tempers.

    But of all the emotions, fear is the most harmful, as it produces irrationality and a multitude of false assumptions. Fear either paralyzes, making us unable to function, or it mobilizes us into doing something that is, more often than not, ill-advised. What if we replaced fear with concern, and then followed this concern by performing a fact-based risk assessment, in order to allay our concerns? We all need to ask ourselves what we’re afraid of, and even though we may not entirely eliminate fear, we should never stop trying to overcome it.
  • thumb
    Sep 27 2013: I don't know.
    It would imply that we can be completely logical...

    Though I get thrilled (and emotional) when I had debates that come close to it. (I love debates with high quality arguments and passion, and eagerness to remove each others fallacies and thank each other for doing so...)

    One thing you need to learn: be glad if you are proven to be wrong, and admit you are learning from each other.
    Doesn't mean that I am able to do that...
  • thumb
    Sep 24 2013: Yes, I think it is possible to have a "purely" logical debate. Take Socrates and other philosophical dialogues. Their dialogues are based on logic. I think we need to clarify that pure logic should not be devoid of emotion because it's part of our human make-up. I don't think logic becomes impossible due to relativism because emotion (or as other people call "your perspective" "your experiences") play a role. In my opinion relativism is a scourge for debate, honesty, truth. Logic debate is possible. Pure logic I think needs to be clarified more. In my opinion a human being can do pure logic.. because a human being is not "pure". He/She is will, intellect and emotion.
    • thumb
      Oct 2 2013: No Catherine, I do not agree this. Philosophical dialogues are purely dialogues (and logical too), like what Socrates says. Debate is an argument not dialogues. When Socrates says something he do not argue to accept him and to follow him. He says what is not not logical ( or 'pure logical' in our language.

      Debate is only possible when someone's emotion becomes stir. when he/she do not agree this or that. when one thinks he/she is right not the other one. Dialogue do not have those Consequences....
      • thumb
        Oct 2 2013: I agree with you. You're right. I didn't really think it that way. I guess I simply thought dialogue and debate as meaning the same thing which they're not. Thanks for that.
  • thumb
    Sep 24 2013: sir, putting debate in the frame of logical is not possible at all eg even scientist disagree with each other.