What does "winning a debate" mean?

By TheMiddleWay 2 years ago

We've come to expect that immediately after a televised debate, all the commentary focuses on a single question - who won. Almost without exception, new networks say their side one. Is there a way to objectively know who won?

Presidential debates are nothing like formal debates where there are preset rules which includes a scoring section to determine who won a debate. In formal debates, there are preset rules which includes a scoring section to determine who won a debate. Of course, the judges their aren't the ones participating so they are as impartial as can be expected. And there are scoring rubrics and guides to judging so that both sides are well prepared for the debate.

But in the P and VP debates, as well as on this site, both sides claim victory. To me, this sounds less like people have a scorecard and scored for and against both but it's basically saying nothing more than "the candidate that I supported before the debate did as expected, said as expected, and thus he/she won".

Here to, in, we debate, we argue, we "fight" with words. And we see the same issue: two people enter an argument and each one posts a final post claiming they won and the other side lost. This is amusing considering that these are the participant self-declaring themselves winners. And doubly amusing because there is no preset rules upon which "winning" is based upon. A quip, a fact, more often than not an insult, is all it takes to feel like a winner, self declare a winner, and that's that: I'm a winner.

There is another way to view debates and arguments. That is to opposing and supporting ideas and integrate them into your own worldview. To practice presenting your ideas, to practice defending them, to practice attacking other ideas, and sharpen your dialogue skills as well as create a more rational worldview. Under this mentally, neither side ever claims they won or lost an argument but they will often stated they changed their mind, told the other person they are right and they was wrong, complement the other on a point well made (and be complemented in turn), retracted a comment made, and even (gasp) apologize for an ill statement. In this view, becomes like a dojo: were people take turns being uke (attacker) and nage (defender) to sharpen their respective skills but not beat the other down and each walk away bruised perhaps but with friendship and respect intact.

I wonder if there is a way to change this "winning/losing" mentality.
I wonder if anyone care to use the site this way or if "feeling like a winner" is the true purpose of

What do you think it means for a person to win a debate, both in real life and online?
What do you think it means for a person to lose a debate, both in real life and online?
How can we more objectively, and civilly, discuss ideas we don't agree with and open ourselves up to the possibility of changing our minds on a topic?

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of this website or its members.

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I think that to win a debate is to utterly ridicule your opponent by showing their stupid ideology for all to see.


No debate has ever been completely won because we still fight over it all.

All arguments for better and worse just circling in the existential realm of humans imagination, an eternal infinite revolution. New becomes old, old gets pushed aside for sensationalism and repeat


In days of old, a debate was considered to be "won" if you were able to persuade the audience of your argument and bring them over to your side. These days, it seems you can put irrefutable proof in front of someone, generally resulting in a few choice epithets being hurled your way, and them disappearing back into their echo chamber where they will be comforted and told they won the debate.

A tragic state of affairs that will likely lead to our downfall.


The first few things you need for a debate to be valid on any level is...
1/ For the debate to be fair... that is, for example in a political debate... for the topics/issue/subjects to be debated to be balanced in nature and not just focussing on giving one side an advantage.
2/ For the Moderator/s to be fair/balanced and impartial. Most political debates these days never find this to be possible.


LOL hypocrisy writ large...


I don't personally believe there are proper winners to debates. There are however some measures that would decide a theoretical winner. This one is basically immeasurable, but how many people who agree with the opposition agree with you instead. Another measure is if you can get them to use emotion, and get mad, that means they're flustered. If you can get them to contradict themselves, and point it out, then that's also points in your direction.It's like a score.the more hits you get the more your score goes up.


Debate for the most part is just a game. A game of logic. The problem is that logic is generally circular in nature. For example there are thousands of perfectly logical but untested mathematical models that theoretical physicists propose but do not turn out to be useful. You can construct a model of reality, even when based on facts, that is little more than an internally consistent conformation of the original hypothesis.

The problem with political debate is for the most part they are necessarily reductionistic within a social structure that is irreducible like all complex chaotic systems. That leaves you with only the experiments history has already ran for conformation of theory.

If people enjoy debate that's entertainment. The utility of debate however is highly questionable when dealing with complex issues. The exception being when the facts are agreed on and your only trying to iron out the details.

Having studied Logic, I would argue that the only logic that is circular in nature would be Circular Logic. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if we are going to focus on logic, it may be prudent to be logical about it.


There is a difference between being logical and reflecting objective reality. In other words evidence trumps logic. God does seem to play dice. More importantly when talking about a complex chaotic system such as society standard reduction as is required for conventional logic is going come with unintended consequences.

The importance of logic cannot be underestimated but it is important to understand it's limitations.

All living things have there own logic as it applies to politics the question is who's logic.

@wolfhnd What you are referring to then, I would infer from your statement, is the erratic and often illogical state of human nature, wholly unique and independent of actual logic. I do not know where you suspect that God "plays with dice" though I will refrain from comment there lacking any context. Sociology and the other "soft sciences" are rarely logical in nature however, often reflecting the emotional ideologies of the practitioner, again, not in any way to be seen as logical in nature.

I believe that your underlying point remains true, and I do understand about the subjective state of human nature and societal or "group" think, but by and large, these remain far removed from any type of logic, even if subjective, emotional arguments do often rely on circular logic.


What makes you think emotions are illogical. Although the blind clock maker has no reasons there are reasons for instincts (emotions) we just don't have direct access to those reasons.

Logic has traditionally been the providence of philosophers although it may be it's own speciality today. Consider what Steven Weinberg has to say.

“The philosophy of science is just about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.”

Science uses logic to formulate the questions, to know where to look, but doesn't require that what is seen conform to conventional logic. Logic is a tool but the quality of the end product is defined more by the quality of the users experience than the tool.

The relationship between evidence and reason is complex. We start out with only the reason that is built into our "emotional" system. Through experience we add thinking tools to our reasoning toolkit. When we have enough experience we can reverse the process and reason where to look for experience. What we should not do is assume that where we looked didn't influence how we reason or that our reasons didn't influence what we saw.

While it is true that correlation doesn't equal causation it is equally true that you look for causation where there is correlation. Often the logic comes after the observation. If you focus to narrowly you will only see what you are looking for. It's why openness to experience defines creativity.

The more intelligent you are the the better you will be at conformation bias and suppressing cognitive dissonance regardless of the quality of your logic.

What makes you think emotions are illogical.

Because they are based on emotional response and not logical reasoning.


It's a matter of perspective. From the selfish genes point of view emotions are logical. Granted it's a brute force kind of logic that plays out over many generations so the perspective is distorted when considered from the perspective of a single lifetime.

The more refined kind of logic that you are thinking of shares the property of many generations but since it has a shorter replication period it has evolved over the course of thousands of years instead of millions. Both however rely on replication error to advance.

"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. . . . An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents: it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out, and that the growing generation is familiarized with the ideas from the beginning: another instance of the fact that the future lies with the youth."

Max Planck, Scientific autobiography, 1950,

@wolfhnd While the presence of emotions is logical, and as you noted, indeed part of our evolution ... though some people like me are lacking in terms of emotions. However, one may react or even act emotionally, but this is based on exactly that ... on emotional feeling, and not on logical reasoning.

The scientific quotation you put up is accurate, but has little to do with emotions or logic. Perhaps you are pointing out the inability of people to logically reason outside of their personal comfort zones? If that is the case, the only correlation would be that emotional systems of belief are again, separate from and lacking in a logical conclusion based on the facts.

It does however, nicely address the original post.


The point I'm trying to make is that logic as we have come to understand works within a closed system. It's similar to math in this regards. It has beautiful internal consistency but we do not live inside that system. External reality is more complex and unpredictable. Deterministic reductionism has been so successful we assume all problems are reducible.

My argument is not against reductionism itself. Complex environments require some level of reduction to be manageable. What I'm arguing against is the assumption that what has been left out of a necessarily simplified model of reality to apply a closed logical system isn't important. There are unavoidable biases that influence the pruning process. The quote from Planck illustrates the confounding nature of bias.

The secondary point that needs addressing the nature of human intelligence itself. Another quote from Weinberg may help.

"Physicists get so much help from subjective and often vague aesthetic judgments that it might be expected that we would be helped also by philosophy, out of which after all our science evolved."

Weinberg overstated the uselessness of philosophy but science is rooted in experience and imagination in ways few people appreciate. Philosophy like logic and mathematics tends to work in closed system alienating itself from experience (careful experimentation). Logic itself, at least the formal kind, is the product of thousands of years of transmitted experience, little reasoning is necessary to acquire it as a thinking tool. It is an illustration of how time and space are compressed by language resulting in human intelligence being "artificial" or swarm like in nature.


Traditionally, debates are always about finding out what is irrefutable (ie. true). The problem is, political debates are not simply about truth (although it's obviously important), but also about values. One side may value personal comfort above all else. The other side may value national growth above all else. The two sides will never agree except for compromise.

So what can come out of such a debate between those standing for these values? Can one side draw the other side to them through a change of heart? Perhaps. But that won't likely happen through rational discourse, it's far more likely to involve emotional manipulation (in the best sense of the word). And this is why the winner of a political debate will have far more to do with how well they express charisma than whether they put over a good argument.

The very fact that you apparently believe that values cannot be objectively true is why we are in the position we are in on this topic. This is the attitude of ancient Sophists and most modern philosophers, so I'm not saying that you're along in this view, but this is a very dangerous view to hold if you want to talk about debate or discourse as a method to attain truth.

@Ulthwithian Because reason provides a means to values, but values cannot always be reasoned. If someone prefers to lead their life maximizing their comfort, how do you through reason convince them it is better to lead a life sacrificing comfort so that a million others can lead a good life? There is no reason that can justify one or the other. One desires for themselves, and the other desires for the glory of the species. Evil is not simply stupidity.

Charisma... bah humbug...
give me facts and truth any day.


What I find interesting about "debates" is that most aren't. As you cited in your article, real debates don't occur in the political realm, family or social gatherings, on blogs and websites like this one, or on any of the myriad social media sites. What we normally see is two points of view clashing, making their various points, and all too often getting ugly when poor debate tactics are used. In other words, we argue. No one seldom wins an argument because how many times to you see someone have a change of mind? That normally happens only when two people have a respectful, thoughtful discussion. Any time you insert a competitive aspect, where a winner must be declared, changing minds and hearts becomes nearly impossible. So most "debates" end up being nothing more than education and/or entertaining. Those who witness the debate might learn something, but in the end, neither participant has a change of mind. I've never seen it happen.


I convinced a center-left Black female immigrant to become a #RaceRealist. I think that makes me the winner. 😊

@TheMiddleWay Apparently I can be very convincing. 😁


Using the matrix attached in your post is certainly a way to gauge an individual's performance in the debate itself, to determine whether or not any of their arguments or rebuttals helped to make their point and persuade the viewers in any way, etc. But to claim that there is even a winner or loser in a debate is nothing more than spin... the real proof of who "won" is in the end result..

@TheMiddleWay In this case, it would the winner on election day.....

@TheMiddleWay Back to my original reply.... I don't believe that there's any absolute way to measure who won and who lost... The Dems will say that Biden won, and the right will claim that Trump won, but the only real measure of that, IMO, is who captures more votes after all the ballots are counted.... This time around, unless it's an overwhelming victory for one or the other, it looks like it's going be a long, drawn out process, regardless of who appears to be winning on election night....

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