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Student Question

Compare and contrast the dialectic process with the structure followed in formal debate.

Please be very thorough and don't be brief.

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While both are forms of argument and pesuasion, the structures are distinctly different. The primary and most discernable difference is the “Turn-Taking” process – a formal debate allows one side to build an entire structure of argument before the other side gets to speak (plus, of course, a rebuttal sequence), while in dialectic discussion, each “side” responds to the other’s point immediately, forming a “give-and-take” rhythm to the discussion.   But much more important are the differences in structural “direction” – the formal debate layers solid, if assailable, facts and data into a logical sequence that leads to a “logical” conclusion – a “syllogism” whose conclusion convinces the judge or listener to adopt the view of the debater;  but, because of rhetorical devices, connotations, selective statistics, and many other allowable devices, the convincing is emotional, not merely logical.  A dialectic “direction,” on the other hand, leads to an intellectual admission of the premise, ideally devoid of sentimental bias.  The implied or stated underpinning of a dialectic is “Isn’t that so? Doesn’t your previous admission lead only to this next admission, and it to the next?”  It can be compared to a path of cheese bits leading a mouse toward a humane trap.  Formal debates can be compared to defense fortresses, against which the opposition’s forces are either not strong enough to break down the structure, or succeed in breaching the wall, after which the fortress falls.  The formal debate has a “winner” but a dialectic has a convert. A debate has roughly equal opponents, but a dialectic has a leader or teacher, and a follower or student, who does not really present a counterargument or an opposition (although some definitions call for equally strong partners).  Finally, the subject of a debate is an opinion about the real world – a political, moral, philosophical, etc. version of an arguably right action, while a dialectic dialogue is about the more abstract value of “truth,” which doesn’t have versions.

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