Elements of Debating eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 138 pages of information about Elements of Debating.

In your desire to do well in refutation, do not be led to depend upon that alone.  There is no older and better rule than, “Know the other side as well as you know your own.”  Do not believe that this is in order that you may be ready with a clever answer for every point made by the other side.  The most important reason why you should know the other side of the question is the necessity of your determining the issues correctly, and thus building a constructive argument that is overwhelming and impregnable.  Many a debate has been lost because the debaters worked up their own constructive argument first, and only later, in order to prepare refutation, considered what their opponents would say.  Had they proceeded correctly, they would have destroyed the proof of their adversaries while they built up their own.

A clever retort in refutation often wins the applause of the galleries, but an analysis of the question so keen that the real issues are determined, supported by an organization of evidence so strong that it sweeps away all opposition as it grows, is more likely to gain the favorable decision of the judges.


1.  What is the purpose of refutation? 2.  What two principal methods may be followed?

3.  What must one do to refute correctly and well?

4.  Do you think it better in refutation to assail the minor points of your opponent or to attack the main issues?

5.  A fellow-student in chemistry said to you:  “The chemical symbol for water is H_{4}0; two of our classmates told me so.”  You replied:  “The correct symbol, according to our instructor, is H_{2}O.”  Did you refute his assertion?  How?

6.  A classmate makes an argument which could be briefed thus: 

Cigarettes are good for high-school boys, for: 

  I. They aid health of body, for: 
    (1) Many athletes smoke them, for: 
      a) X smokes them.
      b) Y smokes them.
      c) Z smokes them.

If you disagree with this assertion, do not believe they aid health, and know X does not smoke cigarettes, how would you refute his contention?

7.  If your opponents in a debate quote opinions of others in support of their views, in what two ways can they be refuted?

8.  In a recent campaign, the administration candidate used this argument:  “I should be re-elected, for:  Times are good, work is plentiful, crops are excellent, and products demand a high price.”  Show any weakness in this argument.

9.  Show the weakness of proof in this argument:  Harvard is better at football than Princeton I. They defeated Princeton in 1912.

10.  What general rule can you make from 9 concerning a statement supported by particular cases?



Teams.—­The opposing teams in a debate usually consist of three persons each.  A larger or smaller number is permissible.

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Elements of Debating from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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