Debate: Was it Ever For the Truth?

A debate enthusiast in high school, I have always tried to understand the game from a more philosophical standpoint — why could there possibly be a debate on any topic? Does it mean that as least one side of the argument is lying? When we debate, what do we actually do? The following is a brief reflection of how I’ve seen this game — a trade I’m yet far from mastering. Enjoy.


I have learned, as a self-proclaimed debater back in high school, that no correct contention exists in this game (otherwise, why bother debating?) We combine seemingly invincible fragments of logic towards the final statement (the “for” or “against”) that are randomly assigned to us, only to hide that our whole justification process is merely a cannily sketched but biased interpretation. Thus, while I mean no offense to my colleagues, any time my team won a debate, I know all too well that we’re only more professional at deceiving the audience.

But this is no depressing claim for debaters. In fact, we never in the first place debate for the truth, for there is not one. We defend 0ur positions, present mind-opening arguments and facilitate comprehensive discussion of all subjects. Admitting the deceptive nature of debate not only reveals the game’s methodology and offers a path to mastery; it also alludes to the absence of an absolute truth. Since truth be told, even the physical reality that seems real enough is nothing but our eyes’ interpretations — this idea struck me when I realized from a biology lesson explaining how an object forms a “virtual image” on the “screen” of our retina, and has thus tricked humans to believe that they have grasped the reality. After all, on the other side of this debate on the appearance of the world, bats use ultrasound and their universe would seem much different. Our understanding of the world is a debate; all the scientists, philosophers and even priests merely debaters.

Thus I’ve embarked upon a journey of critical examination, believing that, there’s no one truth to be told but only opinions and standpoints to view from. I dismissed the notion in history class that Gilded Age tycoons are morally deprived individuals ignoring harsh working conditions, and explained why the competitive market required businesses to pursue lower costs; I did not deem it the truth, but I did prefer an economic instead of moral interpretation. I frequently indulge in wild mental experiments: if there are various split personalities possessed in my body, I’d never know the truth that I might only be one of them, since my interpretation is limited within my personality (I never crossed that possibility out; tell me one day that I’m a psychopath and I’d accept it in peace).

It is with this vigorous passion to “deny the truth and embrace one mere opinion” that I devote myself into a whole different value: if “self-evident” dogma gets in the way, contend it. If flaws occasionally do emerge in flawless theories, doubt it. If there really is no right or wrong, find your own position and prove it. In fact, debate produces anything but confusion. It’s the many unbelievable yet insightful “positions” (and not the truth, whatever that is) that have shaped our diversified world. After all, it’s the satisfaction to always end up making sense with whichever position, that keeps me fervently going as a debater.

And deceptive as it is, winning a debate (in the game or the world) is one of the most truthful practices: we promise to convince you, and we do.

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