Wednesday, February 5, 2014

On debates.

"Thoughts resemble each other so strikingly when you get to know them." - Samuel Becket
 "A philosopher who is not taking part in discussions is like a boxer who never goes into the ring." - Wittgenstein. 
It is claimed that subjecting a sound argument to rigorous debate is essential for reaching truth and correcting error caused by ignorance, confirmation bias or self-rationalization. But I remain unconvinced.

My dislike of debate and my skepticism over philosophical truth is grounded in my interest in ideas. Each philosophical question has small number of possible positions; philosophy advances slowly if at all. So philosophy, in practice, boils down to choosing among the limited number of preexisting positions and debates become genre scripts performed for an audience. Like most performances, the audience will get the most enjoyment if they are not familiar with the script. As Samuel Becket put it "thoughts resemble each other so strikingly when you get to know them."*

Some enjoy debates as an intellectual football match with strategies, counter-strategies, defences and manoeuvres; they follow philosophical debates like a football fan follows his team. Debate, for the so inclined, is a passionate competition between two people, perhaps the highest and most civilized form of all uniquely human activities. But it's still entertainment, not a lofty search for truth.

*A basic premise in Beckett's work is that uttering a word is to utter the words of others.

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