Sat, Jul 30, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Debating decorum

By Jerry Milis

The Taipei Times' willingness to accommodate editorial-page debate is praiseworthy.

May I share some thoughts on the concurrent responsibilities of a debater in your pages?

The debater should present facts to back up his opinions.

In the format of a general-interest publication such as the Taipei Times, these facts need not be stated in scholarly language or written in proper manuscript style.

The purpose of writing should be communication. The debater also bears the responsibility of looking beyond the debate.

The person with whom you are debating should be viewed as a partner in discovering the truth, even if one's opponent doesn't see it that way.

Benjamin Adams recently wrote a thought-provoking letter questioning the relevance of Richard Hartzell's findings on Taiwan's sovereign status (Letters, July 12, page 8).

Though I perceived an underlying fallacy similar to Hartzell's, I appreciated Adams pointing out a facet of realpolitik that warranted a reminder.

Contrariwise, the person who takes a give-no-quarter approach to written debate usually cheats himself and others by distorting, misrepresenting or suppressing facts or others' positions.

The debater bears the responsibility of knowing what the debate concerns.

If the debate is about an issue of concern to a letter writer, rebuttal should be confined to facts concerning the issue.

If the debate is about a letter writer's credentials, it should be confined to the area in which the writer is accredited, not whether he fits into a mold specially chosen by his critics.

The facts in one debate have nothing to do with the conclusions to be drawn in the other debate.

Finally, the debater bears the responsibility of the debate itself. Nine out of 10 doctors may prefer the ingredient in Anacin, but in a debate, it doesn't matter who those doctors are.

Even if those nine doctors held Nobel Prizes in medicine and the 10th doctor were Dr Pepper, the debater must still make his own case.

Jerry Mills


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