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Debate is a formal method of interactive and position representational argument.


  • [There exists a] profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.
  • [In] democratic societies … the state can't control behavior by force. It can to some extent, but it's much more limited in its capacity to control by force. Therefore, it has to control what you think. … One of the ways you control what people think is by creating the illusion that there's a debate going on, but making sure that that debate stays within very narrow margins. Namely, you have to make sure that both sides in the debate accept certain assumptions, and those assumptions turn out to be the propaganda system. As long as everyone accepts the propaganda system, then you can have a debate.
  • The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.
  • For in the absence of debate unrestricted utterance leads to the degradation of opinion. By a kind of Gresham's law the more rational is overcome by the less rational, and the opinions that will prevail will be those which are held most ardently by those with the most passionate will. For that reason the freedom to speak can never be maintained merely by objecting to interference with the liberty of the press, of printing, of broadcasting, of the screen. It can be maintained only by promoting debate.
    • Walter Lippmann, Essays in the Public Philosophy (1955), chapter 9, section 3, p. 129–30.
  • An entire generation is experiencing a crisis of free speech, of authenticity, and of honesty to oneself and one’s values. For every member of... that 62 percent of young people self-censoring, for every constructive debate that never happens, for every brilliant idea that never gets voiced, it amounts to a true tragedy. Generation Z deserves permission to engage with controversial topics and to lean into ambiguity. The realm of discomfort is where growth and discovery occur. As we come of age, we need the freedom to fumble, and the reasonable expectation of grace and forgiveness when we do.
    Unless our society abandons its censorious tendencies, it will yield a generation unable to speak freely, to take risks, or even just to be authentic.
  • I yield to no man—if I may borrow that majestic parliamentary phrase—I yield to no man in my belief in the principle of free debate, inside or outside the halls of Congress. The sound of tireless voices is the price we pay for the right to hear the music of our own opinions. But there is also, it seems to me, a moment at which democracy must prove its capacity to act. Every man has a right to be heard; but no man has the right to strangle democracy with a single set of vocal cords.
    • Adlai Stevenson, speech to the state committee of the Liberal party, New York City (August 28, 1952); in The Papers of Adlai E. Stevenson (1974), vol. 4, p. 63.
  • Argument is to me the air I breathe. Given any proposition, I cannot help believing the other side and defending it.
    • Gertrude Stein
    • First written as an undergraduate at Radcliffe College (1895); "The Radcliffe Manuscripts", Form and Intelligibility (1949)
  • Ignorantia non est argumentum.
    • Translation: Ignorance is no argument.
    • Baruch Spinoza, Ethica ordine geometrico demonstrata et in quinque parses distincta, Part 1, Addendum; Amsterdam, 1677.
    • Originally used to oppose traditional theological views that everything exists and is determined by divine intervention because no other plausible reason or explanation is seen.
  • In the national debate about a serious issue, it is the expression of the minority's viewpoint that most demands the protection of the First Amendment. Whatever the better policy may be, a full and frank discussion of the costs and benefits of the attempt to prohibit the use of marijuana is far wiser than suppression of speech because it is unpopular.
  • To me "bipartisan foreign policy" means a mutual effort, under our indispensable two-Party system, to unite our official voice at the water's edge so that America speaks with maximum authority against those who would divide and conquer us and the free world. It does not involve the remotest surrender of free debate in determining our position. On the contrary, frank cooperation and free debate are indispensable to ultimate unity. In a word, it simply seeks national security ahead of partisan advantage. Every foreign policy must be totally debated... the "loyal opposition" is under special obligation to see that this occurs.
    • Arthur H. Vandenberg, The Private Papers of Senator Vandenberg, ed. Arthur H. Vandenberg, Jr., p. 552–53 (1952).
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