Saturday, May 14, 2005

A lost Art? Disputation

I meant to put this quote up for quite awhile. It describes the art of disputation as it should be: a genuine pursuit of the truth through sincere and thoughtful debate,with careful attention given to listening to your opponent . Much of what happens in modern debate creates such a muddle with personal attacks, straw men, etc, which detract from the real issue. It would do much for the discussion of theology (and other things as well!) if we could emulate what is described in this quote:

"If this fundamental conviction is genuine, it must necessarily affect the mode of listening as well as the mode of speaking. Dialogue does not mean only that people talk to one another, but also that they listen to one another. The first requirement, therefore, is: Listen to the interlocutor, take note of his argument, his contribution to the recherche collective de la verite (anyone translate French?) in the same way that he himself understands his own argument. There was one rule of the disputatio legitima which made this kind of listening mandatory: No one was permitted to answer directly to the interlocutor's objection: rather, he must first repeat the opposing objection in his own words, thus explicitly making sure that he fully understood what his opponent had in mind. Let us for a moment imagine that the same rule were put into effect again nowadays, with the infraction of it resulting in automatic disqualification. How this would clear the air in public debate!"

While I certainly can't claim to have practiced this habit of disputation the best myself, I think the author is right that it would clear the air in debate. This doesn't mean it would be a miracle cure and everyone would suddenly agree, but it would eliminate so much wasteful talk and confusion about what people really mean. And in ecumenical dialogue, it would make it more evident that there are REAL differences between the various Lutheran, Reformed, Arminian, Roman Catholic, etc confessions of faith. After all, how can we communicate if we don't rightly understand both our own, and our opponent's views?

>>Quote by Josef Pieper, in the essay "Disputatio: A Needed String to Theology's Bow?" by John R. Stephenson. p284, All Theology is Christology: essays in honor of David P. Scaer 2000.

3 comments:

Jester of Alba said...

To do this would take a better man then my own tendency would demonstrate that I am. Because winning is of such a premium and not learning or instructing, the fear is that if we even try this our opponents would take advantage of our caution and win the debate with a clever sound bite.
Personally I tire of reading (and sometimes contributing to)what amounts to backbiting and argumentativeness in some Christian debates. I will have to start losing arguments (or risk it)in order to develop this habit you discuss (ok so I don't tend to win many arguments so this is not that much of a risk to my pride - LOL).

Josh Schneider said...

Yeah Jester, its true that this would be a difficult mode of discussion to implement. But for it to REALLY work it would have to be true for both sides, which is why I like the statement within the original quote, "There was one rule of the disputatio legitima which made this kind of listening mandatory: No one was permitted to answer directly to the interlocutor's objection: rather, he must first repeat the opposing objection in his own words, thus explicitly making sure that he fully understood what his opponent had in mind. Let us for a moment imagine that the same rule were put into effect again nowadays, with the infraction of it resulting in automatic disqualification."

If that rule were in practice, and people first had to demonstrate that they accurately understood the position of their opponent, as they themselves understand it, THEN argumentation would be much more productive.

Jester of Alba said...

Vastly more productive. However to re-incorporate this ideal as practice one would have to change peoples mindsets/values. It really is not conducive to sound bites. Western listeners (for the lack of a better term) especially American's, are so busy doing life that more often then not we want things condensed into bite sized pieces. This is especially the case if the subject is new to us but also hold true if value the topic. It is so much easier and quicker to sling slogans then honestly and thoroughly discuss any issue.
Despite the greater value issues I raise, I would like to try this as well (unfortunately the comment sections on blogs are not very conducive to this either) so I am working on a blog repeat back your post in my own words. It is not in any way, shape or form ready but if you happen to get a chance... Please critique my understanding.