The Art of Debate

Course No. 2002
Professor Jarrod Atchison, Ph.D.
Wake Forest University
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Course No. 2002
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Explore the elements of a formal debate and see how structured argumentation can help you clarify your thinking and make better decisions.
  • numbers Study real-world dilemmas to unpack the techniques of a good debate so you can make stronger arguments in your own life.
  • numbers Discover the thrill of a serious, professional debate. Find out why debates matter and what they can offer everyday citizens.
  • numbers From building cases to winning a cross-examination to communicating decisions, uncover the elements necessary to become a great debater.

Course Overview

If you’re like many people, you might associate debate with either a high school or college club or a TV political “debate” that features two or more candidates talking over each other. But if a club or political showmanship is your only association with debating, you’re missing out on an exhilarating intellectual pursuit that can help you in all aspects of your daily life, from making business decisions to engaging friends at cocktail parties.

The ability to debate—to present persuasive arguments, pierce the logic of others, and turn the tables against withering cross-examinations—is one of the truest tests of one’s intellectual capacity, yet we often relegate it to politicians and lawyers. This is unfortunate, because debate has the ability to bring us together as a society, help us hash out differences of opinion, and make stronger arguments based on reason and compromise. The Art of Debate offers you the ultimate how-to guide for this powerful skill, one with benefits for anyone who wants to make better decisions and think more clearly. Taught by acclaimed Associate Professor of Communication Jarrod Atchison of Wake Forest University, these 24 stimulating lectures will help you develop your command of logic, construct clear and concise arguments, recognize the fallacies in others’ reasoning, and sharpen your strategic thinking skills.

Eloquent language has the power to persuade, but it is the ideas behind language, as well as the method of presentation, that truly separate the thinker from the salesperson. What’s more, the skill of debate has far-ranging applications beyond the formal stage, pervading much of our professional and personal lives. The methods taught in this course are drawn from the field of competitive debate, but you can apply them nearly anywhere: panel discussions, town halls, boardrooms, classrooms, and kitchen tables. To debate anyone—and win—is one of life’s most influential skills, and The Art of Debate gives you all the tools you need to construct winning arguments, make more reasoned decisions, and communicate those decisions more effectively.

Learn the Formal Elements of a Debate

Through a series of well-structured lectures that proceed logically through each formal element of a debate, Professor Atchison shows you how to build and defend an argument, step by step. From choosing a narrow enough proposition for a good debate to structuring your own argument to spotting fallacies and weaknesses in your opponent’s argument, you will sharpen your critical thinking skills and come away from the course well prepared for any kind of debate.

Among the skillsets you will learn, you will also:

  • Find out how to build affirmative and negative cases (and the goals for each party of the debate).
  • Explore the strategies for attacking and defending arguments during the cross-examination.
  • Learn to think quicker on your feet to deliver airtight rebuttals.
  • Delve into advanced debating techniques like those that draw from formal logic or take advantage of conceding a point.
  • See how the strongest debaters take notes to ensure they don’t inadvertently concede a point through omission.
  • Slide into the mind of the judge and discover how best to communicate your reason for a decision.

Along the way, Professor Atchison gives you insight into the rules for each part of the debate as well as what to watch out for to attack (or defend) a position. Surprising tips include:

  • Consider attacking the warrant that links evidence to a claim first, before attacking the actual claim or evidence.
  • Look for fallacies in your opponent’s reasoning, from hasty generalization to slippery slopes to false analogies.
  • Ask leading questions to identify holes in an argument, and use open-ended questions to set traps.
  • Employ conditional argumentation to acknowledge a point without agreeing to it—a powerful technique combined with even-if arguments.
  • And many, many more.

Strong debaters maintain a high level of strategic discipline—but they also maintain flexibility to adapt during the course of the debate. As Professor Atchison notes, even the best-laid plans won’t survive long during the actual battle.

Apply Debating Techniques to Real-World Ethical and Business Dilemmas

While Professor Atchison provides you an abundance of insight into making an argument, the focus of this course is on applied debate—developing skills that you can apply to the real world to help you think through complex issues and arrive at better decisions. For example, imagine you are a manager faced with a difficult dilemma: should you repair some of your manufacturing equipment, or invest in new equipment? Your employees have different opinions, so what do you do?

Applying the techniques from this course, you could set up a debate to test the advantages and disadvantages of each proposal. Doing so gives you the best insight into different stakeholders, and allows you to arrive at the best decision. That’s what debate does for you: it aids your strategic thinking and decision-making abilities. Throughout this course, Professor Atchison applies what he teaches to real-world ethical, legal, and business dilemmas, as well as more traditionally structured debates on hot-button topics like:

  • Climate change
  • Open-carry laws
  • Medical marijuana
  • Physician-assisted suicide
  • Local tax regulations
  • Bathroom use laws
  • Carbon tax proposals
  • Equal pay

Professor Atchison uses these topics for illustration, without coming down on one side or the other. Instead, he shows you how someone may build an affirmative case for a proposal, how the opponent might attack it, and what the course of such a debate may look like. You’ll no doubt sit forward with ideas and arguments of your own, but the beauty of this course—and debating at large—is that there are no easy answers. People debate complex issues for a reason, and the process of debating the issue allows you to refine, qualify, and add nuance to your own reasoning.

A Practical Course for the Debate Stage, the Boardroom, or the Cocktail Party

A great debate between two well-prepared opponents is something to behold. Like a championship athletic match, there are moments of high drama, traps for one side or the other to fall into, and audacious lines of reasoning that can leave spectators breathless. But beyond the thrill of a debate itself, the techniques of debate have applications off-stage, in our everyday lives.

Whether you are trying to make a tough business decision, lead a lively discussion at the dinner table, or simply want to put a loudmouth in his place at a cocktail party, this course will elevate your strategic thinking, giving you insight not only into how to craft an argument, but how to present ideas more generally. Think of the practical lessons you will gain from the course as a toolkit that will help you create a foundation from formal debate techniques, resulting in clearer thinking and better living overall. Whether you want to join a local debate club or just want a primer for better reasoning and decision-making, The Art of Debate offers a dynamic introduction to one of life’s most fascinating skills.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    The Hidden Value of Debate
    Find out what we mean when we talk about "debates," and how immersing yourself in the techniques of formal debate can have a dramatic impact on how you make decisions in every aspect of your life. From the business world to the bar room, the process of exchanging ideas will make you a better thinker and citizen. x
  • 2
    When and How to Use Debate
    Debate gives you an honest assessment of an idea, and is therefore a powerful decision-making tool. Here, Professor Atchison walks you through the structure of a formal debate and explores when debate can help you the most. As you will learn, big and future-oriented decisions are ripe for formal discussion. x
  • 3
    The Proposition: Choosing What to Debate
    Now that you know when to debate, shift your attention to what to debate. The "proposition"–the idea up for debate–is one of the most important concepts to understand, and in this lecture, you will survey how to structure the proposition most effectively-and consider who is making the ultimate decision. x
  • 4
    The Structure of Argument
    The claim, the evidence, and the warrant: these three elements provide the structure of a strong argument. Unpack each of these elements by studying what they are, how they work, and how they come together to produce an argument. Then home in on the warrant, which is often the most vulnerable part of an argument-and therefore the element easiest to challenge. x
  • 5
    Using Evidence in Debate
    Examine the strengths and weaknesses of three primary types of evidence: narrative evidence, empirical evidence, and evidence based on authority. As you review each type of evidence, you will see them in action as Professor Atchison applies them to debates about gun control, climate change, and physician-assisted suicide. x
  • 6
    Fallacies in Your Opponent's Research
    To be a great debater, you must not only learn to recognize argument fallacies, but you must also learn to combat them during the debate. This first in a two-part lecture series offers insight to help you identify fallacies that stem from flaws in your opponent's research, including the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, hasty generalizations, and more. x
  • 7
    Fallacies in Your Opponent's Arguments
    Continue your study of fallacies with a survey of fallacies that stem from the actual debate itself. To make their case, debaters often resort to false analogies, straw men, and ad hominem attacks. Fortunately, once you learn to recognize them, you will be well prepared to combat them and score points to win the debate. x
  • 8
    Elements of a Good Case
    No debate is won without consideration of the audience-of the ultimate decider or the judge. If you can't connect with this audience, you won't be able to win them over. After considering how to make such a connection, you'll then sharpen your skills in creating a well-researched case with enough nuance to argue your point. x
  • 9
    Arguing for the Affirmative
    The affirmative side of a debate must do three things: stay relevant to the resolution, indict the status quo, and offer a proposal designed to solve the problems you have identified with the status quo. Discover how to meet these obligations and build a winning affirmative argument. x
  • 10
    Building Affirmative Cases
    Now that you know how to develop a strong affirmative argument, apply your skills to a specific debate. Taking a resolution about campus carry laws as an example, Professor Atchison walks you through each of the steps to indict the status quo and offer a tenable solution to the problem. x
  • 11
    Arguing for the Negative
    A good critique is a necessary way of testing out an idea, but developing a good negative case requires immense creativity to disprove the affirmative argument. Delve into the key arguments available to the negative: the disadvantages of the affirmative case, counterproposals, and critiques of the affirmative's assumptions. x
  • 12
    Building Negative Cases
    The three-part attack from the previous lecture is an extremely effective way to challenge the affirmative proposal, but the arguments don't attack the affirmative case directly. Here, learn several approaches to confronting the affirmative case head-on, including "inherency," attacking the harms of the affirmative, and attacking the proposal's solvency. x
  • 13
    The Crucible of Cross-Examination
    Once each case is built, it's time for a cross-examination-a chance to interrogate your opponents to better understand their arguments, identify holes in their reasoning, and keep the audience engaged. This first of three lectures explores the history of debate and reflects on the goals of cross-examination. x
  • 14
    Asking and Answering Leading Questions
    Continue your study of cross-examinations with a detailed look at "leading questions." Useful for identifying holes in an argument, leading questions also represent persuasive arguments in and of themselves. Learn the rules of creating a good leading question and how they can help you win the debate. x
  • 15
    Open-Ended Questions: Setting Traps
    Round out your study of cross-examinations by turning to "open-ended questions." Designed to help you understand your opponents' arguments, open-ended questions give you the opportunity to shift your position, thus maximizing strategic flexibility. They also allow you to set traps for your opponent. Find out how to craft-and answer-open-ended questions. x
  • 16
    Essentials of a Persuasive Rebuttal
    No plan survives contact with the enemy, which means no matter how well you've constructed your case, you will need to defend it. Fortunately, there are several straightforward elements of a good rebuttal-assessment, organization, and emotional appeal-and Professor Atchison guides you through each element in this lecture. x
  • 17
    Dealing with the Unexpected in Debate
    We all need to deal with the unexpected in our daily lives, so learning the secrets to navigating the unexpected in a debate has far-reaching applications. Here, see what it takes to slow down, diagnose, analyze, and respond to unexpected arguments. By following a few simple steps, you can easily find your way back to terra firma. x
  • 18
    Even If Arguments: The Essential Weapon
    Now that you have explored the ways to build and defend a strong case, it's time to move on to varsity-level debate skills, starting with "even if" arguments. By starting with the premise that your opponent is right about everything, you can then explain why you should still win the debate-an extremely effective argument if performed well. x
  • 19
    Debate Jujitsu: Flipping the Warrant
    In many great debates, there is a devastating moment where one side clearly out-maneuvers the other. "Flipping the warrant," which requires the highest level of analytic argument, allows you to destroy your opponent's argument by showing that their proposal, rather than solving a problem, will actually make things worse. x
  • 20
    The Power of Concessions
    The best debaters understand the need for strategic flexibility, and concessions are one of the most powerful strategic moves in the playbook. As you will find out in this lecture, conceding points allows you to focus on your best arguments, or get out of a difficult spot, or even set a trap for your opponent. x
  • 21
    Conditional Argumentation
    Although they are two separate fields, the art of debate sometimes employs formal logic with great success. In this lecture, see how "conditional argumentation," a way of employing if-then statements to argue a point, lets you acknowledge a point without agreeing to it-a line of argument that pairs well with "even-if" arguments. x
  • 22
    Line-by-Line Refutation
    Conclude your study of advanced debate techniques with a survey of line-by-line refutation. First, learn how to map out the "flow" of a debate using shorthand. By distilling key ideas, you will be well prepared to respond to all points. Try to map out the "flow" of a test case here. x
  • 23
    Judging Debates: The Art of the Decision
    Debates aid decision-making, and you may one day find yourself in the role of a judge needing to make the big decision. Survey the best way to communicate your reasons for a decision, starting with a short thesis statement followed by an explanation of your reasoning. As an example, consider a nonprofit faced with a difficult business decision. x
  • 24
    Winning the Cocktail Party
    Formal debates have clear structures, but we often debate ideas in informal settings-unpredictable, complicated, ambiguous conversations with blurred lines between judges and participants. Conclude your course with a few handy tips for how to win a debate at a cocktail party-and when to bow out of the discussion. x

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Your professor

Jarrod Atchison

About Your Professor

Jarrod Atchison, Ph.D.
Wake Forest University
Dr. Jarrod Atchison is an Associate Professor of Communication at Wake Forest University, where he teaches such courses as Argumentation Theory and Debate and Advocacy. He is also the Director of Debate for the Wake Forest University Debate Team, which dates back to 1835 and has won multiple national championships. Dr. Atchison received his Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Georgia, where he served as an assistant...
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The Art of Debate is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 28.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointed I purchased the cd version of The Art of Debate. The tape has little to no useful material. I painfully listened to 6 of the tapes hoping at some point I might get some value from my purchase. The tapes contain more of the author talking about himself and his experience than any of the title description I read prior to my purchase.
Date published: 2018-06-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Timely Advice for Today's Knowledge Economy This is a great product. I listen to the lectures on my daily commute to the office. Professor Atchison's lectures are concise and thought provoking. He provides a wide range of examples that enhance the clarity of the concepts and reinforce the value of debate and argumentation to all settings, including business and family decisionmaking. I intend to recommend this course to my colleagues in sales. The lectures concerning cross-examination are indispensable for any business professional tasked with negotiations. The rationalization traps Professor Atchison discusses are much more thorough than the basic reciprocity and consistency techniques they teach you in business school.
Date published: 2018-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Widely Applicable A thorough, well-designed, and engagingly presented exploration of debate as a concept, art, and strategy.
Date published: 2018-01-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Lost in over explanation I have struggled to stay focused during the lectures I have to this point endured. The lecturer drags the subject matter through a quagmire of every social current event in what he believes is expounding upon the subject matter. I just find his method frustrating and the point of the lesson gets lost in his over explanation. This is the only course out of the dozen or so I have that I have ever wanted to return.
Date published: 2017-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great review of different aspects of debate with great example of how to implement debate approaches to various work environments.
Date published: 2017-06-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too much air This is my first purchase ftom TGC. So far the course includes a lot of comparatively less useful info (cataloging all the reasons why debate is helpful). It has also been repetitive (debate helps decision making). This makes the course feel puffed up. I am desperate for a feature to allow playback at 2x the speed.
Date published: 2017-05-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Art of Debate Very instructive and well presented even though it is not about putting a worm on a hook.
Date published: 2017-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from No Debating it - Great Course! Professor Atchison makes a compelling affirmative argument for the use and power of Debate in conversation, business, and academic settings. The ability to move from conversational "sound bites" to succinct strategic statements that shape the conversation and lead to effective decision-making is a true Art form and the lecture series "nails it." The wavy digital background and "formality" of the setting do not do justice to hearing Professor Atchison teach the series. They are a distraction from thinking about what is being said; however, the projected bullet points bring the focus back. This is a great course for all ages...highly recommended for people starting a career, marriage, or job that requires defending your position and moving forward to a collaborative decision.
Date published: 2017-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Art of Debate For those of us over 65, family gatherings , talk around the coffee pot, and meetings of all types present an interesting set of discussions. How do you handle the hot questions of today? This course is exactly what you need. ? How to formulate your thoughts , decisions, opinions, and debate today's interesting and intense issues. It will help you "hold your own at the next cocktail party" or family "talk/ disagreement" . Dr. Atchison does a fantastic job of preparing you....I fully recommend it
Date published: 2017-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Elevate Your Argument! Overall, this is an excellent presentation. Since I'm not on a Debate Team, many specific, in-depth, esoteric points went right over my head. However, as a course on argumentation, analysis of opposing stances on issues, tactics to be aware of and to utilize in any "debate," it was compelling. The knowledge gained can be used in any situation where there is a difference of opinion. You'll never look at MSNBC, CNN, or political discussions the same way. You will spot the techniques and strategies covered in the course every day. Before you know it, you will be using "even-if," "if-then," and "flipping the warrant" maneuvers in your conversations. This is not a one-shot learning experience. I replayed many lectures and it helped. Keep the remote control handy. Prof. Atchison does not waste time - he's intense, focused, and keeps moving the material forward. The course is definitely not for casual listening. The graphics certainly helped, and I urge the newcomer to use the video.
Date published: 2017-05-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good instruction, clear liberal bias The lectures not only help understand how to change people's minds, but also how to make and communicate decisions. Even though the professor tries very hard to present "both" sides of many current controversies, he consistently pushes the arguments towards the left. If you can ignore the liberal bias, you will enjoy refining your argumentation skills.
Date published: 2017-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating take on debate I thought I knew a good deal about debate. Turns out, I didn't know enough! For me, this has already synthesized a number of different skills and competencies I've got and already notice a difference in how I think about discussions, arguments and debates. I got great value just from the first five lessons, let alone the rest of the program. Great work!
Date published: 2017-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Primarily Formal Debate Dr. Atchison is a college debate coach and a judge in college debate tournaments. He structures this course around how to prepare and present a formal debate in a tournament like this, although he does sometimes touch on how this applies in other settings such as corporate boardrooms. This course is best used in conjunction with Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning by David Zarefsky and, to a lesser extent, An Introduction to Formal Logic by Stephen Gimbel. These courses delve into the elements of an effective case. Dr. Atchison refers to them from time to time. Dr. Atchison discusses the Toulmin model of argument, that of a claim supported by grounds and warrant. This is discussed in more detail by Zarefsky. He also discusses fallacies, although this is probably discussed in more detail by Gimbel. Dr. Atchison then takes the steps in a formal debate and analyzes their possibilities and vulnerabilities: the affirmative case, the negative case, cross-examination, and rebuttal. He does not pay much attention to the closing speeches. This is a good course for someone who wants to understand persuasion in the public or private spheres. However, the Zarefsky course should be taken first as a pre-requisite. This course worked perfectly well in audio format.
Date published: 2017-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great lecture series This course improved my understanding of the debate process. If only the fundamentals of debate were a part of our educational system's curriculum beginning with elementary school. I'm grateful that Great Courses offers this lecture series. I'll be on the lookout for more courses by Prof Atchison.
Date published: 2017-04-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Helps with appreciating organized thought. Definitions concerning thought processes and organized structure are very helpful. His examples can only be described as weak and illustrate a firm grasp of the obvious.
Date published: 2017-04-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fine lecturer & content, DUMB animated background! The lecturer and content were excellent. Prof. Atchison is enthusiastic, clearly knows his stuff, and gave me much to think about for future discussions with colleagues and friends. A really useful, enjoyable course. BUT, the video editor (or art director) apparently decided that without a CONSTANTLY MOVING ANIMATED BACKGROUND (totally UNRELATED to the CONTENT!) , we would lose interest! DUMB decision! Also insulting: people who buy the Great Courses do NOT need that sort of visual garbage to stay interested! The constantly moving background quickly became distracting, then REALLY ANNOYING, and finally I had to TURN OFF THE VIDEO ATOGETHER, so I could just LISTEN. (Should have bought the CD !) That said, I really enjoyed the course and Prof. Atchison!
Date published: 2017-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Edifying and gratifying A great series of lectures. I enjoyed the professor's organized presentation style and soothing voice. The content was advanced without being overly dense. One would do well to watch this course as he or she simultaneously listens to the series entitled Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning.
Date published: 2017-03-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Art of Debate This is a great course for someone who wants to improve critical thinking skills
Date published: 2017-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing! Everyone involved in business must watch this course! I've learned so much for my every-day decisionmaking.
Date published: 2017-03-23
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