Political arguments often become very complex, requiring accurate knowledge from a variety of fields. Most – perhaps all – people do not have sufficient time to acquire all the relevant information, much less the capacity to keep it all in mind, in order to make reasonably accurate determinations about the truth in such cases.
Worse, political interests will often imply or state falsehoods regarding these facts, interpret ambiguity in their favor, or claim ambiguity where none exists – leading even those with the best of intentions into conclusions that are false and actions that are likely to be destructive or wasteful.
Furthermore, in a typical discussion, many important points may be left unanswered. A debater who does not scrupulously itemize every point made by her/his opponent and answer them one by one may even leave onlookers with the impression that every opposing point has been answered when in fact the debater cannot satisfactorily answer them.
If the goal of debate is to arrive at the (probable) truth of a matter, or the best possible compromise between differing goals, it is necessary to maximize the role of rationality in the debate's outcome.
There are a number of techniques for keeping debate from decaying into chaos, but most of these place other priorities above that of finding the truth.
- Competitive debate is generally intended to highlight quick thinking, mastery of relevant detail, and skillful use of rhetoric
- It is generally more focused on determining who wins than determining what the truth is.
- In some contexts (e.g. televised debates between political candidates), there is no official "winner"; each individual in the audience is left to decide the outcome for themselves.
- Robert's Rules of Order (RRO) is partly for managing debate and partly for managing an agenda, the same function handled by the liquid agenda module.
- Many of the rules imposed by RRO are made unnecessary where debates are conducted via electronic text; it may be worthwhile to see how RRO could be adapted for electronic text, and how such a system would compare with InstaGov's proposal (below).
InstaGov proposes the use of structured debate, a technique which places truth-finding as the top priority and makes use of computing (software) and telecommunication (the internet) to both manage the debate and to facilitate participation.