Structured debate/rules/plaintext

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This is an attempt to specify a set of refinements by which the rules of structured debate might be manually implemented – i.e. without any special assistance from software – within a non-threaded discussion environment.

The rules of structured debate can be summarized as:

  • Any claim that has been neither challenged (i.e. somebody says they disagree with it) nor rebutted (someone has posted a conpoint) shall be considered TRUE.
  • Any claim that has at least one TRUE conpoint shall be considered FALSE.

Rules of Non-Threaded Engagement

1. Every paragraph that is to be considered part of the formal debate must be prefixed by one of these words: "CLAIM", "PRO", "CON", "SUB", or "MODIFY", followed by an index number.
2. For a CLAIM, the index number is an integer. These should start with (and increment by) 1 -- e.g. "CLAIM 1" would be the first, "CLAIM 2" would be the next, etc.
3. For each PRO or CON, the index number is based on the index number of the parent (i.e. the point to which it is responding), plus a decimal followed by an integer. These should also start with (and increment by) one.
4. When a PRO or CON point depends on the truth of a set of statements, each of these statements should be prefixed by "SUB" followed by an index number (following the same numbering rules as PRO and CON).
5. When the state of a CLAIM is changed due to a CON point, either participant may note this by saying "CLAIM n REFUTED" or "CLAIM n AFFIRMED".
6. When a PRO or CON point is disputed without offering any evidence for the dispute, it should be described as DISPUTED rather than REFUTED.
6. When a participant disagrees about the structure of another participant's argument, they should start with "MODIFY n" where n is the index number of a mis-structured element. The explanation of the change can be in plain English, but should be followed by a restatement of any points or sub-points that need modification.
  • If one or more participants find that they can't agree over logical structure, it may be necessary to abandon the argument; where possible, though, the debate should end with a restatement of each side's position. It may then be possible to have another debate starting from one or both of those claims.

Where possible, the words "CLAIM", "PRO", "CON", "AFFIRMED", "REFUTED", and "MODIFY" should be formatted in such a way as to stand out. If they cannot be bolfaced or highlighted using color, then being written in all-capitals (as here) should suffice.

These rules are designed to be agnostic as far as which "side" any participant is on.

Alternative numbering: If each thread is devoted to a single claim, then the numbering can start with the response points, e.g. "CLAIM" would be answered by "PRO 1" and/or "CON 1", etc.

Theoretical Example

CLAIM 1: Socrates is mortal.
PRO 1.1: Socrates is a man, and men are mortal.
SUB 1.1.1: Socrates is a man.
SUB 1.1.2: Men are mortal.
CON 1.1.1.1: Socrates is a god.
CLAIM 1.1.2 REFUTED.
CLAIM 1 REFUTED.
MODIFY 1.1.1.1 This should be a two-parter:
CON 1.1.1.1: Socrates is a god, and gods are not mortal.
CON 1.1.1.1.1: Socrates is a god.
CON 1.1.1.1.2: Gods are not mortal.
("Gods are not mortal" is undisputed.)
PRO 1.1.1.1.1.1: There is no evidence that Socrates is a God.
CON 1.1.1.1.1 REFUTED.
CLAIM 1 AFFIRMED.

How this might appear in a comment thread:

Alice says:

CLAIM 1: Socrates is mortal.
PRO 1.1: Socrates is a man, and men are mortal.
SUB 1.1.1: Socrates is a man.
SUB 1.1.2: Men are mortal.

Bill says:

CON 1.1.1.1: Socrates is a god.
CLAIM 1.1.2 REFUTED.
CLAIM 1 REFUTED.

Alice says:

MODIFY 1.1.1.1 This should be a two-parter:
CON 1.1.1.1: Socrates is a god, and gods are not mortal.
CON 1.1.1.1.1: Socrates is a god.
CON 1.1.1.1.2: Gods are not mortal.
("Gods are not mortal" is undisputed.)
PRO 1.1.1.1.1.1: There is no evidence that Socrates is a God.
CON 1.1.1.1.1 REFUTED.
CLAIM 1 AFFIRMED.

Practical Example

From here (not publicly accessible):

I think you're trying to argue that all welfare is bad, with your original claim as a supporting argument. So here's a reworking of the argument as it now stands:

CLAIM 2: All welfare is bad.
PRO 2.1: Any kind of welfare rewards people for avoiding work.
PRO 2.1.1: If there is no incentive to work, people will not work.
CON 2.1.1.1: This is not the same thing as rewarding people for not working.
CON 2.1.1.2: People frequently volunteer and do unpaid work for the benefit of society.
PRO 2.1.1 REFUTED.
PRO 2.1 REFUTED.
PRO 2.2: The fact that there are people who do not wish to work shows that welfare is bad.
SUB 2.2.1: There are people who do not wish to work.
PRO 2.2.1.1: Jeffrey Hamby has seen them personally.
PRO 2.2.1.1.1: He knows they are on welfare because he sees them use a welfare debit card to pay.
CON 2.2.1.1.1.1: How would one discern the difference between a welfare debit card and, say, a child-support debit card, or an employer debit card?
PRO 2.2.1.1 DISPUTED.
SUB 2.2.2: If people do not wish to work, then welfare is bad.
CON 2.2.2.1: No logical connection between the existence of people who do not wish to work and the virtue of welfare has been established.
SUB 2.2.2 DISPUTED
PRO 2.2 DISPUTED.
CLAIM 2 DISPUTED.

I'll stipulate that SUB 2.2.1 is true.