Structured debate/rules/v2010.03

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Within the context of a formal structured debate:

  • A point is an argument for or against a claim
  • Every debate starts with a claim, called the keypoint.
  • Every point has exactly one parent, except for the keypoint.
  • Any point can have zero or more subpoints.
  • A subpoint can either be a propoint or a conpoint.
    • A propoint argues that its parent point is true.
    • A conpoint argues that its parent point is not true.

Earlier equivalents

Older terminology will still be found in places for awhile:

  • keypoint was "target claim" or "mainpoint"
  • propoint was "support point" or just "support"
  • conpoint was "response claim", "counterpoint", or just "counter"


  • Any point with no active conpoints is itself active and is considered provisionally true.
  • Any point with no active propoints and at least one active conpoint is inactive and is considered provisionally false.
  • Any point with active conpoints and active propoints is unresolved.
  • Any point with no active subpoints (pro or con) is unexamined.
    • Generally, unexamined subpoints are considered provisionally true, while an unexamined keypoint is considered unresolved -- but this rule should probably be subject to community preference.

The word "provisionally" is used to indicate that the final decision regarding how to act in response to the debate may be determined by other means such as popular vote. This is one of the "loose ends" addressed below.

Loose Ends

The following issues are not part of the core design of structured debate, and will need to be addressed for real-world use:

  • how best to handle unresolved points
  • how to act (or whether to act) in response to the outcome of a structured debate
  • how to handle abuse of the system

The rules for handling each of these problems should probably be handled on a community-by-community basis, although we can certainly explore some ideas and lay out some possible options. Some obvious possibilities include:

  • Resolution by popular vote
  • Resolution by decision of arbiter (e.g. judge) or council (e.g. jury)

Unresolved points might be handled by any of the above methods (if the point is significant enough), or perhaps by reference to a trusted source. It is certainly possible to imagine a community-maintained trust rating system for sources. In general, though, it should eventually be possible to resolve all points rigorously, by reference to items of fact which everyone can agree on. Non-rigorous methods should only be used in cases where there is a deadline and a "reasonably accurate" decision is better than no decision at all.

Informal Option

Structured debates can also be informal, where the point of the debate is more of a preliminary exploration of individual positions and a rough survey of some of the debate "territory" to be covered; in this case, Informal structured debate seems to be a good way of identifying some points of agreement before squaring off over the core disagreements. (It may be that this process itself could be formalized better, once more examples are available.)