Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Lost Virtue of Charity

We seem to have lost the concept of charity in debate. I'm talking about informal debate as waged on blogs and on talk shows.

In a debate, the principle of charity dictates that you interpet opposing arguments in the most favorable light. Rather than pick apart an opposing point the way it was made, you (perhaps silently) make the point the way it should have been made and then analyze the result. If you construct a stronger opposing case and defeat it, you can be more confident in the correctness of your position.

If your goal is to search for truth, then charity is a strong ally.

However, if your goal is simply to "win" the argument, then you can ignore charity. You should know that in many instances your victory will be hollow. There are times when a hollow victory is most expedient. But it may be that you defeat only the presentation of an opposing viewpoint, when you could achieve much more.

For if you approach a debate with charity, those in the audience will see in you a greater understanding. Your opponents will be more inclined to offer you charity. Your focus will be on the flaws in the opposing position, rather than on the opposing debater. That will enable you to point out any flaws that exist.

And finally, charity enables you to accept any valid points that your opponent makes, regardless of the quality of their presentation. Someday you may even "lose" a debate when you realize that your opponent missed a convincing point. There is no shame in changing your mind when you discover the truth about a matter.

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