Wikidebates:What is Methodical Debate?
Aren’t you tired of reading books or websites that narrowly develop one sole truth without taking any consideration of possible objections to it?
We see masses of arguments exhibit themselves as if unchallengeable: pro or anti-universal health care, pro or anti-parapsychology, pro or anti-liberalism, pro or anti-“conspiracy theory”, pro or anti-global warming, pro or anti-immigration, pro or anti-psychoanalysis — the list goes on. On these controversial subjects, we mostly find biased writing, in service of a one-sided point of view.
Faced with this kind of method, we can’t help but be dissatisfied; one asks oneself what the author would have responded to such or such an objection that seems too important and too obvious not to have been discussed. Or else one feels convinced and comforted by an opinion that one already holds dear — while secretly feeling that it wasn’t really put to the test.
We need to invent other places where opposing viewpoints could respond to one another on neutral terrain. Of course, debating is but the first stage on the path to participative democracy. Debates are only meaningful if the deliberations that they give rise to have a role in a final decision. Debating also has a role, albeit a different one, in the essential philosophical controversies.
Is it possible to gather onto one stage, for needs of discussion, scientists and laymen, activists and researchers, the partisans of immoral views and the defenders of humanism?
Someones tend, whether in the name of morality or in the name of science, to disqualify certain interlocutors — those who are judged “odd”, “dangerous”, “extremist” and so forth. The texts on the present website attempt to demonstrate why we cannot exclude a priori any approach or argument from a debate. It is only a posteriori, after the discussion, that a position can be invalidated.
Once this will to confront different opinions affirms itself, the other problems are of a technical kind. The question is one of inventing a method of discussion capable of being implemented on a large scale. This method should exclude the risks of a “seizure of power” by a group trying to promote its own point of view.
Where might this kind of open and methodical debate take place? The internet could be a precious aid in setting up such debates, but at present we are a long way from it being so: too many forums consist merely of a unorganized pile of messages, with each expressing itself in a joyous anarchy where rumor and noise prevail over information. Wikidebates that has been created in order to respond to a need whose urgency we have begun to recognize.
The idea of our website of continuous methodical debate is based on a rather paradoxical observation. Namely, that even though nothing is more common than debating, we have found no method of debate that allows for:
- the clarification of the principal sides of a debate, the different options and reasoning;
- the avoidance of needless repetition;
- the assurance that any argument capable of advancing the debate is taken into account, even if it is an extremely minority position or a particularly contested point of view;
- the pursuit of a debate across a period of time without having to begin anew each time it is continued.
In this respect, the internet offers useful new possibilities:
- the storing of information;
- the ability to participate with no limits of time and space;
- the ability to inform oneself as to the current state of a problem and its principal elaborations before contributing one’s own reflections.
To respond to these needs, we propose to develop a tool for rigorous debate, using the internet as a non-exclusive support. Wikidebates is an interactive method, enabling the continuous organization of a great diversity of information (databases, arguments, etc.), while striving for exhaustiveness and accessibility. Wikidebates is open to all opinions within the framework of certain rules. A minimal “netiquette” is required — no personal attacks are allowed. Once Wikidebates has proved itself efficient, it will an extremely vast field of application: general debates — technical debates or debates of land settlement, debates in preparation for the taking of any decision…
In the end, if such a project were developed, the use of methodical debate would become a “reflex”. Individuals would hopefully have a global vision and a basic critical knowledge of the questions treated, as well as concrete perspectives of their own existence in society. For some of these debates, as they touch important controversies (the choice of new energy sources, for example), and as they index the possible solutions, may have the power to influence those making the decision.
Sitting before his computer, the internet individual will no longer be a simple consumer of virtual experiences, but a decision-maker in charge of his life and capable even of influencing collective evolution. That is without doubt a utopian idea, but can we construct the future without an ideal goal? A synthetic vision of the important philosophical and social problems our time, encompassing their diverse aspects and the ensemble of possible responses, will tomorrow be an indispensable tool for any democracy.