Thursday, February 03, 2011


A lot of people are calling for civil debate in the public square right now, and it has caused me to wonder exactly what we mean by and expect from civil debate. What do you think are the necessary components of a “civil public debate” and what do you think the outcomes ought to be?

Does civil debate necessarily include “niceness”? Can we deeply disagree with each other and still be civil? How?

I believe civility in the public square requires the presence of actual arguments. More often than not we hear personal invectives thrown about and we see emotions on sleeves, and I think discussions like that necessarily exclude civil debate. Civility may require a truth beyond the reach of our personal preferences so the discussion can reach beyond our emotions and avoid the ad hominem.

Is it possible to be respectful of a person with whom you deeply disagree and still vigorously disagree?

Another mistake we make too often today is equating disagreement with hate. If I disagree with the validity of your position or the morality of your behavior, that does not necessarily mean I hate you. It may in fact mean I am interested enough in your well-being to talk about our disagreements.

Do we expect the outcome of civil debate to always be agreement? A preponderance of agreement? A deeper understanding of each other?

Any (civil) thoughts?


Anonymous said...

This is a great thought. I heard a quote somewhere that I will always remember. "Consider a debate 'won' if the other person feels God's love as you disagree with them" - Joe

Phil Steiger said...

Very nice.