Why You Should Debate

Euan Stainbank, fourth year law student at the University of Stirling and former President of the University's Debating Society. The ability to identify relevant arguments and utilise them in a way that can defeat an earnestly made conflicting argument, is a crucial skill for a Law Student. Out of a wide range of valuable experiences to be pursued at University, I will make my case for why Debating is one of the most valuable.

If you are to defeat contrary arguments to your own within the Debating Chamber, the Seminar Room, or the Courtroom you will require an innovative mindset. Often when discussing an issue, the most obvious arguments are made first: the extent of State authority will permeate a debate about the legalisation of drugs. However, you can win the debate by talking about the race issues of drug policy or, the economic implications for the employers of stoned teenagers, if you can prove why that argument is more important. This allows you to introduce a variety of different impacted actors within a debate, which will leave you better equipped to approach discussions in Seminars using multiple different perspectives. You will develop an academic habit of questioning sources and understanding how to use different perspectives.

You will need to develop an ability to respond to an opposing account. Your oratory may mirror Churchill in elegance; yet, without the ability to clearly display your arguments comparative superiority, you are capping your level of success. John Stuart Mill notes in his magnum opus ‘On Liberty’, “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.” In debating you develop through practice the ability to display why your side holds greater benefit than those opposed. The academic value of this is giving you the ability to structure solid logical reasoning for why you may hold one opinion over the other.

Being a Law Student has been held as synonymous with public speaking ability, and this is largely true. However, when speaking within seminars there is a greater expectation of academic quality. Debating helps in two ways: first, It helps with confidence so Students can discard their anxiety of being incorrect by becoming more comfortable with framing their contributions and questions as propositions - to be answered and challenged rather than initially perfect or irredeemably wrong. The second benefit is to verbal expression. When you are subject to a situation in which you need to express an idea persuasively you will make an effort to illicit a greater understanding of your arguments from the people you are speaking to, which opens up a greater extent of complex concepts you are capable of explaining and critiquing.

On to my final remarks, debating has contributed greatly to my own academic and personal journey. The ability to utilise various arguments to present a preferential case to that of your opposition is a valuable skill for a Law student, and the skill instilled by a passion for debating contemporary issues will hold you in good stead for doing so frequently.

Thank you, panel, very happy to propose.

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