Should we use the dialectic algorithm on wikidebates?

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Using the dialectic algorithm to organize arguments and objections is interesting, but is it actually useful? Or is the only thing it can really settle the question of which side got the last word in?

Arguments for[edit]

  • You can't just get the last word in, you have to actually come up with a substantive argument for your side, otherwise this being a wiki your comeback can just be deleted, and justifiably so.
    • A skilled enough debater can produce a "substantive argument" for just about anything, so this doesn't mean debates here will lead to truth.
      • When an argument is sound (valid and with true premises), there's no sound objection to be made. For less clear cases, only experience can tell how far a skilled debater can argue before appealing to stupid arguments that can be easily deleted or countered.
  • The "refuted" and "sustained" tags engage visitors to read more about an argument, especially when they disagree about its current status.
  • The "refuted" and "sustained" tags act as a "call to action" for users who disagree with the current status of an argument.
  • The dialectic algorithm motivates users to organize arguments so as to reach a logical conclusion about the current status of the debate.

Arguments against[edit]

  • The algorithm is highly vulnerable to the Gish Gallop, as it treats each "argument" as of equal value, and codifies the "but you didn't refute each of my points" objection that the Gallop relies on to "win".
    • Unlike live debates (such as the ones Duane Gish took part), wikidebates don't have a time limit, so all the arguments that have an answer can eventually be answered.
  • The algorithm counts an argument as "refuted" simply because it has a sustained objection, regardless of the content of that objection. It's a purely formal criteria of refutation which says nothing about the importance of the objection.
    • If the objection is superficial, misguided, stupid or otherwise not important, it will be quickly refuted.
  • A "sustained" argument is nothing else than an "unrefuted" argument. But "unrefuted" does not mean that the argument is sound. The dialectic algorithm does not say anything about soundness.
    • Soundness is just as unattainable as truth (indeed, truth is part of the definition of soundness). All we can hope for is getting all arguments and objections in. And that should be enough.
  • With the dialectic algorithm, the "refuted" or "sustained" tags of the arguments only depend on the "refuted" or "sustained" tags of the objections, of the objections to the objections, and so on. As a result, as long as every argument and objection isn't listed in the debate, the "refuted" or "sustained" tags are not relevant.
    • It isn't necessary for all the arguments of a debate to be listed for the "refuted" and "sustained" tags to be relevant. If an argument has many well-known objections, but only a few have been listed, then that argument will be shown as "refuted", even if some objections are missing. Similarly, if an argument is generally accepted, it may be shown as "sustained" even if not all the objections to the objections to that argument have been listed.
  • To be relevant, "refuted" or "sustained" tags imply that arguments and objections are all listed. But if so, that entails a huge cascade of objections, which is not convenient at all for reading.
    • The DebateTree software hides all objections and only shows the ones under the objection that the user clicks. This allows users to read as much as they consider relevant.
  • The dialectic algorithm assigns a "refuted" or "sustained" value to arguments. This can work for factual arguments, but it cannot for moral or prescriptive arguments – namely, arguments with "what ought to be" statements. These statements are subjective and cannot be discussed.
    • If moral or prescriptive issues really cannot be discussed, then all that will happen is that all the arguments for or against the these issues will end up refuted.
    • There are several wikidebates about moral or prescriptive issues going on, such as Should abortion be legal? Some of these debates are quite active and complex, so it looks that moral or prescriptive issues can be discussed.

See also[edit]

Note and references[edit]