cover image Good Arguments: How Debate Teaches Us to Listen and Be Heard

Good Arguments: How Debate Teaches Us to Listen and Be Heard

Bo Seo. Penguin Press, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-29951-7

In this enlightening introduction to the style, function, and variety of formal debate, Seo, a former coach of the Australian Schools and Harvard College debate teams, contends that the manner in which humans typically disagree is “painful and useless.” Drawing on vivid historical vignettes, philosophy, and his own experiences on and off the debate circuit, Seo demonstrates effective methods for “achieving clarity” (“Start with the conclusion of your argument, and say the minimum amount required to prove it”) and calls out common techniques used to derail and undermine debate, such as the straw man argument, which distorts or misrepresents the original speaker’s position. Highlighting the ubiquity of disagreements over who should do the dishes, which government policies deserve support, and other personal and public matters, Seo asserts that debate is not something to be avoided, but that people must “save our energy for the right kind of disagreement” in order to “set ourselves up for a better conversation.” Full of intriguing historical snapshots and practical advice, this is an inspiring study of how good-faith arguments can bring people together rather than tear them apart. (June)