If you’ve been keeping an eye on the news recently, you may have come to the conclusion that the forum of the formal argument is overrun with concerns about who has the best haircut, the craziest eyes, or the most economically named (if not economically sound) tax plan. But that’s the national stage, and seeing as your next philosophical sparring match is probably going to involve a barstool instead of a podium, you’d do well to stick to a few classic strategies.
Respect your opponent.
Just because you disagree doesn’t mean it’s time to start bashing him personally. Besides, leveling a character attack makes you look weak, and it’s not going to win you any support from the peanut gallery.
But don’t respect his position.
In fact, be as nasty as you wanna be. You’re trying to point out why his stance on a certain topic is wrong, so thrash away. Just be damn sure you’re calling out the position (say, a firmly held belief that explosions are a good part of grade school recess), not the person.
Know your stuff.
This one’s a no-brainer. Understand your position, plus the facts and arguments supporting it, or you’ll be torn to shreds. And you can be sure that if you don’t have an equally solid understanding of your opponent’s stance—and its flaws—you don’t stand a chance of winning the debate.
Even in an intelligent debate, things can get down and dirty, with folks resorting to logical trickery. So if the guy is full of it, point it out. And look out for a few different techniques often used to confuse the situation—the red herring, the straw man, and the slippery slope (Google ‘em).
And finally: Never let ‘em see you sweat.
If you get heated, you’ll get sloppy. And that’s just an opening for your opponent to pounce on you. Stay cool, stay rational, stay winning.