Conceptual inquiry into public debates has drawn our attention to a few significant elements that shape the identity of these forms of individual discursive manifestation and enable them to operate. Public debates are ubiquitous constructions in social life; they suppose a public that should participate in such activities and they have metaphysical grounds that find their expression in the idea of human solidarity, which governs any democratic society. The discursive manifestations that we focus on are not possible without assuming certain pre-conditions that, when they are met, ensure the normal development of the dialogical relations under investigation.

We have identified the conditions of possibility of public debates starting from the model of conversational cooperation suggested by Herbert Paul Grice. Grice’s model centres around the idea of conversational maxim. Basically, it is a corpus of rules that could regulate the smooth unfolding of verbal exchanges, and that were ordered according to the Kantian criterion of judgments (quantity, quality, relation, and modality). An analysis of the possibilities to apply conversational maxims to the smooth development of public debates shows how we could construct such discursive manifestations that would certainly enable us to reach the goal of our discursive intervention. Public debates have significant consequences on the individual and society. They facilitate the resolution of conflicts of opinion between individuals or social groups, contribute to the discovery of truth in important fields of knowledge (philosophy, politics, religion), provide a good opportunity to practice communication skills in the development of relationships with the others and are one of the most frequently requested public services.




In this chapter we have attempted to develop the idea of how public debates are organized, in their exterior aspects. To be more precise, our analysis focuses on the external elements that participate in the construction of a dialogic relation of this kind, and in any case, they are not connected to the internal structure of the discourse through which public debates are exteriorized. Participants and the moderator are external factors that prepare, participate in and organise public debates. The act of moderating, as well as the choice of one particular debate format or another, are decisional options of these external factors. Nevertheless, the relevance of these elements is not in the least diminished by the fact that we emphasise their exteriority.

The idea of organisation, that we consider a unifying criterion of discussions about the actors’ role in public debates, emphasises the fact that, at least from the point of view of knowledge, nothing can be left to chance when such a dialogical relation is enacted. However, this does not deny the fact that chance, improvisation and the unpredictable can, sometimes, have a significant role in carrying out a successful dialogue. Well established selection criteria (for participants, moderators, and even for the public), debate formats that can be chosen, and that are governed by more or less strict rules, whose absence would lead to total chaos, are as many warnings that preparation in advance is so necessary that any neglect of it becomes obvious from the first steps in the unfolding of the discursive practice that we are concerned with.

One must not assume that the organisation of public debates is a more than visible attack on individual freedom of creation and action, nor that we praise algorithmic, commonplace thinking, which has always been known as an ”idol“ standing in the way of the wild enthusiastic flight of creative personalities towards new fields of knowledge! It must rather be assumed as an invitation to equilibrium and harmony between the tendency to disrespect everything –, induced by the excess of absolute freedom, and the idea of order and rationality –, induced by the constraints of methodical truth. We can find here traces of Goethe’s warning: ”a great spirit can be deceived to the same extent as a small one, the former because he won’t know any limit, the latter because he takes the circle shaped by his horizon to be the edges of the world“.




The analysis of the elements that build public debates (resolution, proofs, strategies) constitute, in our opinion, the grounds of a coherent and realist explanation of discursive  interventions of this type. To understand what a public debate is means, above all, to identify the structural elements that compose such a discursive relation. In our opinion, there are three ingredients whose absence would place any explanation of public debates under the sign of negativity and dissatisfaction: resolution (one must know what one talks about, for and against, when one evaluates a point of view), proofs (one needs to know the requirements that must be observed when one supports a point of view or rejects the opponent’s point of view, starting from the commonsensical idea that nothing can be supported or rejected without reason: the minimal requirement of the sufficient reason principle), strategies (the most adequate combination of evidence, in a broad understanding of the term, ensures one’s quicker success in disputes with others; this is why one needs to know these combining possibilities and their degrees of discursive  efficiency). Undoubtedly, there are other factors that condition the adequate unfolding of public debates, but they depend to a certain extent on the three elements mentioned above: the moderator is a main pawn, but he must know how to choose a motion, what forms of evidence are possible, which strategies are efficient in one case or another. Similarly, participants must be well versed in such procedures and, as we have already mentioned, the criteria according to which participants are selected cover, to a certain extent, these three elements.

In our analysis and explanation of public debates, the constructive elements that we have invoked must be imagined as a whole in a state of continuous dynamics: we are interested in what these three elements can do together, in their potential cooperation in a discursive intervention in debate format and in what they cannot accomplish, when taken separately.  However, for the sake of explanation, the analysis of these constructive elements was performed in a way that gives the impression of something individualized and static. This means that there is more emphasis on the possibility to corroborate efficiently the constitutive elements of a debate so as to obtain a desirable result and less on the individual performance of each of these elements. This situation is similar to 4x100 m relay events, in contrast with 100 m sprint. In vain do each of the four athletes arrive first in the 100 m sprint if together, in the 400 m relay event, they never manage to finish the first! We restate here something that we might have mentioned before: the resolution, the proofs and the strategies must be compatible, i.e. they can co-occur and yield the best results together. This is why we have emphasised that public debates are a dynamic organisation of the ingredients depending on the context and performance: any element can be eliminated or updated anytime if the discursive situation requires it. Everything depends on the participant’s ability to observe the context, to identify what fits it better, to determine obstacles or facilities, and to adjust to them rapidly.

Let us highlight that the ability to corroborate constructive elements involved in a public debate is conditioned essentially by the deep and detailed knowledge of these elements. However, to highlight the holistic aspect of public debates does not entail that it is not of great use to know the particular features of each element. On the contrary, we will know what is best to do with the whole if we know deeply each and every part of it. This is the only way to ground our assessments and decisions and to ensure their success. It is wonderful to see how the mechanism of a Swiss watch works without fail; moreover, it is a delight for an inquisitive spirit to know that every part of this amazing mechanism has its role in the operation of the whole, that it is the only one which could fulfil this role and, if it breaks, the wonderful mechanism is dead!




At the core of the meditations to which we invite the reader in this chapter lies our conviction that, in public debates – as well as elsewhere – what one says is undoubtedly important. Yet, no matter how important what one says might be, it loses its conviction,  persuasion and seduction force if it is not said in such a way as to impress the receiver. The much invoked expressiveness of ideas is not in the least a metaphor dear to those for whom eloquence is the supreme value in their relations with the others. On the contrary, it is a necessity of the communication that is also interested in its impact, irrespective of the form that the latter might take: understanding, conviction, delight.

The expressiveness of ideas is the outcome of positive collaboration of cumulated factors: clear and distinct ideas, strong arguments to support or reject them, rational organization of ideas and arguments, harmonious gestures, and finally, a balanced management of the space in which one moves while communicating, and of the contact with the others. Ideas and arguments should ensure one’s awareness of the grounding, accuracy and beauty of the expression that should please the receiving spirit; harmonious gestures, on the other hand, should accompany one’s words just like a high class orchestra accompanies the soloist. Undoubtedly, the embodiment of all these qualities in a given individual and context is an ideal! The aspiration towards fulfilling this ideal and the effort to materialize it are worthy of praise.

We have mainly focused on how the requirements of this ideal are owned in public debates: what can we do, in public debates, with our ideas, arguments, our language that we wish to be as elegant as possible, and finally, with the posture that we project and that embodies the whole range of expressiveness of the human body? We have identified a series of particular features; one can decipher suggestions for discursive practice if they were not said too openly; and we have provided enough positive and negative illustrations so that one can realize how difficult it is to apply something that, when it is done by others, seems (it only seems!) to be quite easy!




Discussions about the pathology of public debates highlight the distance that we do not always notice: the distance between what public debates should be and what they are in fact. Public debates must be – at least this is what theory says – a space where organisation, rationality, and expressiveness norms are observed, so that they should represent models of efficient communication among interlocutors. On the other hand, public debates are – at least this is what discursive  practice shows – spaces where these norms are flouted, more or less frequently, for reasons that we explained in our analyses, when it was necessary.

The analysis of types of errors proposes a framework that orders the distance between what public debates must be and what they actually are by drawing an inventory of the main means of flouting the normative framework. The identification of errors in public debates, the analysis of how they are manifested and the illustration of how they operate constitutes the three compulsory points of passage of the sophistic inventory, so that it could speak to the readers interested in the matter. It is obvious that the analysis has provided us with an amazing, even disarming diversity of possibilities to flout the rules so that, in most cases, interlocutors do not even realize that they are faced with deceiving correctness.

Two criteria seemed essential in the effort to order the classes of errors in public debates: the criterion of field in which the error is manifested and the criterion of channel via which the error is manifested. The criterion of field shows us two spaces where errors in public debates are manifested: the context (all elements that pertain to what we identified as being part of the external organization of public debates) and the structure (all elements identified as being part of the internal, structural organization of public debates). The criterion of channel shows us the paths along which such errors are instituted: one is the path of thought (we can make errors due to the way in which we produce arguments or explanations), the other is the path of language (we can produce errors due to the way in which we use the communicative and expressive resources of the language). Four classes of errors in public debates emerge from the crisscrossing of the two criteria (field + channel): contextual errors conveyed via thought, contextual errors conveyed via language, structural errors conveyed via thought, and structural errors conveyed via language. Each of the classes of errors that we have identified comprises a larger or smaller number of possible illustrations. Some of them are associated with classical sophisms, others continue modern propositions, yet they all spring from the flouting of correctness norms.

Our proposal for systematisation must not be regarded statically, nor assumed as having the roles of an unfailing instrument to measure the correctness of dialogic communication. In our opinion, it is meant to guide us in a thicket in which it is almost impossible to find your way unless you find, at least occasionally, the right signposts! The rest depends on the practitioners’ ability to find the best frame depending on what they find in their discursive practice, to avoid with elegance and tact that which seems to them to be discursive extravagance, to insist there where it seems to them that success is dawning and can be achieved via efforts considered necessary by comparison with the expected outcome.