I have reached my decision. Please note that while the participants have agreed to put a certain stake on the outcome of this debate, I have done my best not to let that affect my evaluation of it, and to the extent possible I have excluded from consideration discussion within the debate of the circumstances and stake of the debate.
I have not, however, excluded one point of pre-debate discussion in particular
, a post that came after what has been linked to as the Challenge
, but beforeEcmandu contacted me to create a formal debate
; I am considering that intervening post because Ecmandu had the opportunity to object to it and did not, and so it stands as a clarification of the topic of the debate rather than a part of the debate. In any case, I do not think that its inclusion affected my ultimate judgement.
This debate was steeped in hubris. Both participants made, at times, interesting and strong arguments in advocating their position, but both also undermined their position by their inability to completely commit to the premise of the debate. This was regrettable. As a simple matter of presentation, it is poor form to betray during a debate that one does not fully endorse what one is saying, and I find that both participants were unable to suppress their true feelings. Even the strongest argument is made rhetorically impotent when followed by an implied "but I don't really believe that." Ecmandu clearly believes that he is intelligent, and was never able to fully commit to the argument that he is a fool. Uccisore, though he laid the accusation at Ecmandu's feet and seems to have recognized that he couldn't convincingly argue that Ecmandu was not a fool, still undermined his argument to nearly the same extent by insisting on pointing out e.g. that Ecmandu "look[s] like a fool." Both cases would have been stronger if the debaters had managed a more dispassionate stance.
That said, in their attempts to avoid making the claims they were both clearly unwilling to make directly, their arguments were likely much more interesting, if less compelling. Ecmandu, unable to simply argue that he was a particular fool, chose to condemn everyone as a fool. Similarly, unable to play devil's advocate against himself, he attacked the entire philosophical endeavor. Again, this is a much weaker case than it could have been, and even as framed could have been made much stronger than it was had Ecmandu been willing to argue that in some particular he was a fool. But it is a creative tack, and not entirely unsuccessful.
Uccisore, because he couldn't argue that Ecmandu was simply not a fool, instead offered that we have every reason to think that Ecmandu is a fool, but should reject his actually being a fool as the best explanation for those appearances. Again, the simpler argument is much stronger, and it seems clear that past interactions influenced the choice to eschew it. And, like Ecmandu, even the argument as framed could have been stronger if he'd been willing to present any argument that had as a corollary that Ecmandu simply had no relevant moral failings. Still, it was interesting, and not entirely unsuccessful.
Turning to the success of the arguments as framed, let me start by addressing the question of definition. As I mentioned earlier, I did note and consider that Uccisore had offered an intended definition of "fool" as part of the pre-debate discussion. By my reading, this was the only definition that was actually baked into the challenge. Words like "contribution" and "worthwhile" were open to definition as part of the debate itself. Nor were sub-definitions like that of "idiot". Uccisore repeatedly claimed that since he had presented the statement of the debate, he was entitled to define the terms, but I disagree. Especially since Ecmandu offered the first post, though not only for that reason, it does not seem that definitions not agreed upon as part of the prelude to the debate can be set authoritatively by either party.
That said, either party is free, within the context of the debate, to offer reasonable definitions for the terms as they are using them, and I appreciated that Uccisore offered clear definitions for the terms as he was using them. I thought this was a good rhetorical move, especially since Ecmandu juked out of the gate with unexpected implicit meanings of his own. And by being explicit, and by combining one definition that was part of the debate with a handful that weren't while claiming that it was his prerogative to define them all -- even though I found his claims to be incorrect, by making them as he did he seems to have convinced Ecmandu that they were the definitions that must be used, and thus put the debate into terms that were clearly more favorable to Uccisore.
I did find, however, that too many terms were defined. "Fool" was defined to "idiotic" which was defined to "stupid" which was itself defined. The first definition arguably grounded the conversation to a fixed, external reference, but the further sub-defining only gave Ecmandu more fuel (because Uccisore was ultimately trying to prove the negative, and the definitions gave several sufficient-but-not-necessary ways for Ecmandu to argue the positive). However, since Ecmandu failed to attack any of these weakness, it may be that the gambit paid off, because Uccisore came away from the first exchange looking like he'd done his homework and he had the authorities on his side.
Also a strong point for Uccisore in his first reply was his citation to Ecmandu's claim to have written "the most important sentence in human history". That's hard to square with Ecmandu's claim. Had he made them, similar citations to other posts from Ecmandu pointing out those rare moments where Uccisore himself believes that Ecmandu offered points that weren't totally without merit would have been even stronger. Similarly, and returning to a point I made earlier, Uccisore spent too much time in his first post making Ecmandu's argument for him. The troll argument is only necessary once it is proven that Ecmandu seems
like fool. As if that concession isn't undermining enough, the only alternative hypothesis presented (considered?) is that Ecmandu is intentionally presenting himself as a fool. Surely another possibility is that we just don't understand him, a suggestion that would have allowed Uccisore to turn some of Ecmandu's own arguments ("people thought Einstein was a fool") against him quite forcefully. This was a missed opportunity.
A weak point from both participants was the discussion of the meaning of "contribution". Ecmandu's argument was interesting, and might have been quite strong had he actually stuck with it rather than getting derailed by discussions of "worthwhile." Uccisore's definition of "contribution" seems wrong to me: if one delivers books on quantum theory to an isolated island, one has not made a contribution to quantum theory. It maybe a contribution to the study of
or the enjoyment of
or the proliferation of
the theory, but it is not a contribution to the theory. It seems like the argument Ecmandu struggled to make throughout the debate about "worthwhile" would have been more aptly directed at "contribution": there, it seems much more as though novelty is required. This was another big missed opportunity for Ecmandu.
Ecmandu's distinction that he was speaking "in GENERAL" was paradoxically both patently absurd and rhetorically strong, and probably necessary once Ecmandu had limited himself to a much more difficult task than he needed to take on (this is certainly a case where proving the specific case is much easier than the universal truth, and I don't mean that as any kind of slight). Ecmandu seems to posit a Platonic form of 'philosophy', that grows throughout the life of the universe and every civilization plugs into, and only new unique insights count as contributions to the central store. He further assumes that there are an infinite number of souls plugged into it, so that everything that might be contributed by any human has already been contributed. This is absurd, but I liked the chutzpah, and given the constraints he had set for himself, it was impressive for being workable within those constraints. In terms of rhetoric, it ended up having too many assumptions, as Uccisore rightly noted. Still, Ecmandu's already-stated fallback ("that means that it wasn't OUR contribution.") was also strong; had it been expressed more fully, it could have been much stronger.
This leads me a major weakness in Ecmandu's side, and ironically something that he criticized Uccisore for: Uccisore did not come across as verbose to me, he came across as much more complete in his arguments. Ecmandu touched on arguments, but left too much unsaid. Uccisore had a lot more arguments that were presented quasi-syllogistically, and that works both rhetorically in a formal debate like this, and in non-exhibition contexts, where it makes arguments easier to follow and easier to analyze. There were several points where I could see what Ecmandu was trying to say, although he didn't come out and say it (the question of whose contribution it is is one example); there were several where I thought maybe he was making a point but I wasn't sure if I was just coming up with arguments of my own as I read (the discussion about when and how the historical greats could be characterized as fools is an example); and then there were points where the point he was making didn't seem to follow at all (the repeated assertion that he'd be banned no matter how this debate comes out, for example; this seems to have constrained his argument, and it wasn't until late in the game that he touches on the idea, which is right, that one can win a debate and still be a fool). I give this debate to Uccisore in large part because, even where Ecmandu makes his best arguments, he only makes half. He makes them and when Uccisore pushes on them, he doesn't do a whole lot to reinforce them. Uccisore's verbosity, to my eye, was not just for show, it was quite substantive, and he laid out his own arguments and his rebuttals much more completely, making them easier to follow, easier to accept, and ultimately stronger than the counterpoints half-made by Ecmandu.
In general, this debate would have been better with two major changes: First, structurally (and I take this as a failure on my part), it should have been limited in scope to a certain number of posts with a minimum and maximum word length. The debate came off as just another conversation, that was ultimately judged, and too many pixels were spilt questioning whether there would be more to come and who said what; more rigorous structure would have produced a more rigorous debate, and I apologize that I didn't ask for a more complete set of rules before creating this thread.
Second, and I lay criticism in equal parts on both participants: they should have swallowed their own bitter pills from the get-go. Ecmandu, if you're arguing you're a fool, just go ahead and accept that you, specifically, are a fool. This requires a slightly thicker skin, but it is a mark of the nimble mind to be able to take as true repulsive and false premises and reason from them. Uccisore, you make the same mistake. Surely there's something
out there that looks like interesting philosophy in Ecmandu's 3000 posts; feigning respect was a near requisite for your side in this debate.
Debating is as much acting as it is arguing. I think you both offered interesting arguments, but neither of you came close to convincing me that you believed what you were saying.
So judged. I leave the consequences to be sorted out by the participants.
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