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We’re not in it for the ‘win’

Serious critical discussions are always difficult. Non-rational human elements such as personal problems always enter. Many participants in a rational, that is, a critical, discussion find it particularly difficult that they have to unlearn what their instincts seem to teach them (and what they are taught, incidentally, by every debating society): that is, to win. For what they have to learn is that victory in a debate is nothing, while even the slightest clarification of one’s problem – even the smallest contribution made towards a clearer understanding of one’s own position or that of one’s opponent – is a great success. A discussion which you win but which fails to help you to change or to clarify your mind at least a little should be regarded as a sheer loss. For this very reason no change in one’s position should be made surreptitiously, but it should always be stressed and its consequences explored.

Rational discussion in this sense is a rare thing. But it is an important ideal, and we may learn to enjoy it. It does not aim at conversion, and it is modest in its expectations: it is enough, more than enough, if we feel that we can see things in a new light or that we have got even a little nearer to the truth. [44]

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