Emotional Considerations in Deciding a Debate Winner: a Case Study of Medsco 2013 Grandfinals

Emotional Considerations in Deciding a Debate Winner: a Case Study of Medsco 2013 Grandfinals

  1. Introduction: Arguments and Rhetorics

In almost every debating competition held in Indonesia, most if not all adjudications are (supposed to be) made based on the rational construction of arguments. Teams win or lose based on which team, according to the adjudicator, has managed to out argue the other team by generally proving their case better. By ‘proving better’, an adjudicator would first consider the relevance and consistency of arguments presented owing to the context set up at the beginning, and then, as a main point, considering whether or not the arguments (in form of major premises) have been proven well or dis-proven by the other team.

The main instruments to prove arguments, according to most adjudicators, would be the construction of logic based on induction or deduction methods. Induction is where one concludes by generalizing from a set of premises from an observable range of data. In the framework of an inductive argument, if we assume that the premises are correct, then the major premise is very likely to be correct. This is different from a deductive argument, where the major premise is a natural and consequent conclusion from the premises. Thus in a framework of deductive argument, if we assume that the premises are correct, then the major premise is absolutely correct.

Such deductive or inductive reasoning should be incorporated into the well known Assertion-Reasoning-Evidence-Linkback (AREL) pattern to then become a full argument. This is the Argument 101 for almost any debate communities.

However, if we refer to the works of Aristoteles on rhetorics, there are three elements of a speech for it to be acceptable by the audience: ethos, logos, and pathos. Such an ancient piece of work, yet today’s reality still sees the truth of it.

The induction and deduction of arguments would be the fulfillment of the element ‘logos’. To accept a certain argument, there must be some understandable logical explanations that the argument is correct. However, that is not the only element. We also need to fulfill the element of ‘ethos’, which means building up credibility. In this element, the speaker needs to present themselves as someone credible and capable to gain trust from the audience. Having trust, it is easier for the audience to believe what the speaker says.

The last element, which this essay would mainly discuss about, would be ‘pathos’ element. It talks about how a person can be influenced by the grasping of emotional acceptance. On this level, which speaks more of psychoanalysis than that of rationality, audiences tend to easily believe arguments that correspond well to what they emotionally already expect –or to put it in other words: an emotional prejudice.

Some simple examples of this would be in a debate about liberal economy, where the notion “companies are profit oriented” generally has a negative connotation. Therefore, it is easier for an audience to accept the argument of “the profit oriented nature of companies are regrettable”, regardless whether or not such a premise has been properly rationalized.

Traditionally, training and briefings for debate adjudicators (as usually practiced by Jogja Debating Forum and other major debate communities in Indonesia, materials are easily and freely downloadable for reference) would consider Eros and Pathos cumulatively and holistically in contribution to the clarity and the convincing-ness in the delivery of the logos element.

This essay will analyze the grand final round of the Medical School Competition 2013, held in Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta. The debate was between Team Pendidikan Dokter (Affirmative) and Team Titik (Negative), by the motion of “THBT Doctors Should Not Require Parents Consent to Perform Medical Procedures on Children”. Team Negative won the debate with a split decision 2 versus 1 judges.

The author does not wish, through this essay, to imply any prejudice to the competence of the majority adjudicators. The aim of this essay is only to argue that the element of ‘pathos’ was more overwhelming than the element of ‘logos’ in the majority judge’s ground of deciding the winner.

  1. An Overview of the Debate

  1. The Set Up

Debating with the motion as mentioned previously, Team Affirmative set the debate in a very unclear kind of way. While the First Speaker Affirmative mentioned that the context of the debate would only be in emergency situations and gave examples of cases when children get into accidents and the whereabouts of the parents are unknown, Team Negative mentioned that such setting is truistic –and this claim was agreed by one of the judges.

However, Team Affirmative seemed to argue that emergency cases means urgent life and death situations, regardless whether or not their parents were there. They also argued situations where parents were there, but refusing certain medical procedures on irrational basis –which provides a very fair room for debate. The author therefore concludes that the definition was multilayer and partially truistic (some of it is truistic, as elaborated in the previous paragraph, some of it is not truistic, as elaborated in the first part of this paragraph), yet the truistic part of the definition was eventually left out of the debate and did not matter anymore. Having that said, the author concluded that the debate set up became fair.

  1. The Empathy Argument

The Empathy Argument was the core argument of Team Negative in response to Team Affirmative. This argument was the winning argument for Team Negative in the perspective of the majority of adjudicators. To understand this argument, one needs to first see the “Qualification Argument” brought by Team Affirmative.

In the qualification argument, Team Affirmative argued first that they acknowledge that not asking parents consent would breach the Autonomy Principle –patients have rights to choose what medical procedures to undergo or not. Being children, such choices are legally given to the parents. Then Team Affirmative added that in situation of emergency, the Autonomy Principle must be sacrificed for the higher priority: the safety of the patient.

Team Affirmative further argued that “prioritizing the safety of the patient” is not only more paramount than the Autonomy Principle, but more importantly is that in situation of emergency, the Autonomy Principle clashes with patient safety. Their biggest premise was : “Doctors are unarguably qualified in the medical field, while parents are not, thus it is best for doctors to make the decisions than leaving it to parents”.

Such claim was justified by Team Affirmative by asserting that the profession of doctors have been through a very thorough and comprehensive multilevel education and training system, so much, that such profession was given monopoly by law over formal medical service. The author saw that this point was proven, to the extent that there is no doubt that doctors know so much better than parents in understanding medical conditions and procedures.

This argument then formed the main room of debate and burden of proof. In the situation of medical emergency: if it can be proven that parents can have considerations that are more important than the doctors, Team Negative wins. If not, Team Affirmative wins.

In response to that, here comes the “Empathy Argument“. Team Negative said that parents would know their kids better emotionally while doctors only understand the medical side. They said that parents, especially mothers, would have much better empathy to the child. Their example was what if the child was afraid of needles or surgeries, while the emergency medical procedures might involve such things. Basically, the whole point of this argument is to show that there is a part of a medical situation of a child that doctors will not understand but only parents. Therefore, in these kinds of situations, it is parents that should have better knowledge and is therefore more competent to make decisions.

Retaliating to this response, Team Affirmative came with an example of a certain emergency heart condition, namely Patent Ductus Arteriosus. In such condition, the best way of saving the child is by inserting some amplatzer or other duct occluder –which is done through surgery. Such surgery can only be performed while the child is at a young age. Mere medications would only buy a few more years of life –which by then the heart surgery cannot be performed anymore so nothing is left to save the child. Thus if a parent refuses such surgery because the child was afraid of surgeries, then the child will not survive the situation.

Team Negative argued again with an example of chemotherapy for cancer which might buy some time for the child’s life, but makes the child bald and might potentially hinder social life. Team Affirmative responded by explaining that chemotherapy does not classify as an emergency procedure, as it is a long term therapy procedure –not something needed urgently therefore irrelevant to the debate.

  1. Other arguments

Team Negative asserted that children cannot practice their own autonomy rights. The reason to that was because children are still irrational, immature, and unable to form reasonable decisions. They further explained how parents legally represent the children for that matter, as parents are presumed to be more rational, mature, and able to form reasonable decisions.

However the relevance of this argument is questionable, as this is something that Team Affirmative also agrees upon. If both teams agree upon it, it is no longer part of the room of debate. However, it may seem that Team Affirmative has a slight advantage in this point. This is because Team Affirmative has extended the debate by saying that doctors also are capable in forming reasonable decisions (similar to the parents), but doctors have a greater advantage by also being more capable in solving medical situations unlike the parents (which is then subject to the contention of the ‘qualification argument’ vs ’empathy argument’).

Another minor contention was on the rights to know. While Team Negative argued that parents have rights to know the condition of the child and about the medical procedures given to their child, Team Affirmative responded by saying that not requiring their consent does not suggest that parents will not be informed (they could be informed afterwards). This argument was raised by the second speaker of Team Negative, and was discussed even until the reply speech. Such an argument had little significance to the course of the debate, yet it was ironic that the discussion upon it lasted for a great deal of airtime.

  1. Logos v. Pathos

  1. Dissenting View: The Element of Logos

The judge that gave winning to Team Affirmative, let us further refer to as the Dissenting Judge, was on a very simple basis. While the burden of proof was “if it can be proven that parents can have considerations that are more important than the doctors, Team Negative wins”, it becomes a debate where Team Affirmative wins unless Team Negative can prove otherwise.

Team Affirmative has managed to prove that if the situation was medical, then a medical doctor knows best. Having that said, the burden shifts to Team Negative to prove whether or not exists another consideration that is more important than medical considerations, that a parent is capable of and a doctor is not. On this contention, Team Negative brought forth the Empathy Argument. The whole debate is now on whether or not the Empathy Argument can be proven.

As a matter of response, Team Affirmative has successfully tackled the ‘fear of surgery’ argument as previously explained. However, this only gives a minor credit to Team Affirmative for tackling down a particular example. Referring to the AREL principle of argument, what Team Affirmative did was merely knocking out the E(vidence), but has not negated the entirety of the argument. Therefore, viewing from the dynamics of the debate, nothing much has changed despite a very slight advantage of Team Negative.

However, if one takes a look at the construction of the argument itself, it is totally flawed. Firstly, it is very strange for one team to assert at one time that a child’s opinion are immature and cannot be trusted (i.e. fear of surgery), but at another time assert that parents know the child’s opinion and must take that child’s opinion (i.e. parents must take into account the fear of surgery). This is also an almost explicit statement that the parents’ will decide based on the irrationality of the child, which:

  • Even Team Negative themselves acknowledged that such irrationality is something that must not be trusted, making the argument contradictory

  • That, put against the very rational Qualification Argument brought by Team Affirmative, stands no chance.

Moreover, while it is very true that parents would empathize to their children emotionally, there was however no explanation on the relevance of such empathy when it comes to emergency medical situations. The only attempts were by saying that children can be afraid of needles or surgeries, yet there were no explanations on why one should succumb to such fear in medical emergencies.

Bear in mind also that Team Affirmative did not point out this weakness of Team Negative. However we must remember that a weak point is a weak point, and we should mark it weak. If Team Affirmative points it out then credit them for it, but even without that Team Negative should be given a weak mark for providing a weak point. Compare this to Team Affirmative which provided a stronger argument.

Having that said, it was obvious for the Dissenting Judge that this contention was won by Team Affirmative. The debate was a close one, however, because the Dissenting Judge had to take into account some other perspectives (e.g. First Affirmative wasn’t clear in their stance as previously explained, etc).

As could be clearly seen, the consideration made by the Dissenting Judge was heavily influenced by the element of Logos. The elements of Eros and Pathos were accumulated subjectively, though. It must be admitted that the explanations by Team Affirmative using all those medical terms would be more appealing, which might have given them an extra edge in credibility or Eros. As a matter of Pathos, the clash on medical qualifications versus empathy did to some extent try to appeal to the emotions of the judges: “but the child might die”, “what if the child is afraid”, etc. However, Logos was very dominant in the analysis.

  1. Majority View: Element of Pathos

The judges who voted for Team Negative, which will be referred to as the Majority Judges, were basically based on two grounds. The first ground was the truistic nature of Team Negative’s definition, which was pointed out and clarified by Team Negative.

PS: As a side note, the author wishes to argue that this ground is basically senseless by the following reasons:

  • Only part of the stance was truistic, and wasnt discussed much anyway and left out in the dynamics

  • Factually, fierce engagement happened anyway on the part of the stance from Team Affirmative which was not truistic –an evidence of not being truistic

  • Even if the definition was really truistic, that only further confirms that Team Affirmative should win the debate. A truistic definition means that there is no room for Team Negative to argue, which means that Team Affirmative consequently should win. This is why the definitional challenge mechanism is provided, so Team Negative could get out of that awful definition and make a fair debate in their new definition.

To understand further about truistic definitions and challenge of definitions, kindly refer to other materials regarding definitions (e.g. Jogja Debating Handbook or other adjudicating materials).

Another judge pointed out that the lack of clarity in the definition of “emergency” as a fatal flaw of Team Affirmative, and a ground to vote against them. On this matter, the Dissenting Judge also discredited the First Speaker Affirmative for making such mistake, but saw that the direction of the dynamics were clear anyway due to the clarification of Team Negative, and the Second Speaker Affirmative also clarified that their case was multilayer (both with and without parents present).

However, the author wishes to mainly draw attention to the second and main ground for the Majority Judges to vote for Team Negative. They made such decision because they were convinced by the empathy argument.

From the verbal adjudication and further discussions internally within the panel, the Majority Judges seemed to simply take for granted that empathy is indeed important, and that was it. There does not seem to be much to explain, because that was just it.

As a matter of psychology, it cannot be denied that empathy is very important. The need for affection, especially by children, has been long established. Not only the need of it, but also the dangers of its absence. An average reasonable person would usually refer to this as something you cannot necessarily rationally explain, but is something that one can undoubtedly feel. There are direct implications between lack of affection and stress, which would then reduce one’s overall health and performance.

However, in a debate competition, a Judge must remain neutral. They may not use their personal knowledge to fill in the gaps of what the teams failed to look at and consider it to the team’s advantage/disadvantage. The rationale for this is simple: it is the teams who are supposed to be debating, not the adjudicators.

It has been explained previously how Team Negative attempted to prove the argument, as well as the Dissenting Judge’s view of it. The author wishes to argue that on any angle or perspective, the “empathy argument” cannot be seen as a well induced or deduced argument, as explained in the Dissenting Judge’s view section. Therefore, as a matter of logos, one can objectively conclude that the element of Logos is not fulfilled.

Yet the author of this essay argues that the empathy argument, while not proven in the framework of the Logos element, was convincing on the Pathos element. This is not suggesting, as previously mentioned, that the Majority Judges were incompetent in reaching their decision. They really are competent, accredited, respected, and well achieving adjudicators. This is not, either, suggesting that the Dissenting Judge is perfect and free from flaw or bias in analyzing the debate, his views is presented merely as an example of a purely Logos-based approach to contrast the Pathos-based approach.

Because this is not a situation where the Majority Judges were filling in the gaps of Team Negative’s Logos element with explanations that the team never gave in the debate.

The author argues that this is a situation where the notion of ‘parents empathize better’ and ‘empathy is needed’, at least by the Majority Judges, has been accepted as a general truth. This is usually because one’s personal conscience cannot accept the absence of empathy. Just like how saying that companies are profit oriented already naturally implies something negative, this is an emotional acceptance and not a logical understanding. Therefore, this is why the author concludes that this is a decision based on Pathos more than Logos.

There are a number of ways to explain why these particular Judges decided in such a way. It is very natural for humans to respond to Pathos in that way. After all, Aristoteles did not suggest in any way that there is a hierarchy of significance between the Pathos, Logos, and Ethos. All of them are equally proper according to which area they target. The American Legal Realists observe this in more detail, in explaining the reason for court judges and juries in reaching verdicts.

Having that said, it is just natural for one to heavily respond emotionally to a very emotional issue. Perhaps, to the Majority Judges, the relations between parents and children with empathy is that kind of emotional issue. If that is so, then there is no such Logos element needed, according to the Majority Judges.

Trying best not to be gender biased, but perhaps (to some extent) the fact that the Majority Judges were females may have taken some part. The author understands that stereotyping is not something that is generally acceptable in the context of parliamentary debating. However, the author suggests that it is not entirely beyond the realm of possibilities that the judges were, to some extent, influenced by their social construction.

Parents care most about their children, children should love their parents, a parent’s love is the greatest human love, they all are claims that are constructed in many societies –Indonesia included. Other more relevant socially constructed claims would be that men are more rational and tend to be insensitive towards emotional issues, and women are the exact opposite.

There are physiological and social arguments that suggests that such claims are naturally true, and the postmodern feminists would argue that such things are only socially constructed but not necessarily within human nature. However even the postmodernist feminists would agree that if an individual was constructed in a certain way, then that individual will tend to act based on that construction. Therefore, naturally or constructed to believe that they are more sensitive and respond more to emotions, the Majority Judges are more inclined to emotionally accept the empathy argument as a truth despite the lack of logical explanation to it.

  1. Conclusion

Regardless of reason or motive, the author concludes that it was very apparent that the Majority Judge’s decision was reached more by emotional acceptance (Pathos) than that of rational or logical understanding (Logos).

As mentioned earlier, this is not to necessarily suggest that the Majority Judges were incompetent. While the conduct of Logos is a reflection of rationality, and it seems that rationality is something that is more widely accepted as the proper parameter of evaluation, however the notion that ‘rationality is the best way’ is not a rational claim –it is a metaphysical one.

While this essay does not talk about competence or incompetence, perhaps there is a lesson that debaters, coaches, and judges, must reflect on. Debaters must realize how important Pathos is as an element of high importance. Therefore, they must utilize this to the maximum effect. Coaches must also put greater emphasis in teaching and evaluating this aspect (for a much more massive case as to how extreme Pathos can influence a large audience, please refer to Jogja Debating Handbook: Second Edition, final chapter on How to Win a Debate, on the Subjective way to win a debate section).

As for judges, one must realize that there should be a balance in Logos, Eros, and Pathos. Unlike the reference in the previous paragraph that emphasizes more on the performance aspect, this essay speaks more from the inner-self of the judge in making decisions. While it is essential to evaluate the logical construction of the arguments (Logos), do not forget to also be more attentive to what belongs to Pathos, and also to transparently and appropriately award and evaluate the debaters based on it. It is important to admit and clearly use Pathos as one of the means of deciding and evaluating, rather than never mentioning it while factually considering it –consciously or not.



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