The art of debate

The art of debate


So much of modern life can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. Even places as far away from Athens as Washington DC were influenced by their culture and their institutions. One of its most lasting impressions has been democracy and one of the most important parts of this is debate. Debates are important in free societies and are especially vital for both elections and court cases.
One of the most famous from the ancient world is the Mytilenian debate of 427BC. After a failed insurrection in Mytilene, the Athenians voted to execute the leaders of the uprising, as well as all of the city’s men, and to enslave the women and children. Diodotus argued for clemency with Cleon, “the most violent man at Athens” being his opponent. The latter argued that justice must prevail and that anything less would be a show of weakness. Diodotus argued that good citizens “ought to triumph not by frightening his opponents, but by beating them fairly in argument” and following a series of appeals to the Athenian audience, prevailed over his opponent.
More than two and a half millennia later, this method of debating is still used to determine guilt and dole out justice, as two lawyers argue present evidence to sway twelve jurors who will vote based on it. There are many important skills needed to be a good debater, whether you are defending someone’s freedom or fighting to have someone elected.
“If you cannot explain it simply,” according to Einstein, “you don’t understand it well enough.” It’s one thing to be able to explain the inner workings of a neutron star or complicated trade agreements to an expert in either field. But imagine you are talking to a layman. A great source of answers like this is Explain Like I’m Five on where people ask questions about complicated issues and others answer in simple terms that, ideally, a five-year-old would understand.
But that’s great if you are posting comments online, you can research as you are answering and even include links. Diodotus and others in his shoes didn’t have that luxury. It’s good, not just to be knowledgeable but to be able to think on your feet. One trick that lawyers use is to find a flaw in each other’s argument. By pulling on one piece of thread you can unravel a whole tapestry. This (as well as laws against perjury) are why it’s not a good idea to lie in court! Legal Eagle is a YouTube channel where a lawyer reviews legal scenes in movies for their legal realism and critiques the fictional lawyers for their skills in, among other things, debating.
There are many, many more skills that are required to be a good debater. Listed below are some places around London where you can learn some of these skills.

London Debating Societies

Site that helps you find debate groups etc around London

Debating London
The bi-monthly public debate series run by the Great Debaters Club; free to attend and open to all.

Broke in London
6 Affordable Public Speaking/Debating Clubs In London

Great Debaters

Said to be the oldest free speech forum in the world.

UCL Debating Society

Student Central Debate Society

London Debate Society | British History

City Students’ Union

Inner Temple

LSE Students’ Union

Queen Mary Student Union (QMSU)

Kingston Debating Society

Goldsmith Debating Society

SOAS Debating Society

Debate Mate
“We improve social mobility by teaching key skills through after school debate programmes for schools in the UK.”

London Dauphine Debate Society
“The Dauphine Debate Society was created to promote both French and English languages through the organisation of public speaking events. Our members love to speak their mind and enjoy discussing news and global issues over a beer (or two).”
LSBSU Debate Society

Middlesex University Debate Club

BPP University

London Society

Imperial College

New College of the Humanities

Debate Chamber
Academic summer school for 11-18-year-olds.


BLSA London

Oxford Union
Hosts debates

Intelligence Squared
World famous forum for debate

Top 5 Universities for debating

Gray’s Inn – Vocalise
A student-led prison debating initiative.

Debating London
The free public debate series run by the Great Debaters Club

104 London Debaters

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