Philosophy and Debate

This week I have been in Utrecht, working with debate experts and philosophy teachers from across Europe on a new Erasmus funded project. The project’s dual aims are to support philosophy teachers to use debate in the classroom and also to support debate coaches to use philosophy in their debate training. It was both valuable and pleasurable to have the time and space to consider the unique features and benefits of both debate and philosophy, and to explore how they can compliment each other. Going forward, Noisy Classroom will be using their cross-curricular experience to help develop debate resources for philosophy teachers. 

There are likely objections from philosophy teachers that will need to be overcome. Many see debating as sophistry and at odds with a truth-seeking approach. We must make the case that debate is an exercise in critical thinking, which allows different perspectives to be explored in depth, before a student reaches their own conclusions. Being assigned sides allows students to look objectively at issues from multiple perspectives. We would not ask teachers to encourage rhetorical game-playing to win a debate, anymore than we would ask football coaches to encourage their students to dive. As educators we focus on helping students to build skills of rigorous argumentation, accurate, critical listening and clarity of expression. 

Debating may never be the dominant form of discourse in a philosophy classroom, but it is a useful pedagogical tool to have as part of a range of dialogue, enquiry and discussion techniques. 

Why? Because many of the skills that philosophy teachers want to develop in their students are shared with debate. The stated aims for the IB philosophy diploma programme are to:

1. develop an inquiring and intellectually curious way of thinking

2. formulate arguments in a sound and purposeful way

3. examine critically their own experiences and their ideological and cultural perspectives

4. appreciate the diversity of approaches within philosophical thinking

5. apply their philosophical knowledge and skills to the world around them.

All of these skills can be sharpened through practising debate and related critical oracy activities. 

There are two types of motions that philosophy teachers may use: firstly explicitly philosophical motions such “This house believes that freedom is more important than happiness”; and secondly motions which allow students to apply philosophical concepts to the real world such as “This house believes that scientists should be ethically responsible for the consequences of their work” 

The project will continue through until 2021 and will produce a teacher handbook amongst its output. This will be of use to teachers of Religious Education, ethics and critical thinking in addition to its core audience of philosophy teachers and debate coaches. 

The combination of debaters and philosophers in the room in Utrecht this week (ably chaired by philosophy teacher Floris Velema), certainly created dynamic, engaging, analytical, exploratory talk. If this proves to be transferable, then expect magical things in your classroom!

If you would be interested in being involved in any events or projects around debating and philosophy,  please email 

Scroll to Top