Midterm Debate:
Cancel Ancient Philosophy?

Wed. October 21, 2020
Plenary (Chapel)

Video of Zoom recording of debate. (With some technical fiddling at the beginning.)

Debate question:

Should we “cancel” ancient philosophy (both East and West)?


Section 1:
Yes; cancel everything; more harm than good comes from discussing.

Section 2:
Yes; deconstruct, expose flaws, and dismiss.

Section 3:
No; constructively engage and modify, preserving contemporary relevance.

Section 4:
No; retain everything and teach it, but by contextualizing and historicizing; these theories on the good life have limited if any contemporary relevance.


The aim of this debate is to determine whether or not we should “cancel” ancient philosophy. As a spur for this question, please read this op-ed by Prof. Agnes Callard.

Each of you will need to consider with the peers in your section the best arguments you can develop for your assigned position, drawing on what you’ve learned so far about the different approaches to the good life we have covered in this course. While your main goal is to argue for your position, you will also be arguing against the positions of the other sections’ teams and responding to questions/challenges raised by students during the debate. At the end of the debate, each of you will rank-order the teams to determine a winner.


This debate consists of two rounds and a conclusion. Each section’s team should select a different spokesperson for each phase of the debate.

  1. In round 1, a spokesperson for each section’s team will give a 5-minute presentation arguing for their team’s position. During and after each presentation, members of other teams are encouraged to raise questions/challenges over the chat function on Zoom.
    • Members of other teams should send their questions/challenges to “Everyone” over the Zoom chat.
    • Each question/challenge posed in the Zoom chat should be directed specifically to a section number.
  2. Each team then confers for 5 minutes, reviewing and refining a rebuttal that addresses the points raised by the other teams, including the questions/challenges raised by students in the Zoom chat.
  3. In round 2, a spokesperson for each team gives a 5-minute rebuttal, responding to a set of questions/challenges raised by the other teams in the Zoom chat. These questions will be selected by Profs. Angle, Horst, and Irani, who will moderate this round.
  4. Each team then confers for another 5 minutes to prepare for their conclusion.
  5. To conclude, a final spokesperson for each of the teams gives a 3-minute summary of their position.
  6. After the debate, each section team will vote for which team’s arguments they found more convincing overall.
    • N.B. During the voting period of the debate, students should cast their votes based on which team they believed made the best case for their position, not out of loyalty to the team they were on. Put to use the skills in open-mindedness you’ve developed in your dialogue groups this semester!

Some tips:

  • You will have 40 minutes during your breakout session on Monday, October 19 to prepare for this debate with your team and should make use of any other free time before the debate on Wednesday to meet with your section peers and prepare.
  • To argue for the position you’ve been assigned, it would be good to refamiliarize yourself with the issues and topics we’ve covered so far in this course, including the ways of life you’ve studied and put into practice.
  • In the rebuttal phase of the debate during round 2, your team will need to respond to the positions of the other teams, as well as the questions/challenges posed by students during round 1 over the Zoom chat. You can prepare parts of this response ahead of time by brainstorming the best arguments on all sides of the debate question. It will also be a good idea to have a couple of members in your team serving as monitors of the Zoom chat during round 1 to keep track of the questions/challenges that are raised.
  • One way to start the process of preparing is to make a list of all the arguments that can be made on each side of the debate question. Then pick the argument your team wants to make in support of your position and imagine the arguments you would pick if you were on the other teams, preparing to refute them.
  • You might also use ideas that came to you during your week of living like a Confucian or an Aristotelian, especially if you see ways that some of those exercises might help you develop your arguments.


Round 1
Section 1:  5-minute presentation
Section 2:  5-minute presentation
Section 3:  5-minute presentation
Section 4:  5-minute presentation

Work period:  each team confers for 5 minutes

Round 2
Section 1:  5-minute rebuttal
Section 2:  5-minute rebuttal
Section 3:  5-minute rebuttal
Section 4:  5-minute rebuttal

Work period:  each team confers for 5 minutes

Section 1:  3-minute summary
Section 2:  3-minute summary
Section 3:  3-minute summary
Section 4:  3-minute summary

Voting period