Final Debate

Final Debate:
Which Life is Best?

Mon. December 5, 2022
Shanklin 107

Debate question:

Which school offers the best approach to living a good life?


Section 2:
The Aristotelian way of life

Section 4:
The Confucian way of life

Section 5:
The Daoist way of life

Section 6:
The Stoic way of life


Our penultimate class session will be devoted to a debate between (and among) the four ancient schools on whom we’ve focused this semester, each one represented by all the students in a single section.

Sections 2, 4, 5, and 6 have been assigned the specific schools listed above. Sections 1 and 3 will serve as our cross-examiners and jury pool.

Throughout the debate, the moderators will give each group numerous opportunities to speak. One of our goals in this debate is that each student speak, and so comments or questions should be focused and brief—not listing a whole range of issues. No student in a section will be allowed to make a second comment until each member of the section has spoken. The moderators will also serve as fact-checkers during the debate, so make sure whatever you say is a fair representation of the position of your school!


  • At the start of the debate, the moderator will call on Sections 2, 4, 5, and 6 in turn to offer a brief opening statement (maximum two minutes) on why their school offers the best path to a good life.
  • The moderator will then call on cross-examiners in Sections 1 and 3 to respond. Students in Sections 2, 4, 5, and 6 can also raise problems for other schools, highlight the strengths of their own school, or reply to challenges that other groups have posed. This discussion will continue, with each group getting multiple opportunities to speak. Again, our goal here is that everyone participates.
  • At the end of the debate, students in Sections 1 and 3 will select the winner.


In order to be ready for this debate, your dialogue session on Friday, December 2 will be devoted to preparing.

For students in Sections 2, 4, 5, and 6: you will be advocating for a specific school in this debate. Come to your Friday meeting ready to discuss:

  1. What are the central tenets of your school’s approach to the good life?
  2. What distinguishes your school’s approach to the good life from those of other schools? Why is the position of your school superior?
  3. What are potential vulnerabilities for your position? You’ll need to be prepared to defend your position against these criticisms.
  4. What are the weaknesses of the other positions that you can highlight to demonstrate the overall superiority of your own position?

While you must work from the historical version of these philosophies as found in our texts, if you feel that modifications would make the doctrines stronger without violating the essential spirit of the philosophy, you can include such ideas as long as you make clear that they are reasonable developments.

At your meeting, discuss the above four questions and compile a list of at least four answers to each question. Your Dialogue Facilitators should record these answers on Friday and share them with the three professors in advance of the debate, as well as the name of the student who will make the group’s brief opening statement.

For students in sections 1 and 3: your role in this debate is to serve as cross-examiners and to get the members of each team to improve the quality of their arguments. Please note here that you’re both cross-examining and providing a verdict at the end of the debate: rather than being an advocate for any position, students in sections 1 and 3 should think of themselves not as adversaries but as judges (in the style of Supreme Court justices) examining the merits and demerits of a case.

For all sections: please complete the Google Form that will be shared with you in your Dialogue Session on Friday, December 2.

Some tips:

  • At least part of your dialogue session this week will be spent preparing for this debate with your team. You should make use of any other free time before the debate over the weekend to meet with your section peers and/or use the Google Form to 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, and Prof. Velji’s lecture on Transformative Justice this week.
  • One way to start the process of preparing is to make a list of all the arguments that can be made for each of the approaches to the good life we’ve considered this semester. Then pick the argument(s) 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 an Aristotelian, Confucian, Daoist, and Stoic, especially if you see ways that some of those exercises might help you develop your arguments.