Midterm Debate

Midterm Debate:
Cancel Ancient Philosophy?

Wed. October 26, 2022

Debate question:

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


Section 1:
Yes; cancel everything and don’t teach; 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.

For students in sections 1, 2, 3, and 4: 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 about the different approaches to the good life we’ve covered so far in this course. While your main goal is to argue for your position, you’ll also be arguing against the positions of the other sections’ teams and responding to questions and challenges raised by students from sections 5 and 6 during the debate.

For students in sections 5 and 6: 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. After pooling a set of questions together in your groups during round 1, a cross-examiner from section 5 will raise questions in round 2 that challenge the arguments of sections 1 and 2. A cross-examiner from section 6 will then raise questions that challenge the arguments of sections 3 and 4. At the end of the debate, all students from sections 5 and 6 will rank-order the teams to determine a winner. 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 5 and 6 should think of themselves as judges (in the style of Supreme Court justices) examining the merits and demerits of a case.

For all sections: by Fri. October 21, please convey to your professors who will be representing your section during the debate. Sections 1, 2, 3, and 4 each need to select: one spokesperson for round 1; one respondent for round 2; one spokesperson for the concluding round. Sections 5 and 6 need to select one or two cross-examiners for round 2.


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

  1. In round 1, a spokesperson for each team in sections 1, 2, 3, and 4 will give a 5-minute presentation arguing for their team’s position. During and after each of these presentations, students in sections 5 and 6 are encouraged to raise questions/challenges on a shared Google Doc to help the cross-examiners in their section prepare for round 2.
  2. In round 2, the views of each team in sections 1, 2, 3, and 4 will be cross-examined. Sections 1 and 2 will be cross-examined by students from section 5. Sections 3 and 4 will then be cross-examined by students from section 6. The cross-examination of each team will last 5 minutes.
  3. Each team in sections 1, 2, 3, and 4 then confers for 5 minutes to prepare for their conclusion.
  4. To conclude, a final spokesperson for each of the teams gives a 3-minute summary of their position.
  5. After the debate, all students in sections 5 and 6 will vote on which team’s arguments they found most convincing overall.

Some tips:

  • You will spend all of your dialogue session on Fri. October 21 preparing for this debate with your team and should make use of any other free time before the debate 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 cross-examination phase of the debate during round 2, a respondent from each team in sections 1, 2, 3, and 4 will need to address the questions/challenges posed by the cross-examiners from sections 5 and 6. You can prepare parts of this response ahead of time in your groups by brainstorming the best arguments on all sides of the debate question.
  • 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

Round 2

Section 1:  5-minute cross-examination by section 5
Section 2:  5-minute cross-examination by section 5
Section 3:  5-minute cross-examination by section 6
Section 4:  5-minute cross-examination by section 6

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 (for sections 5 and 6 only)