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Argumentation and Debate




Admission Requirements



How can you convincingly defend your standpoint in a discussion? And how can you critically analyse the arguments of others? In this course, we will focus on both the theory and practice of debate. In the theoretical component of the course, we will discuss a set of systematic strategies which will increase your abilities to critically analyse debates, as well as your abilities to find relevant arguments to support and defend a position in a debate. In the practical component of the course, these theoretical insights will be put into practice and you will improve your own debating skills. In addition, we will look at several political debates and analyse the strategies used by the debaters.

Course Objectives

Students who have successfully completed this course, will be able to:

  • debate an issue coherently and persuasively

  • find relevant and strong arguments to support and defend a position in a debate

  • respond adequately to their opponent’s arguments

  • detect fallacies in argumentation

  • reflect critically on their own debating skills

Mode of Instruction

This course requires active involvement of students. Students are obliged to prepare (1) critical questions about the assigned literature that serve as input for plenary discussions, (2) short presentations about the role of debate in society, (3) their position with respect to specific debate topics, and (4) reflections on their own debating performances. Naturally, a considerable amount of the available time in class will be spent on the practice of actual debate. The instructor will give all students feedback with regard to their performance.


Assessment: In-class participation; critical questions about the assigned literature (web postings)
Percentage: 15%
Deadline: Ongoing Weeks 1 – 7

Assessment: Debating (3x)
Percentage: 30%
Deadline: Weeks 1, 5, 7

Assessment: Take-home exam (1500 words)
Percentage: 25%
Deadline: Week 6

Assessment: Final, written exam
Percentage: 30%
Deadline: Week 8


  • Ericson, Jon M., James J. Murphy & Raymond Bud Zeuschner (2011): The Debater’s guide. Fourth edition. Carbondale & Edwardsdale: Southern Illinois University Press.

  • Freeley, A.J. & D.L.Steinberg (2009): Argumentation and Debate. Critical thinking for reasoned decision making. Twelfth edition. Australia etc.: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

  • Haaften, Ton van (2009): ‘Parliamentary Debate and Political Culture: The Dutch Case’. In: T. van Haaften, H. Jansen, J. de Jong, W. Koetsenruijter (eds.): Bending Opinion, Essays on persuasion in the public domain. Leiden: Leiden University Press, 349-368. THIS BOOK CHAPTER WILL BE AVAILABLE VIA BLACKBOARD.

  • Leeuwen, Maarten van (2012): ‘Rhetorical Effects of Grammar’. In: Critical Approaches to Discourse Analysis across Disciplines, 5(2), 88-101. THIS ARTICLE WILL BE AVAILABLE VIA BLACKBOARD.

  • Tindale, Christopher W. Tindale (2007): Fallacies and Argument Appraisal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapters 1, 2, 5, 7.

Contact Information

Drs. Maarten van Leeuwen, m.van.leeuwen@hum.leidenuniv.nl

Weekly Overview

  • Week 1: General introduction & getting acquainted with the practice of academic debate

  • Week 2: Stating and analyzing a controversy; building a case

  • Week 3: Use of evidence; refutation

  • Week 4: Presenting a case (composition and delivery); judging a debate

  • Week 5: Practicing debate (based on intensive preparation)

  • Week 6: Obstacles to clear thinking: fallacies

  • Week 7: Fallacies (continued); practicing debate

  • Week 8: Reading week (no classroom hours)

Preparation for first session

Read chapters 2, 5, 6, 9 and the Epilogue from The Debater’s guide (Ericson et al. 2011).