India as a civilised society has witnessed multiple periods of theological and sociological battles that happened between differing indigenous groups or between the indigenous society and the invaders. A quick glance at our past makes one realise that theological criticisms are not new to this land or its people. Bharat is the land of Adi Shankaracharya, who was the epitome of intellectual discussion, theological amalgamation and cultural revelation. Codes of civility and modes for realisation of Truth are predominant rules of debate and discussion in this land. The standards of civility and integrity during an intellectual discussion in Bharat were so high that a miniscule level of emotional elevation during a debate signifies intellectual defeat.
The continued display of might and violence as retaliations to intellectual debates are alien to the indigenous ethos of a land where virtues such as freedom of speech were valued in absolute terms. An aggressive physical response to an intellectual debate is a clear display of intellectual inadequacy. In an intellectually enticing debate, the stakeholders’ quest for Truth is considered the most important. To ensure that a debate maintains integrity with certain codes of civility, certain pointers need to be kept in mind.
First and foremost is to understand the topic at hand. A clear understanding of the topic will ensure rationality. The second one is to ensure that both the sides of the debate have understood each other’s understanding of the topic. In any given topic, there always exists a common understanding and an individualised understanding. For example, topics relating to God have both abstract and theological perceptions. In such cases, it is important to ensure that both the parties have a clear understanding of the differing perceptions. After this, the third and final pointer is to ensure that one’s own argument is backed by a pramana or superlative authority. Such backing will provide strong foundations to an argument and help in establishing one’s stance with the help of a non-biased authority. In theological and philosophical discussions, our Vedas, Puranas and the Upanishads act as pramanas. Now that we have seen the key pointers to be kept in mind before a discussion, let us try and understand the different types of arguments.
As pioneers of debate and discussion, Indians have classified arguments into three types - vaada, jalpa and vitanda. When two or more people argue about a topic and the objective of the argument is to get clarity over the topic and arrive at a proper conclusion, it is called vaada. A person engaged in vaada does not have a preconceived notion. For the same reason, the argument is not to prove one’s point right, but to arrive at the Truth. Jalpa is the type of argument where two or more people argue to prove their point is right and that the other person is wrong. Here, the person is already convinced that she is correct and the other person is wrong. So the whole argument is an attempt to win by proving the other person wrong. When the purpose of the argument is only to prove that the other person is wrong and the opponent who places the argument doesn’t have any specific stand of his own, it is called vitanda. Before engaging in a discussion, it is always important to remind ourselves that it is imperative that we engage in vaada rather than vitanda or jalpa.
The ultimate objective of a debate should be to realise what is ’right’ rather than to show ‘might’. People with blind faith possessing inadequate intellectual persona more often than not resort to street power, creating social unrest and character assassination as some of the tools of retaliation in a debate. It is important that we, as a society, decide what is important for us - right or might. For people with intellectual clarity, ‘Right is Might’ whereas for people with intellectual inadequacy, ‘Might is Right’. In a society that makes a hue and cry about Freedom of Expression, it is important to settle intellectual discussion with utmost integrity and civility. Violence and disharmony have no place in a society which aims to place India first.