Most simplistically, debate is an exchange of arguments. An argument consists of a claim being made by the arguer and a warrant – a reason that the argument is true.
If there is no warrant/reason, then we simply have a contradiction, which becomes irresolvable. Watch this Monty Python skit to see how an argument becomes irresolveable.
People can really argue about anything. For example, two people could argue over where they should eat, whether or not fast food causes obesity, or if humans are substantially responsible for changes in the Earth’s average temperature. Regardless of what they argue over, in any argument people are always advancing a claim, the argument, and a reason it is true, the warrant(s).
Academic debate structures this arguing into a contest debate that is governed by rules, the requirement of evidence, the responsibility to respond directly to an opponent’s argument, and offers a neutral judge to resolve the arguments. It works by capturing the desire of people to argue and actively participate in their own learning and turning that into an educat