Creative Education
2013. Vol.4, No.8, 497-502
Published Online August 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 497
Professional Disputation
Takeo Nakagawa1, Ai Nakag a wa 2, Hiroyuki Iida3, Shungo Ka wanishi4
1Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Nomi, Japan
2Department of Economics, Royal White Mountains Academi a , H a k us a n, Japan
3School of Information Science, J apan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Nomi, Japan
4Institute of General Education, Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Nomi, Japan
Received May 10th, 2013; revised June 10th, 2013; accepted June 17th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Takeo Nakagawa et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
This paper stresses an importance of the professional disputation, being initiated by the Department of
Mechanical Engineering, Monash University in Australia. It explains the history of the subject, aims and
procedure in a logical order, so that any individual or any institution can take advantage of this unique and
extremely useful intellectual training system to equip researchers, students and/or businessmen with pow-
erful oral and written skills in presentation of their thesis or proposition. The professional disputation is
synthetic and systematic research training system or a game which has been elaborated by well-trained
scholars upon the past human intellectual history.
Keywords: Disputation; Intellectual Training; Synthetic Education; Research; Philosophy
Explicit intellect is not necessarily a dominant factor at all in
identifying a problem at all, nor in establishing its limits, nor in
setting its pragmatic constraints. Yet experience shows that new
truths are obtained most easily, and with greatest conviction, by
liberal and smart use of the methods of logical argument in test-
ing any hypothesis that arises in the laboratories of the scholar
or in the plants of the practitioners. The effectiveness of scien-
tific development is largely dependent on legitimate argument.
It is, therefore, believed that in scientific studies the intellectual
method and spirit are particularly explicit.
Disputation, argument in which two parties, foe and friend,
attack and defend a thesis, respectively, is an essential compo-
nent of any discovery process, by which the scholar convinces
both herself/himself and others of the validity or invalidity of
her/his ideas, propositions, or hypotheses. It is an art and skill
that can only be acquired through a systematic training, being
viewed as an intellectual battle game (Iida et al., 2012). A scho-
lar matures through a firm grasp of this intellectual skill step by
step gradually. Considering that her/his intuitive skill is innate,
peculiar, and private, the degree of stimulation can not be for-
mulated quantitatively in general. Nonetheless, the value of art
and skill in disputation exists in providing extremely effective
knowledge and competent professional practice, as to be descri-
bed in Section “The Procedure” in details.
The present paper introduces the junior author’s unique real
experience in obtaining the art and skill of disputation as a for-
mal requirement of Ph.D studies in the Department of Me-
chanical Engineering, Monash University, Australia during
1977 and 1979. The main purpose of disputation is to foster and
nourish researchers, students, and/or businessmen with both oral
and written arts and skills in presentation of their thesis or pro-
History of the Subject
Around 1975, John Crisp, Bob Brown and Deane Blackman
(1976a, 1976b, 1977) were quite disappointed with a shorta ge of
critical activity among graduate scholars, of a lack of under-
standing of the research process, and absence of interest in the
general knowledge in community. Their embarrassment, how-
ever, resulted in an immediate introduction of the novel subject,
named “professional disputation”. The design of the profes-
sional disputation unit was set out in a brief treatise (Crisp et al.,
1976a), which later served as the handbook for the subject. The
design has proved to be surprisingly durable, and while there
have been some variations in practice over the years and some
relaxation of the ferocious debate have taken place over the
years, the unit has esse ntially remained the same.
The original treatise has long been out of print, but it has
been revised five times since 1975 reflecting changes in proce-
dure to accommodate to needs of the graduate school. Despite
the introduction of the revised materials, an attempt has been
made to preserve the original style of professional disputation.
Very recently, this remarkable subject “professional disputa-
tion” has been introduced and subsequently formally adopted
by the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
(JAIST) to enlighten research students and academic staffs.
Since JAIST is currently one of the leading post-graduate uni-
versities in the world, its adoption of professional disputation
may have great impact upon the academic world.
The Aims
This subject is one of several required course work units in a
graduate program, leading to the awarding of a degree in the
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Monash University in
Australia. The primary aims are the nourishment of disputative
skills, and the enhancement of a candidate’s writing ability to
embody their high quality dissertation. Those are also essential
skills for distinct groups of people in any society. In no way is
the assessment of the work of a proponent’s research consid-
ered proper to th is subject.
A proponent will never be considered proper without com-
pleting this subject. Indeed, a proponent must meet his obliga-
tion in disputation before her/his thesis is completed. Neverthe-
less, it is normally expected in the disputation unit that the the-
sis selected freely and proposed by a proponent will have
originated from her/his interest in her/his research. Selection
based on familiarity enables the proponent to find a thesis with
an immediate and broader scope. The proponent has to under-
stand that the thesis will be considered nothing but a proposi-
tion laid down and stated as a theme to be discussed, proved
and maintained against attack. It is in this basic argumentative
context that practice in disputation is offered.
The proponent is required to demonstrate a satisfactory level
of disputative skills in the disputation, so that it is necessary to
describe the contents in detail and to inform not only the audi-
ence but also disputants who challenge the efforts of the propo-
nent and assessors, those who judge his performance, too. The
proponent is therein advised that she/he is expected to display
several competencies and to demonstrate them at an adequate
level. Firstly, he needs a competency in devising an appropriate
thesis; secondly, that in formulating an argument in defense of
that thesis; then, that in presenting that argument publicly; and
finally, that in engaging herself/himself in dispute over the ar-
Particularly important with regard to the thesis is that it must
be unambiguous, precise, self-consistent and grammatical in its
statement. In its quality, it must not be self-evident, shallow; or
trivial. It must also be novel in that, if sustained, it is a state-
ment of a truth previously unstated or unproven.
As to the argument, it should have logical strength and, pref-
erably, validity. Especially, its premises must be identifiable and
defined; its logical development must be both evident and
sound; as a whole it must support or sustain the thesis.
Both written and oral skills in presentation of the thesis and
its supporting argument are required. The proponent must show
sensitivity to prevailing rule as well as professional competence.
In a written demonstration called the prospectus, a logical evo-
lution is demanded concretely showing an appropriate balance
of materials, and adequate syntax, distinct precision, correct
spelling and style.
In an oral demonstration, called the discourse, both the tech-
nique of delivery and the arrangement of content have to be of
high standard. The delivery includes questions of syntax, clarity,
and repertoire; those of mannerisms, behavior and timing, those
of choice of aids in terms of which is to be wise and those of
their use of the aids in terms of which is to be clever. With re-
spect to the content, the material presented has to be judged in
terms of whether they have been well exposed, appropriate to
the audience, and I proper balance. Competence is also expect-
ed in the introduction of new ideas, and in the description of
new concepts or of unorthodox views, utilizing relevant re-
course to illustrative examples, suggestions, or analogies. The
oral and written demonstrations, moreover, are to be comple-
mentary or mutu ally reinforci n g.
Finally, there are the actual skills of verbal battle, in disputa-
tion. A proponent having these skills well developed will show
ready comprehension of questions put, perception of the intent
and scope of a disputant’s counter argument, and an aptitude to
remain relevant and to the point. These skills include also abil-
ity in the legitimate use of such techniques as deflection, coun-
ter-attack and obscureness; and should disclose the proponent’s
authority and knowledge in her/his selected area.
In order to allow a display of all of these skills, as well as an
assessment of them, a disputation session is scheduled; a panel
of disputants, charged with the main burden of disputation, is
appointed; and a panel of assessors is arranged. The panel of
disputants prepares itself before the event by studying the pro-
spectus, the written summary of the proponent’s argument. The
judgment of the panel of assessors is based on the main facets
of disputation listed above.
The Procedure
The formal business of the disputation begins with issuing of
the prospectus, the written summary of the thesis and proposed
argument; this document is limited to five pages including fig-
ures and tables, and become available about one week before
the verbal presentation. It carries a face sheet which sets out, as
well as the name of the proponent and her/his thesis, the other
people involved and in particular the panel of disputants. Its
purpose is both to catch the interest of potential auditors and to
display to anybody interested in engaging in dispute the main
premises and argument to be used.
Before the disputation session the appointed panel of dispu-
tants (of several persons, normally four persons) meets and, on
the basis of the prospectus, studies the argument and prepares
an attack. Often a single meeting suffices, but sometimes the
panel feels obliged to consult references, or the argument af-
fords several lines of attack and a single meeting does not suf-
fice to explore all of these. Well prepared panels provide for
themselves several independent points with which to challenge
the proponent’s argument. When the attack on a particular point
is lengthened in time, the successive steps will have usually
been divided between the members of the panel who will then
determine for themselves an order of attack.
The proceedings are conducted in a quite formal manner by a
moderator, who has an impartial role to play throughout the
disputation. At the beginning of the session, she/he introduces
the proponent, announcing such degrees and other academic
After reminding all that forty-five minutes or less are al-
lowed in which to present the argument, the moderator then
invites the proponent to speak to this thesis. During the dis-
course interruptions are not permitted.
At the end of the discourse, however, the moderator declares
a brief pause. This has several purposes, aside from allowing
coffee to be served. It is an interval of relief for the proponent;
it is an opportunity for the audience at large to reflect and ex-
change views on the material offered; most importantly it per-
mits the panel of disputants to re-arrange their argument, if
necessary, to account for the added material made available in
the spoken presentation, or discourse. It is indeed realized that
without this opportunity the panel of disputants is frequently
capable of only a superficial and formal attack based on the
written text and one which tends to ignore new material made
available in the oral version. The pause lasts about ten minutes.
Upon reassembling, the members of the panel press their points
for about thirty minutes, and when they have done, the mod-
erator invites other auditors to dispute. The auditors include the
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s .
panel of assessors who, since they have to judge the whole per-
formance, have usually read the written argument more care-
fully than others and thereby have placed themselves in a better
position to dispute. The whole exchange lasts a nominal forty-
five minutes.
There may be strong pressures upon the moderator to extend
the period of time, and she/he is permitted under the rules of
procedure so to do if her/he judges the argument to be still ex-
panding or that an important point remains unresolved. A rough
justice allows each member of the panel about seven minutes.
To get full value out of this as a disputant requires careful pre-
paration and in addition, cooperation from the proponent who
can easily, by a tedious reply, spend question time wastefully.
In this process the moderator has a difficult role to play.
She/he has the power to interrupt, to declare a question to be
inadmissible, or to attempt to clear a misunderstanding by re-
phrasing question or answer; but every interruption breaks the
continuity of the dialogue a nd intrudes into the conflict in which
the proponent and her/his ad versary are engaged. In spite of these
draw-backs, it being our experience that the ability to phrase a
question or answer convincingly is not innate, assistance from
the moderator is not infrequently required in order to keep the
discussion with bounds. Disputants are accustomed to preface
their argument with circumlocutory phrases or, during exchanges,
wander away from the principal line of argument that at best
confuse the proponent and, at worse, provide him with the op-
portunity of ignoring or avoiding the original point of attack.
After the moderator closing the session, the panel of asses-
sors now goes away to consider the performance, and to judge
either that the proponent has met the required standard, or not.
The main counts are following four points: (1) the oral presen-
tation, (2) the argument developed, (3) the performance in dis-
putation and (4) the stated thesis itself. In broad terms, the pro-
ponent must pass on all of these counts. The proponent’s su-
pervisor may take part in the discussion which all the tutors
attend and, when necessary, assist. In straightforward cases a
decision is reached within a quarter of an hour, but on occa-
sions it has taken much longer to get a consensus view from the
As soon as the assessors have reached a view, the proponent
is called in. The formal decision of the assessors is given to her/
him, together with their more important comments. From these
there usually arises an extended discussion between assessors,
tutors, supervisor and proponent which on occasions, has been
so prolonged as to require postponement and subsequent con-
clusion. Usually, however, an hour has been enough, and the
whole party requires working at a suitably provisioned com-
If the assessors feel the performance to have been inadequate,
their decision (together with a recommendation) is considered
separately by the tutors who prescribe what added work the
proponent must undertake to secure a pass. Remedies available
to the tutors are of several kinds; repetition of the disputation
with or without further preliminary private tutoring; general
disputation in video-camera with the tutors on the proposed
thesis; tutoring in specific deficiencies; resubmission of the pro-
spectus or of the thesis statement; the formulation and submis-
sion of a new thesis statement. Each but the first of these reme-
dies has been imposed.
Concluding Remark
The assessment of the worth of any teaching program is in-
volving with difficulties not the least of which are questions of
what features of its effect should be assessed and, indeed, what
features can be assessed.
Many of the more important skills of disputation cannot rea-
dily be assessed objectively, so that the evaluation of any en-
hancement of skills and consequently, of the extent to which
our prime aims are being met, is even more uncertain. By
means of its operating procedure, there is no doubt that the unit
has engaged graduate scholars and staffs in a range of scientific
discussion in which they would not otherwise have been in-
volved. And we believe this to be an important outcome in that
it has led to a vitality of communicativeness—the essence of in-
tellectual exchange-not particularly noticeable before. It is con-
sidered that all the unit elements of the process of disputation is
contained within, and made visible by, the formal framework
being constructed.
The unit has proved to be strong medicine for the Depart-
ment after all. It has triggered intense and occasionally sharp
cutting debate amongst staffs, and also amongst graduate scho-
lars. It has influenced the attitude toward and the standard of re-
search; on the other hand it has demanded considerable time
and effort from all the academic staffs and graduate students in
the Department.
Our finding that the more common faults in disputation relate
to inadequacies in orderly, systematic thinking or applying the
science of argument suggest that we could achieve comparable
benefits with very much less effort, simply by offering formal
courses in logic, argument and rhetoric. We propose to explore
this option but, there is no question that the benefits of persist-
ing with the disputation unit, far outweigh the over all costs, for
this skill can be applicable to everyday affair for us all, and is,
indeed, beneficial in view of refining our mind as well as scien-
tific life, leading to innovative findings.
The junior author is grateful to Professor Deane R. Blackman
for providing him all of the materials on the Professional Dis-
putation unit, originating in the Department of Mechanical
Engineering, Monash University, Australia. Last but not least,
the junior author’s sincere thanks are forwarded to the Monash
University, Australia government, together with the Great Aus-
tralians, who have given a Monash Graduate Scholarship for
the junior author to study at the Department of Mechanical En-
gineering, Monash University as a Ph.D student under the su-
pervision of the prominent and distinguished Professor Jona-
than B. Hinwood, and to encounter with such a significant unit,
Professional Disputation which plays a crucial role in the junior
author’s numeral discoveries and findings appeared subsequent-
ly. And still persisting.
Coleman, J. M. (1969). Brahmaputra river: Channel processes and se-
dimentation. Sedimentary Geology, 3, 129-239.
Crisp, J. D. C., Brown, R. H., & Blackman, D. R. (1976a). On profes-
sional disputation (2nd ed.). Monash: Monash University.
Crisp, J. D. C., Brown, R. H., & Blackman, D. R. (1976b). Disputation.
Proceedings of the Conference on Engineering Education of the In-
stitution of Engineers, Melbourne, 141-145.
Crisp, J. D. C., Brown, R. H., & Blackman, D. R. (1977). On formal
disputation. European Journal of Engineering Education, 2, 193-
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Iida, H., Nakagawa, T., & Spoerter, K. (2012). Game information dyna-
mic model based on fluid mechanics. Entertainment Computing, 3,
89-99. doi:10.1016/j.entcom.2012.04.002
Jackson, R. G. (1976). Sedimentological and fluid-dynamic implications
of the turbulent bursting phenomenon in geophysical flows. Journal
of Fluid Mechanics, 77, 531-560. doi:10.1017/S0022112076002243
Korchokha, Yu. M. (1968). Investigation of the dune movement of se-
diments on the Polomet river. Soviet Hydrology, 11, 541-559.
Matthes, G. H. (1947). Macro-turbulence in natural stream flow. Trans.
Am. Geophys. Un., 28, 255-262. doi:10.1029/TR028i002p00255
Appendix 1: Glossary of terms
Assertion: A positive statement.
Assessor: One of persons appointed to a panel of assessors
who evaluate the disputation and the prospectus of a proponent.
Assumption: That which is taken for granted.
Auditor: A listener at a disputation.
Commentator: One who, being a tutor, is appointed to lead
tutorial commentary in the concluding phase of a responsion.
Convener: The person, being in charge of professional dis-
putation, who summons meetings of the panel of tutors.
Discourse: The spoken dissertation preliminary to disputa-
Disputant: One who participates in a disputation, especially
one of a panel of persons appointed formally to sustain an at-
tack during a disputation.
Disputation: That exercise in which disputants and the pro-
ponent, respectively, attack and defend a thesis.
Dissertation: A discourse, exposition, treatise; a holding forth
in speech or writing upon a subject.
Examiner: One appointed to examine the thesis of a candi-
date as it is embodied in writing in a formal dissertation or trea-
Foreman: The person who presides over and speaks for the
panel of assessors or presides over and coordinates the attack of
the panel of disputants.
Moderator: One who, being a tutor, presides over a disputa-
tion or responsion.
Premise: A proposition from which another is inferred.
Proponent: The candidates who in a disputation, or a re-
sponsion, defend a thesis.
Proposition: An assertion on various forms (see below):
1. Thesis: A proposition laid down in a written form or stat-
ed as a theme to be discussed, proved and maintained against
2. Theorem: A proposition to be proved by a chain of rea-
soning; a truth to be established by means of accepted truths.
3. Problem: A proposition requiring something to be done;
an inquiry starting from given conditions to investigate a fact,
result or law; the question, usually only implied, involved in a
4. Corollary: A proposition appended to one already dem-
onstrated, as a self-evident inference from it; immediate de duc-
tion; natural consequence, result.
5. Syllogism: A form of reasoning in which from two given
or assumed propositions, called the premises and having a com-
mon or middle term, a third proposition is deduced, called the
conclusion from which the middle tem is absent, e.g.
Man is mortal (major premise).
I am a man (minor premise).
Hence, I am mortal (conclusion).
In the above sentences, the word “man” is called the com-
mon or middle term.
Prospectus: That written account of the chief features of a
thesis and its defense that is to form the matter of a forthcoming
disputation or responsion, circulated for the purpose of obtain-
ing support.
Responsion: A preliminary disputation undertaken by can-
didates to establish fitness for open dispute and to receive in-
struction from tutors in the art of disputation.
Supervisor: One who, formally appointed by the University,
oversees and superintends the execution of the candidate’s pro-
gram of study and who is charged with reading over the pur-
pose of correction and revision any written account touching
upon a candidate’s thesis, such written accounts commonly tak-
ing the forms of a treatise or of an article prepared for publica-
tion. In disputation, one who acts a sponsor and a critic of a
proponent’s thesis.
Thesis: A proposition laid down as a theme to be discussed.
Also, a literary composition dealing systematically with a defi-
nite subject, and/or a written dissertation especially the embodi-
ment, as a volume, of a thesis.
Tutor: One of a panel which under the direction of its con-
vener administers the professional disputation and instructs in
the art of disputation.
Appendix 2: A Thesis
An illustrative example of a thesis, which was submitted to
the convener, Professor J.D.C. Crisp, Department of Mechani-
cal Engineering, Monash University on August, 1977, by the
junior author, a Ph.D student of that Department at the time will
be presented for the reference.
We have observed large scale cellular secondary motions in
tidal currents: each of the cells is different from a “boil”* in ri-
vers, in its nature.
Although topographic photographs of the sea-bed by a side-
scan sonar show that the sea-bed near the area of dye release is
fairly flat, and has no obvious dominant features, aerial obser-
vation of dye patches released in tidal currents sometimes re-
veals a remarkable regular pattern of cells.
Each of the cell s resembles a boil in appearance, but has lon-
ger-life time than a boil. Matthes (1947), Coleman (1969) and
Jackson (1976) observed that boils appear any times on the
river surface, but are largest and most energetic immediately
downstream from crests of dune-like large scale ripples. Cole-
man (1969), also observed boils o ver large-scale lineation whose
long axes are parallel to the main flow even so.
There is a close analogy between each of the cells and a boil
in their internal flow structure and their scale: Each of their
internal flow structures displace large volumes of water upward,
which induces vortex suction capable of lifting bed-load mate-
rials. The scale of each of the cells is about 10 m ~ 30 m in di-
ameter, while common boils range in scale from about 15 m ~
30 m, and the largest scale is about 250 m (Coleman, 1969).
However, all of the cellular secondary motions that have longer
life time are different from boils that have shorter life time.
The life time of each of the cells observed is well over 30
min., as found by analyzing the colored cells (by the red-color-
ed rho-da-mine and the green-colored fluorescein) shown on
aerial photographs. On the other hand, boils do not persist for
such a long time, and commonly a boil will break on the sur-
face and disappear within a time span of 10 ~ 15 sec. Some of
the larger ones, however, will persist for 20 ~ 30 sec. (Coleman,
1969). Also Jackson (1976) has pointed out that boils persist for
as long as 20 sec. Therefore, no boils have a life time over 30
sec. Each of the cells is a cellular secondary motion which has
longer life time. Hence, each of the cells is different from a boil
*A “kolk” is river-bed deepening by vortex action induced by upward dis-
lacement of a body of water; and its dissipation at the surface is called a
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 501
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s .
which has shorter life time.
A boil is an intermittent phenomenon; the period of appear-
ance of boils at the surface varies independently of the stream
depth from 6 to 10 sec. (Korchokha, 1968), and it dissipates
within 30 sec. On the contrary, because each of the cells can
persist over 30 min, we can look at all the cellular secondary
motion as if it is regular phenomena. This is the salient point of
difference between these two phenomena, viz. cellular secon-
dary motion and boi l.
Each of the cells is different from a boil.
Appendix 3: Syllogism
An argument with two premises and a conclusion. There are
three types of syllogism and proposition, viz. categorical, hy-
pothetical, and disjunctive.
Both the premises of a categorical syllogism are categorical
propositions, containing just three distinct terms between them,
All men are mortal (major premise),
Magellan is a man (minor premise),
Therefore, Magellan is mortal (conclusion).
At least, one premise in a hypothetical syllogism is a hypo-
thetical proposition, e.g.
If Nate is eligible to vote, he is a citizen in Kanazawa (ma-
jor premise),
Nate is eligible to vote (minor premise),
Therefore, Nate is a citizen in Kanazawa (conclusion).
At least, one premise in a disjunctive syllogism is a disjunc-
tive proposition, e.g.
Either Takeo is out of town or he is ill (major premise),
Takeo is not ill (minor premise),
Therefore, he is out of town (conclusion).
Appendix 4: Deductive Reasoning and
Inductive Reasoning
Deductive, inductive, often confused, are not properly syno-
nyms. They do agree in referring to processes of formal or in-
formal reasoning, but the processes they describe are of oppo-
site kinds. In deductive reasoning, an accepted general state-
ment (true or false) is applied to an individual case; if formally,
by the method of syllogism: All dogs are animals; this is a dog;
therefore, this is an animal. In inductive reasoning, a set of in-
dividual cases is studied by the experimental method, and, from
the observation s made, a general principle is form ed : E ve ry me-
tal I have tested expands when heated; therefore, I can expect
all metals to expand when heated.
When the general premise in deductive reasoning is true, the
deduction from it will be certain for all possible instances. The
principle formed in inductive reasoning is a workable theory,
but would be certain only when all possible instances had been