Adversarial method

From Almeopedia

The ešikävu [ɛ ʂi ˈkæ vu] or adversarial method is a formal technique used in Čeiy to make judgments in theology, politics, law, and academia.


Development of the method

It originated in the Mešaist monasteries in the classical age, not long after the formation of the country by the union of Tädda and Ämünel in 1741. Axunai, the mother country, was known for zusoṭäšudo, rigid, dogmatic orthodoxy; Čeiy was already known for freewheeling inquiry and speculation, derided as zôsubäšudo, anarchic speculation. The adversarial method was invented as a medium between these extremes. Its advocates insisted that truth outweighed ideology; but that to establish truth required sound argument, not mere intellectual rebellion or faddishness.

It was noticed that errors of logic or fact were most quickly detected in debate; but that debates easily devolved into mere acrimony— opponents would end up simply insulting and contradicting each other. Best, then, to have a moderator to oversee the debate and evaluate which side was closer to the truth.

The method was soon adopted in the Čeiyu Senate (simäpäl), which in the pleasant chaos of nation-building was anxious to find effective methods of argumentation. The Senate formalized the method, and added specialized roles: there were now up to three debaters on each side, a record-keeper, a moderator, and three judges. The Šivines, the university founded in Ṭetäs in 1862, was next; with smaller groups than the Senate, it consolidated some of the added roles.

The process

There were now seven participants in an adversarial investigation:

  • Two debaters (omöniši) for each side, one (the lišür) to make a case for their position, one (the öššušür) to argue against their opponents.
  • Two auditors (üšiši), whose job was to point out errors, ask questions, and cut off unfruitful debate; often one was an expert (zäbiš) in the subject matter, the other was to be a 'canny old man' (emu), experienced in the ešikävu and alert to tricks.
  • A judge (miziš) who would say nothing during the investigation, but announce the correct decision at the end.

There was no hurry to the process; an investigation rarely took less than a week, and often several months.

The original system was designed to investigate problems by reason alone. Thus, no witnesses were called, and only the lišüri were allowed to bring up matters of fact. The early adversarial method was exquisitely sensitive to the strength of argument; not so strong on the rules of evidence.

In theory a decision was final, not only for the participants, but for everyone. A question could not be re-opened; but of course a close variant could be. The usual dodge, then, was to find some pedantic way to make the question sound new, so a new investigation could be launched. It was only after several centuries that a question could be re-opened without such adjustment.

The method in law

The tradition of Axunemi law was inquisitorial: the judge asked questions— if he didn't get answers he asked them harder; the defendant's only role was to answer. Judges could hear disputes between citizens, but the case had to be twisted so that one or the other was accused of a crime; all too often the judges simply did what they did best— assigned punishments.

This system never really fit Čeiy, where government was considered a tool of men, not a gift from the gods. Nobles or monks would hear disputes; tiring of these, they set up courts which could hear non-criminal disputes. The disputants pled their own cases; external advocates were prohibited. In especially tricky cases the number of judges would be multiplied to three or seven.

The courts resisted the adversarial method, as it seemed both to encourage hiring advocates and to lessen the authority of judges. However, high-born disputants were increasingly likely to have used the ešikävu and expected to follow its methods in court. Finally the courts gave in and adopted it, though they insisted on a stronger role for the judge, and kept their now highly evolved rules for gathering and evaluating evidence. These methods in turn filtered back to the schools and legislatures.


Though designed as an aid to proper argumentation, the adversarial method does not always work well. Some of the problems:

  • Nearly two thousand years have encumbered the process with ritualized procedure, archaic or arcane terminology, outmoded precedents, and questionable heuristics.
  • The most admired practitioners are dazzlingly eloquent lišüri and clever and acerbic öššušüri. Though these make an investigation entertaining— once one understands the stylized language and conventions— they produce better rhetoric than arguments.
  • It is said to take a dozen years to fully master the ešikävu. This is obviously a barrier to widespread participation in academic or political life.
  • Adversarial methods are good for challenges; not so good for cooperative construction. Many a good idea is resisted because the instincts of those trained in the ešikävu are to oppose. Issues easily become politicized or personalized.
  • Practitioners are often trained by taking and defending arbitrary positions. Though in some ways this broadens the mind, it can also produce frivolity and cynicism. The intellectual play is often indulged for its own sake, rather than to find the truth.
  • Though the method allows split decisions, the inclination of judges was to declare for one side or the other: the method, after all, was supposed to come to a solid verdict. Often this meant that problems with a position were brilliantly exposed during the investigation, and forgotten afterwards.
  • The method is suited to evaluating ideas, but not to research or solving practical problems. Modern science and technology developed elsewhere.
  • Despite many attempts, the method has never really been adapted to the written form. This limits effective debate to those who live in the major cities, and makes it difficult to investigate written materials, from mathematics to linguistics.

The ešikävu and science

For centuries, if outsiders noticed the ešikävu, they dismissed it as comically grandiose or pedantic. Both Axunemi Mešaism and Jippirasti believed that truth had already been fully discovered, and was not subject to debate. Endajué dethroned the gods in Xurno, and Revaudo threw out the nobility; the Xurnese were now in the market for better ways of establishing truth than appeals to authority, and the adversarial method was now admired and imitated. The Salon of Prose— an institution dedicated to scholarship, established after the Prose Wars— was strongly influenced by the ešikävu.

Čeiy was itself invigorated by Revaudo, by more progressive societies in Šura and Belšai, and by the Verdurian žuyse onteca or scientific method. At first there was some thought of simply adopting foreign methods, which seemed to be more advanced. But trained in the adversarial method, the Čeiyu began to notice that foreign savants were regrettably lax in their logic and rules of evidence. It was not that they were more rational; it was that they had applied their reason to practical problems. The Čeiyu now feel that the adversarial method could be slightly reformed— for instance, the Verdurians certainly had good ideas about experimentation and careful observation— and allow them to catch up to and surpass the foreigners.