By Miles Unterreiner
On the modern college campus, there is perhaps nothing more crucial to informing and facilitating a well-rounded liberal education than respectful, vibrant debate – what British philosopher John Stuart Mill, in his influential 1869 tract On Liberty, termed “the collision of adverse opinions.” Exposure to views and ideas with which we do not agree is, for two reasons, integral to a balanced and thoughtful intellect. On the one hand, if our own opinion is wrong, reasoned argument enables a correct adversary to illuminate the erroneous nature of our own mistakenly held belief. On the other, if we are right, we gain a deeper comprehension of our own correct belief by its comparison with falsehood – or what Mill called “the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” Debate impels us to examine our own most deeply-held convictions; it asks us to ask ourselves why we believe what we believe, and if we are indeed justified in doing so; it nudges us toward introspection, coaxes us toward self-reflection, and encourages thoughtful metacognition.
It is the centrality and overarching importance of respectful argument on college campuses, conducted not ad hominem but on a rational battlefield of ideas, that inspired me to write for the Cardinal Principle. Having read The Cardinal Principle quarterly, I had consistently been impressed by the paper’s diverse balance of ideas from across the political spectrum and refreshed to see a pro-con layout that valued substantive intellectual repartee over mere mindless shouting. The Cardinal Principle, unlike the infamous talk show hosts who bring in guests of differing political persuasions only to ridicule them, seemed to promote genuine dialogue by inviting columnists of all ideological stripes to write well-researched and well-reasoned articles. While undoubtedly valuable in their own right and excellent at achieving their intended purposes, existing political magazines on campus had appeared to me decidedly one-sided – none provided a mix of ideologies that collided with and challenged one another. Though a lot of inter-publication dialogue was already going on, The Cardinal Principle was the first to encourage intra-publication dialogue – debate between authors in the pages of one magazine. Ultimately, a political diet of my own views, while comforting, was in the end insufficient.
In the end, I decided to write for The Cardinal Principle because it is a microcosm in print of what a college campus should look like: a marketplace of diverse viewpoints challenging, reinforcing, and influencing each other all at once, with the end result being informed, responsible, and enlightened readers. This issue, I hope you’ll join me in enjoying what The Cardinal Principle has to offer.