by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Shannon Watkins of the Martin Center documents a recent visit to Duke from two prominent academics with opposing political views.
About a year ago, Princeton philosopher Robert P. George came to Chapel Hill, North Carolina to speak about civil discourse and diversity of thought with the UNC system Board of Governors. He returned on February 8, but this time he came with Cornel West, a long-time friend and philosopher at Harvard University, as guest speakers for Duke University’s Kenan Distinguished Lecture in Ethics.
Instead of directing their message to policymakers, George and West came to speak face-to-face with students, faculty, and local citizens. The two spoke about how they navigate their vastly different political views while maintaining a strong friendship, a skill seemingly rare on most college campuses. Their message and example isn’t just a much-needed antidote to an increasingly polarized culture, either. It also contains an essential ingredient for what George and West call a “deep education:” the desire to be challenged in one’s most fundamental beliefs.
Indeed, George and West argue that students can’t receive an authentically “deep” or “liberal” education unless they look for opportunities to be “challenged and unsettled.” So, even though their talk touched on the importance of courteously engaging with one’s intellectual opponents, the heart of their message went beyond mere platitudes to the importance of civil discourse. In their view, civil discourse is much more than politeness or putting up with others’ opinions. Far from simply tolerating those who challenge one’s beliefs, George and West insist that they should be considered one’s “truest friends.”
Why? Because actively engaging with an ideological opponent refines one’s own understanding of an issue and can lead one closer to the central goal of all education: the pursuit of truth.