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Professor speaks on political discourse

| Tuesday, October 6, 2015

John Duffy, associate professor of English, spoke on the ethics of argument during “ND Votes ’16: Political Responsibility and Virtuous Discourse” at Geddes Hall on Monday night. The event was sponsored by ND Votes ’16, a nonpartisan campaign aimed at educating and registering young voters.

Duffy, the director of the University Writing Program, said the “toxic rhetoric” used in contemporary political discourse has made finding truth in politics incredibly difficult.

“This rhetoric has managed to undermine forces grounded in logical argument and empirical evidence, which once were considered authoritative,” Duffy said.

Much of the blame for this unhealthy political atmosphere falls on the media, he said.

“Cable TV, talk radio and all the other social media platforms have made toxic rhetoric a fact of everyday life, a form of entertainment and a product to be bought and sold,” he said.

Duffy said the media has become unreliable in reporting the truth, which has made discerning fact from fiction a legitimate challenge.

“We seem to have come to a place where we are unclear on the nature of factual information. We’re not agreed on what constitutes a fact,” he said.

In order for this toxic rhetoric to end, a cultural change must occur, Duffy said, and this cultural change must be grounded in supporting statements with actual evidence.

“There are assertions, assertions, assertions — but not evidence. When you provide evidence for a claim, you are demonstrating your integrity. You are not simply making wild statements, you are willing to back them up,” he said.

Duffy said people must also be willing to listen to those challenging their ideas, who present opposing viewpoints.

“You expose yourself to the contradictions, the uncertainties, the possibilities that attach themselves to any serious, worthwhile questions,” he said.

By doing this, Duffy said, “we expose ourselves to the possibility that we might have to change our minds.”

In closing, Duffy said personal arguments and opinions should be taken seriously, since they are a reflection of personal values and are “expressions of who we are, expressions of our character, expressions of the kind of community in which we want to live.”

Lorraine Cuddeback, a Ph.D. candidate in theology, examined voting from a Catholic perspective. Cuddeback said developing a strong conscience is a necessity for choosing the best political candidate.

“The formation of a conscience first involves a willingness to seek what the truth is,” Cuddeback said.

Cuddeback said that Catholics should play an active role in the political world.

“It is the particular vocation of lay Catholics to directly shape the moral character of the country,” she said.

The event also offered students the opportunity to register as voters in preparation for the 2016 presidential primaries and elections and provided instructions for obtaining an absentee ballot.

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