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By: Bianca Caramento

I entered university as a die-hard New Democrat. Now I’m the president of the McMaster Young Liberals. What the hell happened? My guess: philosophy.

Studying philosophy involves what most people would call “hairsplitting.” Minute details are endlessly debated. Everyday assumptions are constantly challenged. Basic “truths” are subject to intense scrutiny. For instance, philosophers might ask why we believe that what goes up will indeed come down, just because it has every time before. Simply put, nothing is sacred in the field of philosophy because no belief is taken at face value.

So, how does the Liberal Party emulate this modus operandi and why is that a good thing?

Many people give the Liberals flack for not abiding by a particular ideology. In fact, the party is often referred to as “The Big Rent Tent” because its members hold wildly different political views. There remains one constant, however. As a rule, Liberals place debate, critical discussion, and evidence-based decision making before all else.

Much like the study of philosophy, Liberals challenge and debate just about everything. In NDP circles, chances are you won’t hear anyone question the need to regulate capitalism or provide social assistance. They may debate how they ought to, but it is unlikely they will debate if they ought to. Among Liberals, these policies, along with all others, are subject to critical discussion.

In the Liberal Party, a policy’s merit does not stem from its alignment with party values, but from its ability to reflect existing reality and best address the problems at hand. This method of policy making is content-neutral. It may result in a highly left-leaning platform; it may not. What matters is that the resulting policies have withstood rigorous debate.

Political philosopher, John Stuart Mill, provides convincing justification for this form of policy development in his discussion of free speech. Mill argues that without the freedom to debate and challenge existing views, two things happen. First, we end up with blindly accepted truths that we cannot fully understand nor defend. Mill refers to this as “dead dogma.” Secondly, we miss out on the opportunity to adapt, improve and strengthen our beliefs by virtue of having to defend them with others.

This translates rather seamlessly to Liberal policy development. By staying committed to an ongoing discussion of each policy’s merit and efficacy, no matter what it may be, the Liberal Party seeks to implement the best possible solution, instead of the solution that simply fits an ideological framework. The philosophy nerd in me can’t help but appreciate that.


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