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Thread: Some Thoughts and Advice for Our Students and All Students

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    Default Some Thoughts and Advice for Our Students and All Students

    Some Thoughts and Advice for Our Students and All Students
    August 29, 2017

    We are scholars and teachers at Princeton, Harvard, and Yale who have some thoughts to share and advice to offer students who are headed off to colleges around the country. Our advice can be distilled to three words:

    Think for yourself.

    Now, that might sound easy. But you will findas you may have discovered already in high schoolthat thinking for yourself can be a challenge. It always demands self-discipline and these days can require courage.

    In todays climate, its all-too-easy to allow your views and outlook to be shaped by dominant opinion on your campus or in the broader academic culture. The danger any studentor faculty memberfaces today is falling into the vice of conformism, yielding to groupthink.

    At many colleges and universities what John Stuart Mill called the tyranny of public opinion does more than merely discourage students from dissenting from prevailing views on moral, political, and other types of questions. It leads them to suppose that dominant views are so obviously correct that only a bigot or a crank could question them.

    Since no one wants to be, or be thought of as, a bigot or a crank, the easy, lazy way to proceed is simply by falling into line with campus orthodoxies.

    Dont do that. Think for yourself.

    Thinking for yourself means questioning dominant ideas even when others insist on their being treated as unquestionable. It means deciding what one believes not by conforming to fashionable opinions, but by taking the trouble to learn and honestly consider the strongest arguments to be advanced on both or all sides of questionsincluding arguments for positions that others revile and want to stigmatize and against positions others seek to immunize from critical scrutiny.

    The love of truth and the desire to attain it should motivate you to think for yourself. The central point of a college education is to seek truth and to learn the skills and acquire the virtues necessary to be a lifelong truth-seeker. Open-mindedness, critical thinking, and debate are essential to discovering the truth. Moreover, they are our best antidotes to bigotry.

    Merriam-Websters first definition of the word bigot is a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices. The only people who need fear open-minded inquiry and robust debate are the actual bigots, including those on campuses or in the broader society who seek to protect the hegemony of their opinions by claiming that to question those opinions is itself bigotry.

    So dont be tyrannized by public opinion. Dont get trapped in an echo chamber. Whether you in the end reject or embrace a view, make sure you decide where you stand by critically assessing the arguments for the competing positions.

    Think for yourself.

    Good luck to you in college!

    Paul Bloom
    Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology
    Yale University

    Elizabeth Bogan
    Senior Lecturer in Economics
    Princeton University

    Nicholas Christakis
    Sol Goldman Family Professor of Social and Natural Science
    Yale University

    Carlos Eire
    T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies
    Yale University

    Maria E. Garlock
    Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Co-Director of the Program in Architecture and Engineering
    Princeton University

    David Gelernter
    Professor of Computer Science
    Yale University

    Robert P. George
    McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions
    Princeton University

    Mary Ann Glendon
    Learned Hand Professor of Law
    Harvard University

    William Happer
    Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics, Emeritus
    Princeton University

    Martha Himmelfarb
    Professor of Religion
    Princeton University

    Robert Hollander
    Professor of European Literature and French and Italian, Emeritus
    Princeton University

    Joshua Katz
    Cotsen Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Classics
    Princeton University

    Thomas P. Kelly
    Professor of Philosophy
    Princeton University

    Sergiu Klainerman
    Eugene Higgins Professor of Mathematics
    Princeton University

    Jon Levenson
    Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies
    Harvard University

    John B. Londregan
    Professor of Politics and International Affairs
    Princeton University

    Uwe Reinhardt
    James Madison Professor of Political Economy and Public Affairs
    Princeton University

    Michael A. Reynolds
    Associate Professor of Near Eastern Studies
    Princeton University

    Jacqueline C. Rivers
    Lecturer in Sociology and African and African-American Studies
    Harvard University

    Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe
    James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
    Princeton University

    Harvey S. Rosen
    John L. Weinberg Professor of Economics and Business Policy
    Princeton University

    Marta Tienda
    Maurice P. During Professor in Demographic Studies and Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School; and Director, Program of Latino Studies
    Princeton University

    Nol Valis
    Professor of Spanish
    Yale University

    Tyler VanderWeele
    Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and Director of the Program on Integrative Knowledge and Human Flourishing
    Harvard University

    Adrian Vermeule
    Ralph S. Tyler, Jr. Professor of Constitutional Law
    Harvard University

    Keith E. Whittington
    William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics
    Princeton University

    Source: https://jmp.princeton.edu/announceme...d-all-students

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