This University, like any great university, encourages, and indeed demands, independence of mind. We expect you to develop the ability to articulate your views clearly and cogently, to contend with and learn from competing viewpoints, and to modify your opinions in light of new knowledge and understanding. Your Princeton education will culminate in a senior thesis that must both present original research and also contend respectfully with counter-arguments to your position.
This emphasis on independent thinking is at the heart of liberal arts education. It is a profoundly valuable form of education, and it can be exhilarating. It can also at times be uncomfortable or upsetting because it requires careful and respectful engagement with views very different from your own. I have already emphasized that we value pluralism at Princeton; we value it partly because of the vigorous disagreements that it generates. You will meet people here who think differently than you do about politics, history, justice, race, religion, and a host of other sensitive topics. To take full advantage of a Princeton education, you must learn and benefit from these disagreements, and to do that you must cultivate and practice the art of constructive disagreement.
Doing so is by no means easy. Some people mistakenly think the art of disagreement is mainly about winning debates or being able to say, “I was right.” It is much harder than that. The art of disagreement is not only about confrontation, but also about learning. It requires that we defend our views, as we do in debate, and, at the same time, consider whether our views might be mistaken.
It requires, too, that we cultivate the human relationships and trust that allow us to bridge differences and learn from one another. That is one reason why I disagree with people who consider inclusivity and free speech to be competing commitments. I believe exactly the opposite, namely, that if we are to have meaningful conversations about difficult topics on university campuses and in this country, we must care passionately both about the inclusivity that enables people to trust and respect one another and about the freedom of speech that encourages the expression of competing ideas.
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