Eisgruber invites Class of 2017 to join him in reading Appiah book

Provost and President-elect Christopher L. Eisgruber has given members of Princeton's Class of 2017 their first assignment.

Eisgruber, who will become president of the University July 1, has asked incoming freshmen to read the book "The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen" by Princeton professor Kwame Anthony Appiah as part of an introduction to the intellectual life of the University.

"The introduction takes the form of something that is brand new, but that — like much of what you will encounter at Princeton — builds on older and beloved traditions," Eisgruber writes in a letter to members of the Class of 2017. "During your first week on campus, you will take part in a joyous ceremony called the Pre-rade. The Pre-rade originated in 2004, when the University Student Government revived a tradition according to which incoming freshmen marched together to enter Princeton through FitzRandolph Gate.

"This year, we will add a new activity to complement the Pre-rade: the Princeton Pre-read. The Pre-read will revolve around a book to be read by all members of your class and many others in the Princeton community. Together, the Pre-rade and the Pre-read symbolize the rich blend of residential and scholarly life that all of us at Princeton hope will characterize your time at this University."

By July 1, each member of the class will receive Eisgruber's letter along with a copy of the book by Appiah, Princeton's Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy and the University Center for Human Values.

"[Appiah] describes how older conceptions of honorable behavior — like the idea that people should fight duels to avenge insults — suddenly die out, and he raises important questions about the meaning of honor in our own time," writes Eisgruber, who is also the Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Public Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and the University Center for Human Values. "I hope that you'll find his book as engaging as I did — and that you will both learn from and argue with the views that Professor Appiah presents."

Alumni are also encouraged to read the book and engage in the conversation, among themselves and with students.

Appiah, who has taught at Princeton since 2002, is an internationally renowned moral and political philosopher. He has published widely in philosophy and in African and African American literary and cultural studies.

Appiah said he was thrilled to learn of his book's selection.

"One of my hopes for my books is not just that they will be read, but that they will generate a conversation about their subject matter that moves our understanding forward," he said. "Having a Princeton class read and think about 'The Honor Code' will mean that a lot of really bright, engaged young people will be involved in the conversation about honor. I am confident that they will be able to advance that conversation."

Appiah's other books include "Experiments in Ethics," "The Ethics of Identity" and "Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers," which has been translated into more than a dozen languages. With Henry Louis Gates Jr. he edited "Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience." He has also published three novels and is the co-author with his mother of an annotated collection of proverbs from Ashanti, Ghana.

Freshmen will have opportunities to discuss "The Honor Code" with Eisgruber in residential colleges and elsewhere on campus during the next academic year. Among the questions Eisgruber asked the Class of 2017 to consider: "What does honor mean within our own society? What honor practices do you and your peers participate in? To what extent are those practices healthy ones?"

"My favorite books are ones that provoke me both to question my own assumptions about the world and to disagree from time to time with the author," Eisgruber writes. "I like books that make bold arguments and ignite conversations. 'The Honor Code' is no exception."