President Christopher L. Eisgruber has chosen the first assignment for Princeton's Class of 2018.
Eisgruber will ask incoming freshmen to read "Meaning in Life and Why It Matters" by Susan Wolf for the second year of the Princeton Pre-read, an introduction to the intellectual life of the University that centers on a book read by members of the freshman class and others in the Princeton community.
This summer, each member of the Class of 2018 will receive a copy of the book, which is based on lectures Wolf delivered at Princeton in 2007 as part of the Tanner Lectures on Human Values. Wolf, who is the Edna J. Koury Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, earned her Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton in 1978.
"Susan Wolf's collected Tanner Lectures ask what makes a life meaningful," Eisgruber said. "That question is at the heart of a liberal arts education, and I hope that Wolf's book will encourage the Class of 2018 to pursue that question, not only as they read 'Meaning in Life and Why It Matters' but throughout their careers at Princeton."
During Orientation Week, Wolf will participate in a panel discussion about the book with commentators from the faculty. Freshmen will have opportunities to discuss the book with Eisgruber in residential colleges and elsewhere on campus throughout the academic year.
The Pre-read builds on another tradition for freshmen, the Pre-rade, in which incoming freshmen enter campus together through FitzRandolph Gate.
Eisgruber said Wolf's argument is "lucid, humane and readable."
"It is a superb example of engaged, ethical writing, and I hope that it will introduce the freshmen to the kinds of scholarship they will encounter at Princeton," he said. "The book also includes short critical comments by four distinguished scholars, along with reply from Wolf — as such, it models for students how one can disagree with a thesis in a way that is simultaneously rigorous, constructive and collegial. Finally, a key point in Wolf's argument pertains to the objectivity of value and why it matters; that question is important, and it inspires lively argument among undergraduates."
The question of what makes a life meaningful was also an important part of the book featured in last year's Pre-read, "The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen" by Kwame Anthony Appiah, the Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy and the University Center for Human Values Emeritus.
"I thought that the initial Pre-read went very well," Eisgruber said. "The discussions that I had with students were engaging, and they brought the book to bear on a wide range of topics in their own lives and in our community. And I was impressed by the number of nonstudents who told me that they had read the book."