Princeton does not require that its undergraduates take courses in any particular department, and so Berger’s call for an economics requirement reads as an assumption that the discipline is more valuable to the world than others. But it is problematic to prioritize economics as a lens through which to view the world. As critics of political economy have been arguing since Adam Smith wrote “The Wealth of Nations,” viewing historical and individual development primarily in terms of the creation, accumulation and transfer of wealth is dehumanizing. It erases from our understanding of the world all the things which differentiate us from computers: our abilities to love, to empathize, to feel happiness and sadness, to make decisions for ourselves and for our families and communities, to organize our actions around a desire to be better people — and “to form a more perfect Union.”
It is for this reason that Princeton’s ideal of a liberal arts education “in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations” does not privilege economics above any other discipline. Students are given a grounding in many analytical methods but not in any one set of assumptions about the values which should guide national and international development. The philosophy of a liberal arts education holds that young people can better serve their nation and all nations if they have four years during which they can develop their critical faculties and their moral compasses and decide for themselves what it means to live a good life. It holds that we are at university to develop our minds and our souls, not our “Monopoly” properties.
Please read the rest. Then read my friend and colleague Luke Massa’s thought-provoking piece, also in today’s Prince, which articulates a theory of positive liberty with respect to our coursework. And then think about where you stand on the question of education for education’s sake.