WE ALL KNOW that Harvard cares about intellectual life, because we don't major in anything here--we Concentrate!
And we start Concentrating! early in the spring of our first year--too early for freshfolk to really know what's good for them.
I, for example, am Concentrating! in economics--not because I think Keynes is cool (in fact, that would be a liability in the Harvard economics department), but because Physics 55 met at 8:30 a.m. Ec 10 met at noon. Sold.
Those of us who are no longer innocent little freshpersons have lost the chance to have a happy, peaceful edifying Harvard career that would prepare us well for pretentious social functions. We realize now that no one talks about Durkheim over drinks, or about Bohr at baseball games, but it's too late for us.
Fresheats: don't make the same mistake. Your friends may be signing up for Anthropology because they want to study primitive tribes that have no microwave ovens. They may want to do Social Studies because they want to live in Dunster House. They may choose Biology because they like the smell of formaldehyde. Or they may like Afro-American studies because of the notoriously light workloads in non-existent departments.
Don't be sucked in by their naive explanations for what they do. Chart your own course. Concentrate! in the Core.
REAL DEPARTMENTS here will try to teach you facts. But nowadays, everyone knows that facts and ideas are useless. Ergo, the Core.
Henry "I turned down the Yale Presidency to design Harvard's Core Curriculum" Rosovsky was the first to recognize that "modes of thinking" are more important than thinking itself. Thinking is difficult, and there's no need to waste your four short years at Harvard learning how to think. You'll think plenty in graduate school.
Concentrate! in a Core subject, and you won't have to waste any time thinking. You'll just learn what to do with a thought, should you happen to bump into one one the street.
You could, for example, Concentrate! in Moral Reasoning. The standard departmental offerings are superb. Michael Sandel's "Justice," of course, is the bread and butter of this field. Like members of Oprah Winfrey's studio audience, you will discuss weighty issues facing American society.
Telling other people you are taking Moral Reasoning impresses them and makes you feel smart. People treat you differently when they know you are an expert in "Ethics and International Relations," "Autonomy and Alienation," and "Reason and Evaluation." You won't actually learn any morality or ethics, but you will pick up enough rhetorical ammunition to blast anyone who questions your actions on moral grounds.
If anyone does anything you disapprove of, you can just cock your head, look disappointed, and say, "That's a fascinating approach to the problem, I do admit, but really, have you considered a Rawlsian approach?" (Of course, you don't actually have to know anything about John Rawls to make use of this technique.)
Moral Reasoning, however, has a fatal flaw. You must read Kant. You just can't avoid it in a Moral Reasoning class. Kant hurts. Kant is boring. Nobody can read Kant and emerge unscathed. Not even Kant read Kant. He tried to, but he decided not to as soon as he realized that he would not want to impose that fate universally on all rational beings.
Social Analysis is very similar to Moral Reasoning, in that it teaches you to talk as if you know everything without actually knowing anything. Social Analyis has the added benefit of being unconstrained by morality. In Moral Reasoning, you have to pretend to be ethical, but that facade withers away within the first five minutes of any Social Analysis course worth its salt.
The main drawback of Social Analysis is that it's just too broad. Nothing whatsoever unifies this Core subdivision. "Principles of Economics," "Individual Differences," "Modern Democracy" and "Knowledge of Language" may be interesting in and of themselves, but let's be honest, they have nothing in common. No, the ideal concentration must have some. Grand Unifying Theme (GUT) to lead you to some vitally important Deep Inner Meaning (DIM).