The Jefferson Center is a community of individuals dedicated to Jeffersonian ideals of rational inquiry and disciplined thought, supporting growth of our members and fostering improvement of our world.
We are a community
We choose the word “community” to describe us because we are more than just an association or a club or a nonprofit organization. Some aspects of our background experiences and our interests link us together in ways beyond officially signing up for membership and paying dues. Responsibilities and benefits belong to community members, not the “top.”
We emphasize that we are individuals because we have no belief test for members and we expect each to grow in our own individual way. We expect to learn from our differences as individuals and not to enforce conformity or intellectual authority.
The Jefferson Center takes its name from Thomas Jefferson. Among many ideals associated with him, we are especially drawn to the ideals of curiosity, reason, inquiry, learning, and freedom of thought. Jefferson opposed intellectual or moral authoritarianism of any kind, advocating separation of church and state, relying on reason and conscience, which he developed through a lifetime of reading and discussion with thoughtful people.
Rational inquiry and disciplined thought
We aim to promote free-ranging inquiry, with no subjects off-limits, and to practice good quality thinking as we inquire. We aim for high standards in how we use reason and evidence. We strive to identify fallacies, biases, delusions, misconceptions, and poorly-founded ideas in ourselves and others; we value spirited discussion as one of the best ways individuals can help each other overcome bias and fallacy. We look to science at its best as an example of rational inquiry and disciplined thought, so we are interested in what present day science tells us about the world, including such areas of human life as morality, politics, art, and religion. We allow that communities respectful of reason and evidence can develop consensus views that are very likely to be true. Nevertheless, any conclusion may change based upon new evidence or insight. We accept doubt and ambiguity. Throughout the course of inquiry, we recognize that there are many valid ways to reach a conclusion, but some conclusions are weaker than others when reason and evidence are not carefully and rigorously applied. Thus, we are not relativists—that is, we do not assume that all conclusions are of equal value. Rather, we are committed to freedom of thought combined with rigor of investigation, and a willingness to examine critically any theory or any belief which is of interest to us. No view-- religious, scientific or otherwise-- will be given preferential or protected status. Thus, theists, atheists, scientists, and politicians should expect their beliefs and assertions to be challenged, though we will not attack any people as people.
Growth of our members
The Jefferson Center is united by a shared belief that members of the Center benefit from an association with other people who are curious about the world and the place of human beings in it and willing to learn. Each of us seeks intellectual and moral growth through the exchange of ideas and perspectives with other members of the Jefferson Center. We stimulate the intellects and expand the horizons of members through educational programs and activities. We aim for variety, depth, and quality of programs that will engage members to go together to the edge of what we already know (or think we know) and then go a little further. Furthermore, we strive to practice gentle and respectful interaction, while having the courage and skill to identify and interrupt less-than-optimal thinking. We aim to challenge ideas but not people, preferring support and friendship instead.
Fostering improvement of our world
These words in our mission statement express our intention to do more than look inward; we also want to have positive impacts on our larger community, which we define as more than just Ashland. We disagree with those who think morality and a commitment to the welfare of others can come only from religion or a God. We want to go beyond “preaching to the choir” because we do not want to be a self-congratulating group that interacts only with ourselves; we want to be engaged. We do not subscribe to any particular creed about what does or does not constitute “improvement” of our world, but we trust our thinking skills and processes to lead us in useful directions together. We are a 501(c)3 organization, and will act within IRS regulations for this type of organization.