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The principle of Freedom of Inquiry

Article 1 of our University’s statutes establishes that its teaching activities are founded on the principle of freedom of inquiry. This means that in all matters, independent judgement prevails over arguments from authority.

‘Free Inquiry, which forms the basis of the scientific method, is also a principle that one must commit to… Those practising free inquiry undertake to speak and act in accordance with what they believe to be true. They have the courage to speak and defend their truth.’ 

Our institution, due to the very nature of its commitment, ‘fully welcomes students who do not share this ideal…’. However, those who choose to study at ULB have a duty to gain personal knowledge of our principles. 

The community life in which we invite all students to take part, without exception, implies mutual understanding and tolerance. However, this tolerance that we promote does not strictly imply respect for other people’s opinions. ‘How can one respect what is deemed false, what one condemns, what one is bent on destroying?’

The tolerance that we profess means respecting others and their freedom.

We pledge to inspire our students, whatever the content of our academic teaching, to love their fellow humans with no distinction of caste, opinion, or nation; we pledge to teach them how to devote their thoughts, their work, and their talent to the happiness and improvement of their fellow citizens and humankind.’ Auguste Baron, first secretary of the Université de Bruxelles.

(Inauguration speech, 20 November 1834).

Thought must never submit to dogma, to a party, to a passion, to an interest, to a preconception, or to anything other than facts themselves; for if thought were to submit, it would cease to be.

Henri Poincaré (celebration for the University’s 75th anniversary, 21 November 1909)

Examining, independently from any political or religious authority, the great questions that touch on humankind and society, and freely probing the sources of truth and good: this is not only our University’s role, it is the reason why it exists.

Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen, founder of the University (speech to King Leopold I, 1 January 1854)

Tolerance does not mean hesitation, compromising on one’s principles, being pusillanimous, or equivocating; if it did, then tolerance would mean not having principles, or not daring to speak them out loud. Tolerance does not strictly imply respect for other people’s opinions: how can one respect what is deemed false, what one condemns, what one is bent on destroying? Tolerance means respecting others and their freedom. It means asserting what one holds to be true, while also recognizing the right for others to assert their mistakes; but as we fight these mistakes, we also refuse to resort to insult, violence, or proscription.

Charles Graux
Updated on July 3, 2023