March 28, 2005:
January 26, 2005: From the Editor
Riding the elevator recently in Robertson Hall, I read the advertisements, taped to the walls, about lectures to be given around campus that week.
There was an East Asian studies lecture on “With Sorrow and Regret: The Politics of Apology Between Japan and Korea,” to be held at the same time as a Woodrow Wilson School lecture by New Yorker writer Philip Gourevitch on “Writing about Wrongs.” Later that week, a physician was to speak about “Global Equity and the Future of Public Health,” a journalist about the “cozy relationship” between the Pentagon, Congress, and the defense industry, and an expert from the International Crisis Group about “Inaction in the Face of Genocide.”
It was clear that anyone at Princeton with an interest in exploring ethics has plenty of opportunities. With this issue, we hope to join the discussion.
This issue was born in a discussion of the abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq — and especially, of the young soldier who reported it to his superiors. What made him take action when others went along? It turned out that Princeton psychology professor John Darley had done research on what prompts some people to turn away from the crowd and “do the right thing.” Katherine Hobson ’94, a reporter at U.S. News & World Report, then interviewed Darley and other Princeton scholars about why doing right can be more complicated than it often appears in hindsight.
We decided to look at the issue from other angles. Mark Bernstein ’83 considers the many ways in which students study ethics at Princeton, in classes spanning the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. Brett Tomlinson reports on how coaches teach ethics on the playing fields. Christopher Shea ’91, who often writes on intellectual issues, explores the ways in which bioethicist Peter Singer has changed the lives of his students during the five years he has spent on campus — and how the campus has changed him. We also include an excerpt from a forthcoming book by former Princeton President Harold T. Shapiro *64 that focuses on his experiences with the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, and a survey of how recent Princeton graduates think about various ethical issues.
“Father, you suggest that the greatest benefit from college is to be found in the formation of habits of intellectual diligence and application,” one Princeton freshman began a letter home in 1928. “However important all this may be, I am nonetheless putting my chief emphasis on the study of right and wrong, even though such a procedure must first lead me through a period of confusion, and conflicting desires and actions. ... As things are, I must constantly be testing what I’m taught, and have been taught before, with my own experience and reasoning in order to develop an independent and personal philosophy and sense of value as a result of my own intuitions and insight.”
Laurance S. Rockefeller ’32, who went on to fund the University Center for Human Values, died last July; his youthful letter was printed in a book celebrating the center’s 10-year anniversary in 2000. I suspect that many Princeton students and faculty would second the words he wrote so many years ago.