Conference to explore ethics of courage, valor

by Valerie Silverman | 4/11/03 5:00am

While ethicists are known for studying scandal and dishonorable behavior more often than the admirable, Dartmouth's Ethics Institute will hold a conference this Saturday that will examine the ethics associated with courageous and moral behavior.

The conference will consist of four keynote speakers, whose morally courageous behavior fits into the categories: Holocaust Rescuers, 9/11 -- Response to a National Crisis, Personal Acts of Heroism and Military Valor. Four scholars will try to highlight the ethics involved with the speakers' actions, as well as discuss what motivates such courageous and selfless behavior.

The idea for the conference originated from the decision to focus on a person who saved people during the Holocaust. In fact, organizers of the event, Ron Green and Aine Donovan, knew of a woman living in the Upper Valley, Marion Pritchard, who did save 150 people in the Netherlands from the Holocaust.

"She doesn't even think it's a big deal," said Donovan. "This woman had a whole lot to lose, but just did it because it was the right thing to do."

Organizers picked four people whose experiences will encourage a wide range of discussion on the ethics associated with moral decisions.

"In my profession [as an ethicist], we have to look at scandals, but it's nice to look at the ideal," said Donahue. "That's what we're really trying to show; people faced with wrenching decisions who went out of their way

Pritchard will begin the conference and will be followed by Susan Rescorla, who will speak about her late husband's exemplary actions. Rick Rescorla, a Vice President of Morgan Stanley, was killed while working in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, after saving the lives of 2,700 people in the building. He had a long history of such courageous behavior and was renowned for it long before this final act of bravery.

David Kaczynsky, brother of the infamous Unabomber, Ted, will then speak about dealings with the FBI in organizing the arrest and ensuring that Ted would not receive the death penalty. A member of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, David faced a moral dilemma that he handled valiantly. Turning in his brother "was a wrenching decision to make," said Donovan.

Following Kacyznsky, Captain Hugh C. Thompson, Jr. will speak about his refusal to follow orders from Lieutenant Calley to kill inhabitants of a Vietnamese hamlet during the Vietnam War. Such courage could have resulted in his immediate death on the battlefield.

"We tethered each of these stories to an academic perspective," said Donahue. A scholar will follow each speaker with an analysis of the motivations behind such moral behavior.

The conference will be on Saturday, April 12, from 8:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. in Filene Auditorium.