Morality v. Law

I found an interesting work of art at an Ann Arbor yard sale. Took me two years to figure out the creator of that pencil and ink piece: Maude McVeigh Hutchins (4 Mai 46). Maude Hutchins made her name as an artist during the 20s, 30s, & 40s. Around 1950, Maude Hutchins began a successful career as a novelist. Her themes generally regarded sexual awakening. Maude Hutchins died in 1992 aged 102. Her novels are enjoying resurgent popularity.

Before 1948, Maude Hutchins had been married to lawyer Robert Maynard Hutchins for 27 years. At age 30, in 1929, Robert M. Hutchins became the youngest president ever (still) of a major American university: U of Chicago. R.M. Hutchins remained in that capacity for 21 years before becoming the director of the Ford Foundation. He initiated educational reforms, many adopted by other institutions.

Hutchins (who probably could have been president) was a pacifist who ironically became the principle contractor ($400 millions worth) in the creation of the first atomic bombs; he was the only civilian outside the Pentagon that officially knew about the Manhattan Project. You may recall that the first sustained chain reaction (Enrico Fermi 1942) was initiated under the abandoned U of C football stadium. Hutchins’ U of C contracts also included operation of the Oak Ridge, TN plutonium factory (WWII). After Hiroshima, Hutchins spent the remainder of his life opposing the arms race (died 1977).

My fascination with Hutchins springs from his secular philosophical view of morality. From the time of his appointment as the Dean of the Yale Law School onward (mid 20s), he grappled with society’s need for moral education. Hutchins’ pointed out that the scientific method does not give us the knowledge or wisdom for how to manage science; it is something only a moral education can achieve. Nearly all of his efforts to inculcate morality into academics (outside theological schools), and later into corporate thinking, failed.

I find Hutchins philosophical view interesting because I understand that a person’s moral view is a much higher standard than one’s minimum legal responsibility; and I can see that living merely to a minimum legal responsibility will not sustain the fabric of society— yet it is the trend. The problem for morality is that it is like both gravity and the very essence of life: we all know that it exists, but none have yet quantified it scientifically.

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