The following article, written for the Crimson by Dr. Richard Clarke Cabot '89, Professor of Social Ethics in the University, is the first of a series of similar articles which will be published by the Crimson through the spring. The series is designed to supplement the pamphlet published by the Crimson in 1922 on the choice of a field of concentration. On March 12, the general purpose of the system and the scope of these articles on the several fields was explained in the Crimson by Dean C. N. Greenough.
Social Ethics deals with human desires. Most other courses deal with the means of carrying out these desires. Everyone has sooner or later to find out what he wants--which desires among those which compete for his attention he will organize into the system which makes his plan of life.
Without a plan of life, people do get on. But it seems fair to say that they rarely amount to much. They drift or zigzag or run in circles. If, then, one needs a plan of life, it can hardly be amiss to devote some part of a college course to thinking it out.
Social Ethics Touches All Interests
To plan a life means to track the consequences of one's ordinary desires, economic, sexual, social; the desires for power and responsibility, for case and pleasure, for self-expression, for security, for adventure, for popularity. Economics follows up in detail the consequences of men's desire for wealth. Philosophy traces the results of our desire to know ultimate truth. Biology tells us what will happen, if we yield to our urge to understand living matter. So it is with each great branch of study. Each acquaints us with the results of human desire in a particular field. Social ethics compares all these desires and traces their results so far as is necessary for a man to orient himself among them and to decide what he, individually and in his group, intends to do about it, what shape his life will take, his life as a producer of wealth, as a friend of men and women, as the father of a family, as a citizen as a member of clubs and teams, as a lover of good literature or of any other art, as one curious about nature's handiwork and the globe we live on.
Helps Toward Making Decision
Other courses give us the tools to carry out a particular interest or trace its consequences. Social ethics leads us to organize our interests, in view of their meaning and their consequence, so to decide what we want most.
But "what we want most" includes not only individual interests but group interests. What do we intend to do about education, about our form of government, about the control and development of industry about immigration, poverty, crime, disease? Every man takes some part, or refuses to take a part, in forming our social policies in these matters. At elections in professional and trade associations, in church activities, these problems confront us. No one can escape the results of social policies about the criminal law, the housing regulations in cities, the management of the public schools. Therefore social ethics is concerned with social policies as well as with the discussion of right and wrong in human relations.
Industrial ethics, race ethics, sex ethics, the ethics of athletic contests and of the classroom, are part of our subject matter.
Aims to Solve Human Problems
Do we deal with facts: Yes. With the facts of human nature, human civilization and human degradation the facts of poverty and its causes, of crime and its treatment, of immigration, its policies and results, of labor relations, race relations, internal relations. But we study not only what is, but what, in view of these facts we plan to do about it, with a view to a fuller more reasonable, more decent and happier life.