Journal #1: February 4, 2008

This semester I am taking a class called Ethics of Einstein. As the name of the class suggests it is focusing on the life of Einstein but specifically on his ethics. Our syllabus says we will be engaging in a study of his responses to the ethical dilemmas he faced in his time, that this class will be a study of Einstein as person of conscience. Before I get started talking about the class and what I’ve read and what has been discussed I want to take a minute look at the definition of ethics. Merriam-Webster’s defines ethics to be:

    1.    The discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation
    2. a.  A set of moral principles : a theory or system of moral values 
        b. The principles of conduct governing an individual or a group
        c. Guiding philosophy
        d. A consciousness of moral importance
    3.  A set of moral issues or aspects

Hence, this class will be looking at how Einstein deals with (and what he defines to be) good and bad, and what his self-viewed moral duty and obligation is. It will also look at what he uses as guiding principles or philosophy, of course, the moral issues and their aspects Einstein faced during his life.    Two books are the core reading for this class, Einstein: The Life and Times and Ideas and Opinions. Through these we hope to gain insight into whom Einstein was as a moral being.

    Einstein’s essay “Message in the Time-Capsule” echoes what I have thought about the world and humanity as a whole. “This is due to the fact that the intelligence and character of the masses are incomparably lower than the intelligence and character of the few who produce something valuable for the community.”  I always wonder at the indifference of the common person to the part they could play in changing the world for the better. My personal main area of astonishment at a lack of responsibility is environmental. I feel that Einstein, were he alive today, would agree with me when I sit astounded at how little people care about saving the environment by such simple acts as using compact fluorescent light bulbs instead of incandescent bulbs. In my mind it is a general lack of intelligence and character that has bred a society of people who are governed by indifference. They are incapable of looking into the future and making changes now for our children and our children’s children. I would wager that Einstein was always looking forward in his moral perspectives, always aware of future consequences. Einstein ends the essay with, “I trust that posterity will read these statements with a feeling of proud and justified superiority.” It is sad that in the nearly 70 years since he wrote those words in 1939 that I feel we are no better off now and that those words must be buried again in a time-capsule to be open at some future date with the hope that our descendents will be able to read them and smile, in full cognizance of their justified superiority.