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Virtue

 

Virtue

         I do not admire the excess of some on virtue unless I am shown at the same time the excess of the opposite virtue. A man does not prove his greatness by standing at an extremity, but by touching both extremities at once and filling all that lies between them.—Blaise Pascal

 

ETHICS

What does the cheating scandal at the U.S. Naval Academy say about military honor? Last week, Navy investigators reported that 81 midshipmen had obtained a copy of a 1992 engineering exam before exam day and that many of them then lied during an internal investigation, some to protect classmates. Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage, who chaired a review of the academy's honor code, blames the widespread cheating on the Navy's emphasis on skills like technical proficiency over character development. A 1967 Annapolis graduate, Armitage notes that one point of honor is still pounded into all midshipmen from Day 1: "Never bilge (endanger) a shipmate." That credo cuts two ways, says James Q. Wilson, author of The Moral Sense. It explains why some midshipmen betrayed their personal honor by lying to protect their classmates; but, says Wilson, those same people will never let their buddies down during times of war. He adds, "I wouldn't worry that this indicates a decaying moral fabric of the next generation of military officers."  

U.S. News & World Report, February 7, 1994, p. 12.


One of the most famous trials in history was that of Benjamin Francois Courvoisier in London in 1840, who is now immortalized in Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. Courvoisier was a Swiss valet accused of slicing the throat of his elderly employer, Lord William Russell. What made this trial notorious was the argument for the defense. The police had bungled the investigation. The evidence against Courvoisier was entirely circumstantial or had been planted. One of the officers had perjured himself, and the maid's testimony brought suspicion on herself. The defense attorney, Charles Phillips, was convinced of the innocence of Courvoisier and cross-examined witnesses aggressively. At the beginning of the second day of the trial, however, Courvoisier confessed privately to his lawyer that he had committed the murder. When asked if he were going to plead guilty, he replied to Charles Phillips, "No, sir, I expect you to defend me to the utmost." Phillips was faced with a dilemma. Should he declare to the court that the man was guilty, or should he defend Courvoisier as best he could? Should he break the confidentiality of the client-lawyer relationship, or should he help a guilty man to possibly go free? Which is more important--truth or professional duty?

Phillips decided to defend the guilty man. But despite Phillips's efforts, Courvoisier was convicted. When the dilemma was later made public, Phillips's decision to defend a murderer horrified British society and brought him a great deal of criticism. 

Klyne Snodgrass, Between Two Truths - Living with Biblical Tensions, 1990, Zondervan Publishing House, pp. 11- 12.


Statistics and Stuff

Lying, cheating, and stealing are becoming an "acceptable norm" among high-school and college students, says Ralph Wexler, speaking for the Joseph and Edna Josephson Institute of Ethics. In a recent survey, the Institute reported that 61 percent of the high-school and 32 percent of the college students polled admitted to having cheated on an exam during the past year; 33 percent of the high-school and 16 percent of college students said they'd stolen something in the last year; and 16 percent of the high-school and 32 percent of the college students said they'd lied on a resume or job application.  

National and International Religion Report, quoted in Signs of the Times, June, 1993, p. 6.