Another Take on the Ethics of Reopening

July 21, 2020

In his essay "The Ethics of Reopening," the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider offers some much-needed ethical perspective on the concerns many campus communities are now contending with as they plan for the return of students in the fall.

While the bulk of Reverend Holtschneider's assertions appropriate a sort of quasi-Kantian thinking founded on so-called imperatives, a somewhat dismissive utilitarian bias seems to have crept into his reasoning.

Take, for instance, Reverend Holtschneider's rumination No. 3., in which he complains, "pre-eminent is not the same as overriding."

Unfortunately, in his third precept, Reverend Holtschneider falls back on the oft-cited but fallacious capitalist hedge -- a purely either-or moral reasoning that demands we must strike a balance between human life and sustaining consumer society.

While Reverend Holtschneider believes the populations could not persevere through 18 months of confinement, he obviously assumes readers would know why that appears to be true. In fact, nowhere in his ruminations does Reverend Holtschneider make a case for the imperative of self-preservation.

I imagine guarding one's health and exercising vigilance in favor of saving human life -- one's own and that of others -- ought to be overriding determinants in how we approach the coming academic year.

--Jonathan R. Slater, Ph.D.
Professor, SUNY Plattsburgh
Director, Institute for Ethics in Public Life

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