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Huntington Terrell '46

by Charles R. Beitz '70

Thirty-one years ago, as a freshman, I was a student in Hunt Terrell's section of Core 18, and I despair now, as I despaired then, that I could ever satisfy his standards, even though I must be older today than Hunt was then. I haven't forgotten the comment that appeared after the first essay on my first hour exam: "Excellent work. B+." My brother Ken, a member of the class of 1975, tells a story -- perhaps apocryphal, but with the scent of truth -- about a classmate whose experience was less auspicious. The classmate received a grade of "F+" on a Terrell midterm. Puzzled, he asked for an explanation. "I didn't like anything you said," Hunt is reported to have replied, "but I liked the way you said it."

I owe Hunt probably as many kinds of debts as any student could owe a teacher. He taught me the art and the virtue of rigorous and painstaking critical thought. He taught me to write, precisely and economically. He showed by example and by instruction that thought can illuminate action, not only by tracing the means to an end, but also by subjecting ends to uncompromising scrutiny. He encouraged a skepticism about received belief together with an optimism that philosophy can be rigorous without sacrificing the capacity to influence human conduct for the better.

Hunt has been my teacher much longer than I was in any formal sense his student. For example, he served as a kind of unofficial graduate school advisor. I remember sending him a draft of my dissertation when it was nearly finished (or so I thought) and asking if he would be willing to send me comments. In return, I received what we might charitably call The Treatment: page after page of the manuscript were annotated in Hunt's familiar pencil scribble, raising a host of questions and objections, with the occasional bold exclamation point indicating passages that were so far beyond the pale as to leave any reasonably intelligent person speechless. I mean no disrespect to my graduate school advisors, but nobody read my work with nearly so much care, or caused me to rethink it as seriously, as Hunt.

More than any other subject, international ethics is Hunt's intellectual legacy. It is also the philosophical subject that we share. I first encountered the subject in Hunt's course in social and political ethics, which I took in the spring of 1970. Hunt had just returned from a sabbatical year at Harvard, bringing with him a copy of the manuscript of John Rawls's great work, A Theory of Justice, which at that point had not yet been published. He assigned portions to our class, including the brief passages in which Rawls comments about international relations. Any reader of Rawls's book will know that these passages were peripheral to his central concerns, and in this respect the book was representative of virtually all of the political philosophy of the time. I did not realize this until later; in a way that Hunt's students will recognize immediately, the syllabus combined an array of philosophical sources --typically in what were called "Terrellized" fragments -- so that international ethics could emerge as a coherent subject worthy of serious philosophical concern. ("To Terrellize": a verb, meaning "to excerpt judiciously, omitting all unnecessary words.")

Two years later, in 1971-72, Hunt started teaching a course devoted exclusively to international ethics. Philosophy 315 has been a fixture of the P&R curriculum, and a central passion of his teaching, ever since. To the best of my knowledge, it was among the first such courses offered in any college in the United States. To have given such a course in the early 1970s took both courage and foresight -- courage, because there was little to go on in imagining the architecture of the subject, and foresight, because, as it turned out, the philosophical literature would develop rapidly and interestingly in the years to come. For Hunt, the course was also a way to turn necessity into opportunity: the ethical dilemmas of the Vietnam years were real and inescapable, and Philosophy 315 was a way to give structure and discipline to the process of working them out.

The course became something more than this as well. It came to embody a distinctive and powerful point of view, one which I can best describe as a form of cosmopolitan liberalism. This is the vision of world order embodied in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and I believe that Hunt's recognition of its historical significance -- well before notions of globalization became fashionable -- was prophetic. At the heart of this vision is a conception of the human person as having global moral status: we are all, regardless of our local attachments, ultimately subjects of each other's respect and concern, and we share in the re-sponsibility for one another's fate. The prerogatives of the political state are limited by universal human rights, and the individual person is directly a subject of international law and morality.

This cosmopolitan vision exercised increasing influence in Hunt's thinking and teaching. He saw its moral force with great clarity, and he insisted that it be taken seriously with a single-minded and wholly constructive intensity. There were students, and no doubt also colleagues, who may have felt the insistence too intense. But Hunt was always eager to defend the vision against its critics and to listen sympathetically to alternative views. And I think he understood -- better than many people who may have fancied themselves more realistic -- the power of this vision to affect the course of political life.

Rousseau wrote in the Social Contract that the boundaries of the possible are less narrow than we think; it is our weaknesses and prejudices, he said, that limit them. Hunt's teaching sought to push back the boundaries of the possible by challenging weakness and prejudice. He tranformed the idea of global citizenship from a well-meaning catch-phrase into a morally realistic aspiration, and by force of argument and personal example, he required generations of Colgate students to see the world in a broader and more inclusive perspective than most of us had ever previously known. In doing so Hunt Terrell changed my life, and for that I will be always grateful.

Charles Beitz is dean for academic affairs and professor of government at Bowdoin College. He has written Political Theory and International Affairs (1979) and Political Equality (1989).