The Colgate Scene
March 2002

Huntington Terrell 1925-2001

If the mark of a genuinely serious philosopher is an unswerving and unembarrassed search for the good and the true, then Huntington Terrell, who passed away in Philadelphia on December 29, 2001, was an authentic figure in a short line of such dedicated searchers.

More significantly, Hunt's commitment was not solely a vocational one, insulated from a life spent otherwise; his lived daily life -- irrespective of its numerous costs and sacrifices -- was an active reflection of his uncompromising determination to live the life of an ethical philosopher; responsive almost exclusively to the moral life as he understood it, and directed selflessly to fulfilling a transcendent vision of the ideal society in an ethically sensitive and responsible world.

Hunt taught philosophy at Colgate from 1952 to 1998, with sabbatical times -- at places like Harvard, and Princeton, and once in India -- used exclusively to strengthen his skills and knowledge of contemporary moral theory and practical ethics and the developing discipline of peace studies. He had graduated in record time from Colgate -- his father and his brother's alma mater -- during wartime 1944, although he had entered with the Class of 1946. In the early years of his long teaching career at Colgate, Hunt taught a variety of courses, including Greek Philosophy and Aesthetics; but there was little doubt for him, or for his many students, that his abiding passion was for the study and practice of ethics and moral philosophy, especially as these related to his pressing concern for the furthering of universal human rights and personal freedoms.

This fervent interest was possibly foreshadowed by his early upbringing in a religiously concerned family. His father was a clergyman (William S. '17, D.Div.'42), and his mother a very active national leader in the community. Early in his career Hunt developed a wholly secular passion for justice and the right; reflected in his decision to major in philosophy at Colgate, studying with Herman Brautigam and Gene Adams, among others. Graduating magna cum laude, with honors, Hunt then went on to Harvard for his doctorate, with a dissertation focused on the proper standards for making moral judgments: "The Concept of a Moral Judgment"; this concern was to be the continuing commitment of his life as well as of his whole scholarly career.

Although Hunt served for two years (1944-46) in the Philippines and the Pacific as an enlisted man in the Navy, his personal disposition turned him almost immediately toward pacifism and Quakerism, and he struggled personally and publicly with the moral conflict -- the responses to evil -- this entailed. When the controversies about the war in Vietnam erupted on campus, embroiling the students in debate and affecting their attitudes to military service and the draft, Hunt was in the forefront of those offering thoughtful and prudent counsel. Characteristically, he made himself available to undergraduates and graduates alike -- and especially to those who sought him out for advice as conscientious objectors and moral protesters. Hunt spent many intense hours in many months in his office, helping students gain insight into their own motives and grounds for action, while helping them write their statements and explore their rationale and moral stance towards the war and service. Such times of personal sacrifice must have been a trial for Hunt's growing family which he and his wife, Carolyn Nicholson Terrell, nurtured; they had two sons, Bruce and Nathan, and two daughters, Nancy (who died soon after birth) and Cindy: all imbued, in their subsequent careers, with a sense of the importance of public service; each with a personal -- and indeed moral -- commitment to contribute to the public realm.

Hunt was one of the early careful and critically enthusiastic readers, in manuscript, of John Rawls' now classic A Theory of Justice; but he had a special ambition for this masterwork which influenced many of his students: to extend its natural reach to the whole of the international sphere. He aspired for a theory of universal justice, envisioning a society which would encompass all persons in a moral community shorn of

artificial divisions, exclusive borders and sovereign territories. This intellectual seed -- one which has since grown into an important interdisciplinary and scholarly concern -- inspired Hunt to devise a new course of study exploring philosophically, the link between social and moral problems. Such was his well-known course in social and political ethics which he taught to many students for many years.

But his further ambition was to extend this deep interest into the larger sphere; he then devised, in 1970, a totally original course of study and exploration in international ethics -- a concept which seemed then, to many scholars, an oxymoron. Here Hunt, working literally from scratch, invented a course of study which was wholly original and path-breaking. It was only further reach for Hunt to become one of the founding professors for Colgate's future program in peace studies, a field he helped initiate and champion, with Professors Claire Young, Charles Naef and Ted Herman. This innovative program has since developed into a staple of our present curriculum. It represents, for many of us and our students, a genuine hope for the future of our world and the relations among nations: a vision of a rational, peaceful and moral world inspired by the highest ideals of human thought. It was also the generating passion of Hunt's professional as well as personal life; a life filled with an intense commitment for helping create a better world. Indeed, Hunt devoted much of his lifetime earnings to support those causes he believed consistent with this aspiration.

Hunt will be remembered best, however, by most Colgate alums, as their demanding yet meticulously fair instructor in the mandatory first-year core course in philosophy and religion. This is the required common course which remains, in the memory of many former students, as their most traumatic introduction to the future rigors and challenges of Colgate academic life -- an experience, for many, yet indelibly fixed in their minds. Here Hunt's ever-present smile, his meticulous determination and high standards, his intellectual aspirations, his exacting reading and correcting of all written work, his great demands on himself as a careful teacher, and on his students as capable scholars, and his abiding courtesy and respect for their developing potential as moral agents and persons, will remain, for those who knew him, a continuing presence in their minds and dispositions.

There is hardly a more lasting tribute which a teacher can expect or deserve.

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