The late author David Foster Wallace—who committed suicide in 2008, the victim of depression— gave a wise, inspiring, ethically-astute commencement address to the graduating class at Kenyon College in 2005. The speech was later published as a book in 2009 under the title “This Is Water.” It was recently made into a vivid video, and has been viral on the internet. You can see it here, at least for a while.
If the video sends anyone to Wallace’s other works, it has done good; if it causes people to ponder what ethics really means, for that is what Wallace was talking about, it had done better. Apparently the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust is in the process of ordering that this video be taken down as copyright infringement, which if his words belong to the Trust, is their right. I wish they wouldn’t; I think letting Wallace’s eloquent life lesson reach as many people as possible, especially young people, would be both ethical and consistent with the values and aspirations of Wallace himself, but it is not my decision to make. I am a little conflicted about sending you to the link, in fact, if the piece was, in effect, stolen. I am applying utilitarian balancing here.
You can also read his speech, presumably legally, here, where it was republished upon his death. The essence of it is in this passage:
“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the “rat race” – the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.”
Pointer: Tim LeVier
Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at firstname.lastname@example.org.