The Ethics of Unethical Ethics Teachers

An essay by lawyers Joel Cohen and Katherine A. Helm begins with this story:

Noted ethics philosopher and Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell once was questioned by the Harvard Board of Governors about having an extramarital affair with a student. When faced with the hypocrisy of being an ethics professor engaged in immoral conduct, Russell argued his private affairs had nothing to do with his professional duties. “But you are a Professor of Ethics!” maintained one of the board members. “I was [also] a Professor of Geometry at Cambridge,” Russell rejoined, but “they never asked me why I was not a triangle.”‘

The authors use the anecdote to explore the issue of whether proven ethics miscreants like Eliot Spitzer, Rod Blagojevich and disbarred class action lawyer William Lerach ought to be lecturing, speaking, or otherwise being listened to in regard to their opinions and advice on ethics. After all, acting teachers are often indifferent actors, and the best baseball managers weren’t much as players. Why should ethics be any different?  Continue reading