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48th annual Potter Lecture examines the ethics of war
PULLMAN – Georgetown University Professor of Philosophy, Nancy Sherman, will deliver the WSU Department of Philosophy’s 48th annual Potter Memorial Lecture at 7:30 p.m. March 25 in CUE, Room 203. Sherman’s lecture, “The Untold War: The Guilt They Carry,” will examine the psychological and moral burdens borne by soldiers.
The lecture, which is free and open to the public, will draw from her recent book, “The Untold War: Inside Hearts, Minds, and Souls of Our Soldiers.” A book signing will follow the lecture.
A highly acclaimed philosopher, psychoanalyst, ethicist and the first Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the U.S. Naval Academy, Sherman examines military ethics, the battlefield mind of the soldier and the moral weight of war. Her research in virtue ethics draws from the work of the ancient philosophers Socrates, Aristotle, Plato and the Stoics, who advocated deriving one’s sense of meaning and dignity by focusing on the things one can control, while remaining detached from those aspects of life one cannot control.
Sherman also encourages a critical reading of Stoicism that allows room for vulnerability as an important part of human life that should not be dismissed in order to insulate ourselves from harm.
“That has particular relevance for soldiers who are put in extremely harsh situations as they really do have a lot of things that are out of their control,” said Bill Kabasenche, a WSU assistant professor of philosophy specializing in ethics. “Sherman shows that it’s no accident that Roman soldiers were really interested in Stoicism, and, as it turns out, soldiers today are still interested in Stoicism.”
In Sherman’s experiences presenting these ideas, soldiers have told her “that’s exactly how I’ve been thinking of my life as a soldier and how I’m making it psychologically in these tough situations.”
“This event will be of special interest to people in military science, the ROTC and anyone with military connections because this is a chance to hear someone who regularly speaks with personnel at the naval academy,” Kabasenche said.
Sherman’s first encounter with the burden of war occurred as a child through a relationship with her World War II veteran father. Her desire to explore and further understand this burden shaped her career. She became a liaison to the Navy, designing the brigade-wide required military ethics course which laid a foundation for the Stockdale Ethics Center and resulted in her being honored in 1997 as the first Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Her unique perspective on war, integrating military experience and philosophical knowledge into practical implications for our soldiers, demonstrates the value of studying liberal arts in our current society.
“Sherman’s recent work in military ethics is a really nice example of someone who has taken liberal arts education all the way to the Ph.D. in philosophy and is using that in publicly relevant ways,” Kabasenche said.
In addition to her recent book, Sherman is also the author of “Stoic Warriors: the Ancient Philosophy behind the Military Mind” and more than 50 articles.
The WSU Department of Philosophy sponsors the annual lecture in memory of Frank Fraser Potter, who taught Latin, Greek and Italian for over 35 years at WSU and played an instrumental role in the founding of the department.
Recent Potter lecturers included distinguished philosophers such as Tufts University professor Daniel C. Dennett, Princeton professor emeritus Harry G. Frankfurt and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Noam Chomsky.