This I Believe

Case, Everett


  • Everett Case describes his belief in Socrates' "examined life," and the role of the humanities in helping an individual discern and protect justice.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Dr. Everett Case is the president of Colgate University. After graduating from Princeton and Cambridge, he went on with graduate work at Harvard University, where he later returned to become an assistant dean. Meanwhile, he became an expert on U.S. monetary history and the problems of the New York dairy farmer. Also, he is a Far Eastern authority, for in 1949, he was appointed a consultant to the Secretary of State. Here now is Dr. Case.
First of all, I believe in the examined life. I do not say this simply because I am an educator and therefore given to quoting Socrates. Rather, I am an educator because I believe it, for it seems to
me that it is only as we examine life that we can hope to discover its meaning. I believe, too, in the potency of ideas. Consequently, I believe that the educated man or woman has an obligation to subject ideas to a constant and critical scrutiny in the effort to distinguish the true from the false.
Certainly I believe in the essential reality of good and evil in human experience. Of the terrible reality of evil, even to the grossest violations of the human mind and spirit, our age requires no further proof. On the other hand, who will deny the good which one encounters daily, in likely and unlikely places. Certainly the totalitarian assault on the mind has bred an extraordinary will to resist, and thousands have died rather than betray their own integrity. Isn't this the essence of the
Christian concept? Isn't it, in strictly human terms, precisely what led to the passion of Jesus?
Next, I believe in a universe ordered by law, which applies to man as well as matter. Just as the natural sciences are constantly throwing new light on the laws of nature, so the biological sciences are providing fresh insights into the laws of human nature. This task is complex, however, because man is at once a sentient and a spiritual being. Prick him and he bleeds; prick him in his honor and he will forget all else to vindicate himself.
Man's nature is such that in the long run he cannot be happy in the face of injustice. Thus his sense of values is important. What will he risk to fight injustice? What does he risk in refusing to fight
it? Here the so-called humanities--philosophy, religion, history, and the arts--are important if a man is to understand himself and all that is involved in his own decisions. For decisions can be difficult, especially when the issues are not clear-cut or a conflict in loyalties is involved.
Suppose I deeply believe both in justice and in peace, and find them incompatible. How am I to choose? "It is," you say, "a matter of judgment," and I agree. But human judgment is fallible and it better be informed. Informed by what? By the intelligence. But what if that be warped or vicious? By virtue, then. But what if virtue be naïve? I suggest that we need both. Virtue alone may be futile, intelligence alone may be fatal; together they develop the discipline, the humility, and the
perspective which add up to the beginnings of wisdom.
Finally, I believe in human freedom, not as an end in itself but as the necessary means to the pursuit of other and supremely important ends. Deny it and you forbid the very examination of life--or at least an honest report on what you find. It is only as freedom survives that man can develop fresh insights into his own nature, or of that of the world he inhabits. And it is only as this freedom is used with honesty, courage, and skill--in short, with wisdom--that man can hope to remold his constantly shattered world nearer to his heart's desire.
That was Dr. Everett Case, who, as president of Colgate University, helps young minds to
examine themselves and the world around them.