Philosophy and Life

July 15th, 2011

Although I was a physics major at Brown in the late 1960s, I took several philosophy courses. I took two courses from Professor John Ladd: Ethics and Metaethics (Obituaries, May/June). They were two of the best courses I took at Brown. At the time, I was struggling with the possibility of declaring myself to my draft board as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. Taking these courses helped me with that ethical struggle, demonstrating that philosophy has practical applications.

Professor Ladd's quiet style of teaching was well suited to contemplation within the classroom as well as outside it. He did not discourage my endless questions during class (which I now realize must have bothered many of the other students), and cut me some slack on paper deadlines when a part-time job interfered. I was saddened when I read of his death, and hope that his other students remember him as fondly as I do.

Mark Trueblood '70
Sonoita, Ariz.



With few jobs available in Pontiac, Michigan, during the summer of 1970, I took a minimum wage job that left me short of the money I needed to finance my senior year. A conversation with the Reverend Charles Baldwin resulted in a referral to Professor John Ladd and his wife, who were seeking a student to assist them in caring for their children, Sarah, 3, and Deborah, 3 months old. In exchange for being a nanny to their children, the Ladds provided me with living accommodations on the third floor of their home east of the athletic fields. While classmates pondered the turbulent world of the 1970s, and graduation, Sarah and Deborah helped remind me of the joy to be found on a daily basis, and of the many new things to discover or rediscover in the world around me. I am grateful to the Ladds for entrusting their children's care to me and helping me find a way to afford my senior year. I am also grateful for Charlie's friendship and guidance during four very challenging years of my life.

David G. Cox '71
Bloomfield Hills, Mich.



I was saddened to read of the passing of Professor John Ladd, who was a great influence on me at Brown. Taking his bioethics seminar in the fall of my sophomore year prompted me to change my major from biology to biomedical ethics. I had entered Brown in 1976 as a member of the fledgling "Med-Sci" seven-year medical program, but I was unsure what I wanted to study in my undergraduate years. The required premed courses were large (and largely uninspired) lectures and did little to challenge my intellectual curiosity.

John Ladd changed all that for me. We were expected to come to his three-hour evening seminar each week ready to argue, debate, and refine our viewpoints. He never cared much that we knew what he thought personally; he wanted us to learn how to think, not what to think. He gave no grades except satisfactory/no credit so that our incentive to work was our personal curiosity and not a GPA. There was only one assignment: a paper on a moral issue in medicine. In those days, finals followed a short winter break, so I spent much of the break commuting from my home in New Jersey to the Rutgers library. I was totally invested in the work, and I learned what it meant to "do philosophy" simply for the love of the intellectual challenge.

Mr. Ladd (he preferred that we call him this) was a humble and generous mentor. When several of us had papers accepted for presentation at a bioethics conference, he hosted a party so we could rehearse. As I recall, he liked to serve Rhine wine, and the papers sounded a bit more erudite after a couple of glasses. The next year, several undergraduates formed a bioethics association.

The BAM doesn't often highlight people simply for niceness, but in the late 1970s, niceness counted. Mr. Ladd was never harsh or critical. When I took his metaethics class as a senior, it was way beyond my comprehension, yet he stayed unfailingly positive and got me through it. One spring day in 1980, my friend Art Perlman '80 and I spent eight hours in a park in Providence, armed only with pens and blank notepads, discussing every possible definition or meaning for the word good.

I also remember deciding that I would spend my extra time senior year volunteering at the Advocate's Office of the Rhode Island Institute of Mental Health instead of writing an honors thesis in bioethics. The physician on my advisory team was against it, while Mr. Ladd, the philosopher, urged me to do what had meaning for me at the time. And when I dropped out of law school to re-apply to med school, he was a calm and supportive presence. "Bright young people change their minds," he said, as he wrote me yet another letter of recommendation.

It is no accident that both the Hippocratic oath and Maimonides's prayer for physicians refer to an obligation to respect and revere our teachers. John Ladd doubtless influenced how I practiced psychiatry and how I taught medical students as much as anyone I studied under in medical school. Rest in peace, Mr. Ladd, and let all of us who were lucky enough to study under you raise a glass of Rhine wine in your memory.

Scott Berman '80
Bethlehem, Pa.

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July/August 2011