My wife, a teacher of philosophy at a Catholic university, likes to begin introductory ethics courses with a hypothetical question. If you were to live to be 80, what would you like to be able to say about yourself? Her students, who are mostly Catholics and Lutherans—and often practicing ones—sometimes impress her with sensitive responses about virtue and character. But in the last few years she has noticed that more and more of them answer that they want to be able to say that they have no regrets, that they wouldn’t do anything differently. The avoidance of moral regret seems to be their life goal. She’s been surprised at how often this answer has come up. It bothers her and has long bothered me, because unfortunately it’s not limited to callow freshmen.
A. M. Stroud III, a former prosecutor in Louisiana, expresses regret for the role he played in sending Glenn Ford to death row in 1984. “I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning.” Stroud says he presented dubious evidence from a forensic pathologist, precluded black jurors from the trial (Ford, since exonerated, is black), and ignored the fact that the appointed defense attorney had never before tried a criminal or capital case. “I . . . hope that providence will have more mercy for me than I showed Glenn Ford,” Stroud said in a letter to the editor of the Times of Shreveport. “But, I’m also sobered by the realization that I certainly am not deserving of it” (ABA Journal, March 25).