Robert P. George on Teaching and Free Thought, Defending Peter Singer, and Natural Law

Discovery Institute
Wesley J. Smith
Wesley J. Smith
Audio File (87.78M)

People of true principle are rare commodities in this age of bitter political divisions and cultural discord. What matters exclusively for too many, is winning. Indeed, we live in such strident times that some find it difficult to be friends with people with whom they disagree. In this sense, we have lost the crucial understanding to living in mutual comity, that reasonable people can have radically differing opinions.

Not so, Wesley’s guest on this week’s episode of Humanize, Princeton Professor Robert P. George. George describes himself as a true classical liberal. He is unapologetically pro-life. But he adamantly defends the academic freedom of people who have contrary beliefs, such as the utilitarian philosopher, Peter Singer. George is a committed Catholic. But he mixes and interacts easily with people of all faiths, and none at all. And, he is a strong advocate for natural law who respectfully debates those with diametrically opposed opinions about the means for making a good society.

George describes how he went from a coal mining family in West Virginia to the height of academic life as a professor at Princeton University. He describes his love for teaching and his belief that the only limitation on academic freedom does not involve ideas per se, but the “currency” of academic engagement, i.e., the quality of thinking, documentation, and argumentation that an advocate brings to his or her opinions. Wesley challenges George on his defense of Peter Singer, in an interesting and thought-provoking exchange, and asks whether the same criteria would apply to a racist. George’s answer may surprise. Finally, George gives a short primer on natural law theory, which is the philosophical basis for the founding of the United States. This is a fascinating conversation with one of the great academics of the current era.

Robert P. George is the sixth McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, a program founded under his leadership in 2000. George has frequently been a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School. 

Professor George has served as Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom as well as a presidential appointee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the President’s Council on Bioethics. In addition, he has served as the U.S. member of UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology, as well as being a member of President George W. Bush’s President’s Council on Bioethics. He was also a Judicial Fellow at the Supreme Court of the United States, where he received the Justice Tom C. Clark Award.

George is a recipient of the U.S. Presidential Citizens Medal, the Honorific Medal for the Defense of Human Rights of the Republic of Poland, the Irving Kristol Award of the American Enterprise Institute, the Canterbury Medal of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and one of Princeton University’s highest honors – the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching. 

George is the author of hundreds of books, essays, and articles. And, he is a talented finger-style guitarist and bluegrass banjo player—which may be his most enjoyable accomplishment.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.