Dr. H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr.: Scholar, Gentleman, Friend
I first met H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr.—“Tris” to those who know him personally—on a campus visit to Rice University after I had been admitted to Rice but prior to accepting the offer of admission. Two philosophy graduate students accompanied me to a class that Tris was teaching. I had seen his picture on the Philosophy Department’s website, and had of course read his Foundations of Bioethics, but was unsure what to expect of him in person. I liked him immediately. In particular, I was struck by his humor—he had me in stitches in no time—and energy. Repeatedly, he would ask his students the question, “do I have your permission to use you in an experiment?” which, if answered in the affirmative, would usually be followed by a humorous thought experiment in which the student in question featured prominently. The phrasing of that question is significant: consistent with the “principle of consent,” which plays such a prominent role in Tris’ account of “general secular morality,” it was imperative to obtain a student’s “consent” to be “used” in the classroom setting, albeit for pedagogical purposes. Later that day, Tris made a point of welcoming me personally, spending time with me and making himself available to answer any questions I might have.