Well-known Maine ethicist Rushworth Kidder has died

Posted March 06, 2012, at 1:31 p.m.
Last modified March 06, 2012, at 7:05 p.m.

ROCKPORT, Maine — A Maine journalist and thinker whose life’s work was to bring attention to the language and practice of ethics has died in Florida.

Rushworth Kidder, 67, founder and president of the Rockport-based Institute for Global Ethics, died Monday of natural causes at his home in Naples, Fla.

Before founding the institute in 1990 in a second-story office in Camden, Kidder was a senior columnist and feature editor for The Christian Science Monitor.

“He raised consciousness about ethics, especially internationally, at a time when I don’t think anyone was thinking along those lines,” John Yemma, editor of The Christian Science Monitor, said Tuesday afternoon. “He raised it to a higher level. He turned it into a real movement. You certainly encounter many more people around the world now who care about ethics. It’s more of a common language.”

Kidder, who lived in Lincolnville with his wife of 46 years, Elizabeth, had a goal of bridging the gap between moral philosophy and daily life, according to a press release issued Tuesday by the Institute for Global Ethics.

“He spent much of his career calling for less polarization and greater cooperation — in politics, at school, within communities — by noting that many of life’s greatest challenges involve right-versus-right dilemmas between competing moral arguments,” the press release from the nonprofit, nonpartisan think-tank stated.

Kidder talked about that type of dilemma last fall at a talk at the Camden Public Library, when he gave a presentation on his last book, “Good Kids, Tough Choices: How Parents Can Help Their Children Do the Right Thing.”

He said that through the institute, researchers have interviewed people everywhere about what being ethical means. Regardless of nationality, gender, wealth or lack thereof, political views or religiosity, all involved mentioned the same core values.

“Honesty matters, responsibility matters, respect matters, fairness matters and compassion matters,” he said then. “This is very deep. This goes to the core of what’s human. You don’t have to impose values. You can find them.”

The ethicist’s other books include “How Good People Make Tough Choices,” which was praised by President Jimmy Carter as a “thought-provoking guide to enlightened and progressive personal behavior.”

Kidder gave many lectures and seminars over the years, including several at the Camden Public Library. Elizabeth Moran, library director from 1990 to 2008, said Kidder was an excellent speaker.

“He really held the audience’s attention,” she said. “He was a very intelligent man. I was very surprised to hear of his passing. It’s a big loss to the community.”

He and his wife had two grown children. Kidder also was a philanthropist, helped to found the World Ocean School in Camden in 2001 and was on the advisory board of PBS’s “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”

“We will work diligently to honor Rush’s legacy and keep alive the contributions that he and the institute have made to the advancement of ethics in our world,” Paul McAuliffe, chair of the institute’s board of directors, said.

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