Record Group 32: Conference on Moral Standards

JM, 1/19/94

Table of Contents:

A Note on Folder Headings

Individual folders are identified in the following way: record group# -- box# -- folder#, as in R.G.1-10-32. Please use this format in citations and when referring to files for any other reason.

Historical Note

The Conference on Moral Standards was held at The Jewish Theological Seminary on September 13-15, 1953. It was a part of the Seminary's jubilee commemoration (the Seminary was reorganized in 1902), but it was also one of a group of interfaith and interdisciplinary programs organized during the 1950s by Seminary head Louis Finkelstein to examine the question of ethics and morals in the modern world. These programs included the Institute on Ethics (part of the Institute for Religious and Social Studies) founded in 1956, the Herbert H. Lehman Institute of Talmudic Ethics, also founded in 1956, and the never realized World Academy of Ethics and Quarterly on Ethics. The Institute for Religious and Social Studies and the Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion, established by Louis Finkelstein in 1938 and 1940 respectively, can be seen as the predecessors of this kind of activity at the Seminary. Records of all these programs have been processed by the Ratner Center.

In his invitation to participants, conference moderator Lyman Bryson described the problem to be addressed as follows:

No question before the public today transcends in importance and urgency that of the widespread corruption, and insensitivity to moral and spiritual values which characterize our society. Even a casual reading of the daily press and study of contemporary life suggest that the problem is not a superficial and limited one of crime, juvenile delinquency, political corruption and the like; but involves widespread confusion with regard to the goals of human life, the role of America in the world, and the responsibilities of the individual, and the responsibilities of the nation. (Lyman Bryson to Gordon Chamberlain, July 13, 1953, R.G.32- 1-5)

Louis Finkelstein described the Conference as:

a sort of Royal Commission of inquiry into the moral and ethical standards of decent people. We will try to find out how men actually determine their courses of action and to discover who, if anyone, has worked out a philosophy of ethical conduct, particularly in institutional affairs. We have begun with the assumption that life is a consistent series of compromises between the ideal and the real, but we are also hoping that it is possible to make such compromises without their being evil in themselves. (Louis Finkelstein to Robert Hutchins, July 21, 1953, R.G.32-1-5)

The conference was moderated by Lyman Bryson and Richard McKeon, both of whom were leading players in the Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion; Robert Sarnoff, chairman of the Jubilee Committee, also played a leading role. The conference was organized into two plenary sessions and a series of eight seminars, each of which examined the question of moral standards in a different area of contemporary life. These areas were: government (chaired by Francis Biddle and Robert MacIver); creative expression (Stanley Romaine Hopper); education (Ernest O. Melby and Ordway Tead); Science (Hudson Hoagland); mass media (Daniel Lerner and Leo Rosten); business and labor (Leo Cherne and Mark Starr); the family and private behavior (Florence Kluckholm); and the influence of religious institutions on moral behavior (Simon Greenberg).

Participants in the Conference were a mixture of Seminary faculty members, scholars from other institutions, and representatives from a variety of fields. Hannah Arendt, Max Arzt, Roger Baldwin, Harry Carman, Gerson Cohen, Moshe Davis, Ira Eisenstein, Abe Fortas, Arthur Goldberg, Percival Goodman, Oscar Handlin, Abraham Heschel, Lincoln Kirstein, Arthur Miller, and Walter White were among the participants.

Collection Description

The files of the Conference on Moral Standards, 1952-1954, consist of administrative files, final texts and drafts of papers read at the Conference, transcripts of the proceedings, and a cardfile of participants.

Series List

  • I. Administrative Files, 1952-1954
  • II. Conference Papers
  • III. Transcript of Conference Proceedings, September 13-15, 1953
  • IV. Participant Address List - Index Cardfile

Series Descriptions

I. Administrative Files, 1952-1954

The series consist of correspondence with invitees and participants; lists of participants; biographical material on participants; minutes of the planning and jubilee committees; budget information; press releases and clippings of articles about the conference (some from Yiddish and other foreign language newspapers); programs and invitations; reports on the seminars; and other material, all of which document the planning of the conference, the conference itself, and the plan to continue it.

II. Conference Papers

Included in this series are drafts and final versions of papers delivered at the eight seminars. Included are papers by: Roger Baldwin, William E. Barrett, David W. Barry, Edward L. Bernays, Francis Biddle, Ben Zion Bokser, Harry J. Carman, Emanuel Cellar, George S. Counts, George V. Denny Jr., Eliot Elisofon, Benjamin Fine, Abe Fortas, Philipp Frank, Harold C. Gardiner, Charles Y. Glock, Arthur J. Goldberg, Percival Goodman, Virgil M. Hancher, Stanley Romaine Hopper, Charles S. Johnson, John J. Kane, Leon H. Keyserling, Lincoln Kirstein, Clyde Kluckholm, Karl Kreilkamp, Lawrence Langner, Harold D. Lasswell, Meyer Levin, James Marshall, Ernest O. Melby, Hans J. Morgenthau, Victor M. Ratner, Edward T. Sandrow, Robert Saudek, T.V. Smith, Mark Starr, Robert Strunsky, Arthur L. Swift Jr., Walter White, and Quincy Wright.

III. Transcript of Conference Proceedings

These transcripts were recorded by a stenotype reporter - no tapes have been found. They document the plenary sessions held on September 13, 14, and 15. The plenary session held on September 15 includes reports to the group from delegates of each of the eight seminars (see the seminar reports, box 1, folder 22 for more information about the seminars).

IV. Participant Address List - Index Cardfile

The series lists participants in each seminar, members of the Jubilee Committee (lists of Jubilee Committee members are also in box 1, folder 8), representatives from religious and academic institutions in the surrounding Morningside Heights neighborhood who were invited to the conference, and others. Cards list names, addresses, and information about their participation.

Box List

Box Folder(s) Description 
11-2Biennial Report, 1902-1904
 3Chart Showing Seminary Departments, n.d. [ca. 1945]
 4Circular of Information, 1903-1904
 5Documents, Charter, and By-Laws, 1903

[includes deed of gift, act of incorporation, agreement of merger, endowment fund]

  Jewish Theological Seminary Association Biennian Reports:
 6-7Third, 1892
 8-11Fourth, 1984
 12-13Eighth, 1904
 13aWinter Term Schedules, 1984-95 - 1899-00 (missing 1897-98)
 14Preliminary Announcement, 1902
 14aSchedule of Studies, 1904-1905, including Course of Lectures in Philanthropy (one copy, from Rare Book Room)
 16Teachers College Prospectus and Application for Admission, n.d.
[at Uptown Talmud Torah, E. 111th St.]
 17Teachers Course, 1903
[information bulletin]
  Teachers Institute Registers: